So much for “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb bomb Iran”

Way back in 2007, the blogosphere had a rocking debate over whether the Bush administration was gearing up to bomb Iran.  During that debate, a lot of netroots bloggers basically argued that the Bush administration was perfectly capable of executing a replay of its Iraq rollout.  Today’s New York Times front-pager by David Sanger suggests ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast.

Way back in 2007, the blogosphere had a rocking debate over whether the Bush administration was gearing up to bomb Iran.  During that debate, a lot of netroots bloggers basically argued that the Bush administration was perfectly capable of executing a replay of its Iraq rollout. 

Way back in 2007, the blogosphere had a rocking debate over whether the Bush administration was gearing up to bomb Iran.  During that debate, a lot of netroots bloggers basically argued that the Bush administration was perfectly capable of executing a replay of its Iraq rollout. 

Today’s New York Times front-pager by David Sanger suggests that what actually happened was a wee bit different

President Bush deflected a secret request by Israel last year for specialized bunker-busting bombs it wanted for an attack on Iran’s main nuclear complex and told the Israelis that he had authorized new covert action intended to sabotage Iran’s suspected effort to develop nuclear weapons, according to senior American and foreign officials.

White House officials never conclusively determined whether Israel had decided to go ahead with the strike before the United States protested, or whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel was trying to goad the White House into more decisive action before Mr. Bush left office. But the Bush administration was particularly alarmed by an Israeli request to fly over Iraq to reach Iran’s major nuclear complex at Natanz, where the country’s only known uranium enrichment plant is located.

The White House denied that request outright, American officials said, and the Israelis backed off their plans, at least temporarily. But the tense exchanges also prompted the White House to step up intelligence-sharing with Israel and brief Israeli officials on new American efforts to subtly sabotage Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, a major covert program that Mr. Bush is about to hand off to President-elect Barack Obama….

The interviews also suggest that while Mr. Bush was extensively briefed on options for an overt American attack on Iran’s facilities, he never instructed the Pentagon to move beyond contingency planning, even during the final year of his presidency, contrary to what some critics have suggested.

The interviews also indicate that Mr. Bush was convinced by top administration officials, led by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, that any overt attack on Iran would probably prove ineffective, lead to the expulsion of international inspectors and drive Iran’s nuclear effort further out of view. Mr. Bush and his aides also discussed the possibility that an airstrike could ignite a broad Middle East war in which America’s 140,000 troops in Iraq would inevitably become involved.

Read the whole thing — there’s a lot to digest. 

Steve Benen asks what would have happened if Don Rumsfeld had been SecDef rather than Gates.  I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that, in all likelihood, the outcome would have been the same.  I suspect even Don Rumsfeld would have been hesitant of making life harder for U.S. troops in Iraq.*

The reason I say this goes back to a bugaboo of mine.  An awful lot of bloggers and IR scholars developed arguments about the nature of U.S. foreign policy based primarily on the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  And, to be sure, it’s an important data point.  It was also, however, an extreme outlier on several dimensions.  The political and strategic lay of the land in 2007 was radically different from 2002, and therefore imposed more serious constraints on the Bush administration.  It is also possible, maybe, that some learning took place among U.S. policymakers. 

*One Machiavellian exception — perhaps Rumsfeld would have been OK with the bombing precisely because it would have made life difficult for U.S. troops in Iraq, thus necessitating their withdrawal — which I suspect he wanted. 

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner

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