Wittgenstein, Iran and George Bush

Overview: In this piece we put forward the hypothetical case that George Bush, the Decider, determined several years ago that he will not permit Iran to get nuclear weapons. We argue that there are a number of implications from having made such a decision in terms of planning for an attack and its repercussions, and that these have been underway for several years. Finally, we argue that several puzzling policy positions of the Bush administration, and George Bush’s strange silence on some key issues, may be understood as “rope-a-dope” within the context of the broader, unspoken decision about Iran. Whether any of this is true or not, we haven’t a clue; indeed, we fear none of it is true.

“What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence…”

— Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1922, Introduction, p. 3

Wittgenstein was a philosopher who in the Tractatus proposed a flawed theory of language. George Bush is not a philosopher, and often garbles his language. Nonetheless, that phrase of Wittgenstein’s keeps coming back to our mind when we think of the things George Bush talks about, and those conspicuously absent from discussion. George Bush says some things quite clearly, and others he passes over in silence.

There are three things we note that George Bush does not much speak of: (a) the ideological war against sharia; (b) the inevitability of decisive military action to prevent Iran from getting WMD; and (c) effective control of the US border with Mexico. The reasons for these things probably have nothing to do with each other. The President may not talk about our ideological war because he does not want to further inflame passions in the Islamic world, or the situation in Iraq is too dicey, or because he does not think in such terms. He may keep quiet about Iranian WMD because none were found in Iraq, which surely seems to be sufficient reason. He may not talk or act about enforcement of the border with Mexico because he is in the pocket of big corporations, or there is a conspiracy of the New World Order, or his pollsters have said to do so is unwise electorally, or he strangely believes that a welfare state can have open borders. No doubt you can list many more reasons, both sensible and absurd, yourself.

To underscore how radically different George Bush’s current silence on Iran is from his talk on Iraq, we’ll go back to the fall of 2002, courtesy of Peoples Daily and the detailed, bellicose and provocative things the President said in his October speech:

Saddam and his “nuclear holy warriors” are also building a nuclear weapons program, Bush said in a rare evening address. “If we allow that to happen, a terrible line would be crossed,” the president told civic group leaders at the Cincinnati Museum Center. “Saddam Hussein would be in a position to blackmail anyone who opposes his aggression.” “He would be in a position to dominate the Middle East. He would be in a position to threaten America. And Saddam Hussein would be in a position to pass nuclear technology to terrorists,” Bush said….

“The time for denying, deceiving and delaying has come to an end,” Bush said. “Saddam must disarm himself or, for the sake of peace, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.” Bush warned that an Iraqi military facing destruction “may attempt cruel and desperate measures” and that Iraqi commanders may be considered war criminals if they follow Saddam’s orders. “There is no easy or risk-free course of action,” Bush said. “Some have argued we should wait, but that is not an option. In my view, that is the riskiest of all options because the longer we wait, the stronger and bolder Saddam Hussein will become.”

The things that George Bush was saying about Saddam and WMD and their possible use by Iraq or terrorists are all far more overtly brandished and threatened by Iran itself. Yet there is barely a peep from the President about Iran, certainly nothing like the rhetoric of a few years ago. As for the control of the Mexican border, it is obvious that this is a major, virtually uncontrolled pipeline for smuggling human beings into the United States; it’s as though the Rio Grande had a big neon sign above it saying: Terrorists Welcome! Finally, the President’s backing of the ports deal with Dubai, the mealy-mouthed response to the Cartoon Riots and the Afghanistan apostasy case, and his silence on the disasters that are Islamic sharia societies appear at odds with the way the US handled the ideological front in the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

We are certainly willing to entertain the notion that the President is just out of it, that five years of the 9-11 environment have been too much for the man. Or perhaps he has a tin ear politically, and simply has a ‘screw-you’ attitude towards the base (and a majority of Americans) regarding the priority of effective border control over amnesty, guest-worker programs, or anything else. And maybe the administration really is outsourcing Iran policy to the EU and the UN, and the administration plans to figure out what it is really willing to do to stop Iran a year or two down the road.

Maybe, but what if?

What if it all hangs together, however? What if the President’s reticence on our ideological war is all about maximizing cooperation in the Arab and Islamic worlds for a massive operation against Iran, which might involve not only the assistance of the ports-deal UAE, but countries like Saudi Arabia, with basing, overflight and oil export elements in play? What if a major element in the Bush softness on the southern border is to attract Iranian and other infiltrators to use well-established and well-penetrated coyote channels to track these people — they’re going to get in somehow, why not in through venues where the US has active intelligence assets? And as for the the back-seat role the US is playing in Iranian diplomacy, what if one purpose is to stall for time and to egg on — through relative silence and passivity — the loudmouth millenarian thug Ahmadinejad to greater and greater excesses of rhetoric and action, potentially tricking him into sufficient offensive action so that America’s hitting Iran can be seen as a defensive response?

