Monday, December 10, 2007

Kicking the New K-nowledge

Eric Black connects the dots with respect to the shift in rhetoric regarding Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program that I observed here and here (via Paul Waldman):

Maybe I’m imagining things. You’d have to review a lot of statements and see whether the “knowledge” and “capacity” stuff started earlier. I’ve just spent a couple of hours testing my theory on the White House site that archives Bush’s speeches and news conferences and — while definitely not perfect — my theory is looking pretty good. Before August, Bush often states much more flatly that Iran is “pursuing nuclear weapons,” has a “nuclear weapons program,” is “trying to develop (or ‘get’) a nuclear weapon.”

There are a couple of exceptions (and maybe more that I haven’t found) before August, where Bush uses versions of the more recent language about acquiring know-how or capabilities. But before August, they are the exceptions.

After August, all of the instances in which Bush discussed Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions, he used language that is consistent with my theory. Post-August, Iran has bad intentions and is acquiring dangerous knowledge, but not running an ongoing program to build a bomb. The change is subtle enough that you might miss it if you aren’t looking for it, and as far as I can tell, we all did miss it.

Matt Yglesias has a plausible theory that into question the claim that the NIE was only revealed to the President in August:

Under this theory, Bush would have been informed of IC views some time before August, at which point they just got ignored. Then there may have been some moment when Mike McConnell or someone else important within the intelligence world got upset and said "you can't have people saying blah blah blah" and thus begins the era of what Black calls "Clintonian parsing," language designed to obscure the new facts while technically staying within the bounds of what the new information says.

In either case, though, the NIE does seem to have played a prominent role in how the Bush administration has chosen to frame the Iran issue. The dots may be connected, but it's not exactly a pretty picture.

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