George W. Bush made some news during a session with a small group of reporters and editors this morning at the Mandarin Hotel in Washington, D.C. Bush, who is touring the country to promote his new book, Decision Points, spoke candidly about a number of issues – past and current.
Most interesting was the former president’s apparent confidence that his successor “understands the threat” from Iran and his suggestion that our intelligence on Iran is inadequate.
THE WEEKLY STANDARD editor Bill Kristol asked Bush: “Is Iran going to get nuclear weapons?” Bush responded by expanding on a point he made in the book. As president, he contemplated Iran policy by thinking about two clocks – one measured the time it would take for Iran to get nuclear weapons and the other kept track of the time it would take for internal change to take root in Iran. Bush writes that his plan was to accelerate the latter and retard the former.
“Bill, it’s hard to tell. I hope this was informative to people – the objective was to slow down the knowledge clock and speed up the change clock. And implicit in that is that nothing will change until the regime changes. I don’t have all the intelligence so it’s hard for me to tell how fast the clocks are moving. I do know – as I observe I hope that they continue will pressure, but the change clock moves quicker when there’s a focused international effort on the regime. And here’s why: Ahmadinejad has made promises and to the extent that he can’t deliver it’ll be hard for him and hard for the theocrats to justify his existence.”
Whatever naïveté Obama might have expressed on the campaign trail, Bush believes the reality of the Iranian challenge is clear to his successor. “I think he understands the threat.”
And if he ever forgets, he is receiving constant reminders. “You can’t be a strong ally to Israel without knowing the threat. I can assure you that every meeting with the Israeli leadership is: ‘Hey! This is a threat!’”
Most striking, perhaps, was Bush’s answer to a question near the end of the session about whether he believed that the US had good visibility into the regime’s nuclear program. He answered quite deliberately: “Let me answer it this way. In general, you pay a price for the absence of intelligence over time.”
He did not actually say “no,” but his body language made clear that it’s what be believes.