Imagine for a moment that you are a parent who is exasperated by the behavior of your teenager. He will not clean his room and he insists on staying out late god-knows-where and getting into god-knows-what mischief. Your escalating threats of punishment have come to naught and so you threaten the most severe sanction you can think of: He will be grounded for a month.
And then a curious thing happens. He cleans his room. Okay, it's not spotless, but for him it's pretty remarkable. He comes home at a reasonable hour too. What do you do?
If you're President Bush, you go ahead and ground him. After all, as Bush might say, "Timmy wasn't cleaning his room. Timmy is someone who doesn't like cleaning his room. And Timmy will be dangerous if he has the knowledge of knowing how not to clean his room."
I admit it's an imperfect analogy--your teenage son isn't enriching uranium in his room (though that might explain the smell); he doesn't deny the truth of the Holocaust--but it's the first thing I thought of when I learned of Bush's reaction to the National Intelligence Estimate that said Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. We would think a parent inflexible and capricious if he or she reacted the way Bush is.
The problem, of course, is that Bush has been heating up the anti-Tehran rhetoric of late, dangling threats of World War III in front of us. The NIE report cuts him off at the knees. But rather than learn from it, he appears to be hobbling forward on his stumps. The Washington Post's editorial page has a "not so fast" editorial today. Robert Kagan thinks the administration has lost any hope of launching military action against Iran and that it's time to talk. Simon Jenkins agrees, writing in today's Guardian about why he feels the west must engage with Tehran. Washingtonpost.com's Dan Froomkin describes the president's performance at a news conference yesterday as "neck-snapping." And David Ignatius provides some background on how U.S. intelligence arrived at their startling conclusions about Iran's bomb plans.
One intelligence official told Ignatius that "Diplomacy works. That's the message."
It's too late to see if diplomacy would have worked with Iraq. Who knows, maybe it wouldn't have. But what would the world think if the U.S. went after both a country that appeared to harbor weapons of mass destruction (but didn't) and a country that dropped its efforts to acquire such weapons?
If I was a teenage kid, I know what Id do: I'd let my room go to hell and party like the world was about to end.