It’s somehow become incredibly gauche to point this out, but most indications are that either George W. Bush isn’t very bright and doesn’t really understand the issues he’s dealing with. Take this excerpt from Robert Draper’s new book:
“The job of the president,” he continued, through an ample wad of bread and sausage, “is to think strategically so that you can accomplish big objectives. As opposed to playing mini-ball. You can’t play mini-ball with the influence we have and expect there to be peace. You’ve gotta think, think BIG. The Iranian issue,” he said as bread crumbs tumbled out of his mouth and onto his chin, “is the strategic threat right now facing a generation of Americans, because Iran is promoting an extreme form of religion that is competing with another extreme form of religion. Iran’s a destabilizing force. And instability in that part of the world has deeply adverse consequences, like energy falling in the hands of extremist people that would use it to blackmail the West. And to couple all of that with a nuclear weapon, then you’ve got a dangerous situation. … That’s what I mean by strategic thought. I don’t know how you learn that.
Draper’s being mean about the food. But Bush isn’t misspeaking here or making some gaffes. He’s laying out the view that Iran is a strategic threat to a generation of Americans. The nature of this threat is that Iran is a “destabilizing force” and that this destabilizing force is threatening because instability in that part of the world could lead to oil fields coming under the control of “extremist people” who “would use it to blackmail the West.” Long story short, his entire vision of the strategic threat from Iran is driven by fear of the oil weapon.
Do we think Bush has rigorously studied the considerable discussion of this issue in the policy community? After all, for Iran — or even a new “Greater Iran” that’s extended its influence over Iraq — to attempt to blackmail us with its control over oil supplies would be the equivalent of me threatening to chop my head off and then bludgeon you with it. What’s more, as a means of hedging against the risk of Iranian irrationality, massively expensive military engagement in the Persian Gulf seems like a poor choice. Why not instead invest hundreds of billions in alternative energy research? Research that would prove useful not only in the unlikely event that Iran tries to blackmail us, but also just in terms of cleaner air.