We recognize we are probably trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and that we are engaging in wishful thinking, since we hope there might be a clever strategy behind what appears to be utterly feckless behavior. However, it is fair to say that George Bush has been fixated on the war since 9-11, and on protecting the United States. And while it is also fair to say that the President may not be the sharpest theoretical tool in the shed, he has mastered the art of letting his opponents overextend themselves by silently, apparently cluelessly playing rope-a-dope, as Thomas Lifson has shown.

It has been obvious for a long time that Iran was going to build a nuclear arsenal come hell or high water; no diplomacy was going to stop them — the very thought is laughable. Therefore, and this is the crucial point, George Bush, the Decider, has already made the decision about how he will handle the matter. He will either let them get the bomb or he will not. No competent CEO, faced with a circumstance as potentially devastating as Iran’s getting and using the bomb, would take the position that “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” when planning the actions to stop it and to deal with the consequences of that new war, takes years. Therefore, in our opinion, George Bush has already made the fundamental go / no-go decision about whether he will permit Iran to get the bomb. If he has decided not to let Iran get the bomb, there are a number of decisions that flow from that. These include deferring the timing of a strike as long as possible, getting as much intelligence within Iran as possible, trying to foment conditions within Iran to stop Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, preparing battlefield and diplomatic conditions for a strike, using Iran’s belligerency against itself, and preparing in depth for the counter-attacks that will be unleashed by Iran in that new war. At least that’s what we’d do if it were our responsibility.

So there is a some case to be made that there is method to what appears to be madness in certain policy positions and in the silence of the Bush administration on certain important issues. If it turns out that George Bush may again demonstrate with Iran that he is a master poker player, there is still one great and overarching mistake he could make: when the time comes for an attack, he could choose moderation. If America were to eliminate Iran’s nuclear capability, it needs to wipe out its ability to make conventional and terrorist war as well. It would be the highest folly not to do so, and planning to comprehensively destroy Iran’s terror capability is perhaps the thing that takes the most planning of all.

So maybe there is grand strategy at work by George Bush and his administration. On the other hand, as Wittgenstein said, (and Bill Kristol and many others believe) maybe their silence comes from having nothing to talk about.

3 Responses to “Wittgenstein, Iran and George Bush”

  1. Steven M. Warshawsky Says:


    This is an extremely interesting analysis, based on the seemingly simple assumption (which I accept as true) that President Bush is neither an idiot nor afraid to confront Iran. BUT . . . where is the evidence that preparations of any type (military, international, domestic security, etc.) are being made to attack Iran? In today’s political and media environment, it would not be possible to keep such preparations secret, unless, perhaps, Bush is planning only a “surgical” operation that involves some cruise missiles and air strikes. I completely agree with you that a “moderate” attack would be a mistake. But are there any reports out there that suggest Bush is moving in any other direction?

  2. larwyn Says:

    Our military is all over the area already. The ships and planes are in place. Just got basing rights for 2,000 in another “stan” – 2,000 SEALS!

    When things look dark I just hum……..
    “you don’t count your money while you’re sitting at the table, there’ll be time enough for counting when the dealings done”.
    Sent KUDOS to Thomas for the Crawford Kid post!
    Welcome to the party of optimists. Why should he give the LSM and their Dem mouthpieces (reversed that on purpose as the LSM is the annointer of what DEM gets the soundbite) time to screw the plans up?

    Shhhhhhh! we better whisper about this.

  3. staghounds Says:

    It would be nice if you were right. I fear you are not. And even if you were right, all this deviousness is the B answer. The A answer is public and open honesty.

    I reflect on the resignation of Justice O’Connor. The president had, just a month beore, selected a nominee for the Supreme Court. Yet he dithered before nominating Ms. Meiers.

    Now that means one of three things. Either there was no second choice to the Roberts nomination, OR he was just messing with us, OR he was weak and indecisive about whether his Roberts backup was a good choice.

    Any president worth a hoot has that supreme court pick list ready before he is inaugurated. You have one, so do I.

    So if he had “already made” the Meiers decision- If Roberts fails, Harriet- why didn’t he just launch?

    I never thought he was a genuine conservative, and I shudder to see how right that was. But I once thought he might turn out to be tough, direct, and decisive. I doubt that, too.

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