As far as I can tell, President Bush first pronounced it as American policy on August 12, 2005, when he replied to an Israeli television interviewer who asked what the president would do if diplomacy didn’t turn Iran away from its nuclear ambitions.
“Well, all options are on the table,” Bush said. “Including the use of force?” the reporter asked. “Well. You know, as I say, all options are on the table. The use of force is the last option for any president. You know, we’ve used force in the recent past to secure our country.”
What I would like reporters to probe in the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and Congress is what options are NOT on the table. Using force effectively against Iran’s nuclear facilities may entail nuclear weapons.
And George Lakoff, an expert on the language of politics and a professor of linguistics, suspects that one of the options on George Bush’s table may be “nuclear war.” And he believes the administration may be attempting to make the use of a nuclear weapon against Iran palatable to the American people.
During a Rose Garden photo op on April 18, 2006 Bush was asked if “all options on the table include the possibility of a nuclear strike? Is that something your administration will plan for?”
The President replied, “All options are on the table.”
As Lakoff reminds us, that was shortly after publication of a New Yorker piece by Seymour Hersh, which reported that the U.S. was planning a war against Iran to cripple its nuclear capability and/or to bring about regime change.
Hersh was not seriously challenged and since then “all options are on the table,” has been repeated like a mantra to keep evil spirits away, but not only by the president. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton told a dinner of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, “We cannot, we must not permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons, and in dealing with this threat…no option can be taken off the table.” One of her rivals, former Sen. John Edwards said during a speech in Israel, “To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep all options on the table. Let me reiterate, ALL options must remain on the table.”
Sen. Barak Obama told “60 Minutes” he preferred a diplomatic solution but, “I think we should keep all options on the table.” Republican Sen. John McCain said the Iranians must understand that the U.S. may “exercise a military option” and therefore “the president’s comments that we won’t take anything off the table was entirely appropriate.”
Finally, Vice-President Cheney in Australia the other day said the U.S. and its allies seek to end the problem peacefully, “but I’ve also made the point and the president has made the point that all options are on the table.” What worries Lakoff and what ought to concern reporters is whether “all the options” include the use of nuclear weapons.
It’s possible, of course, that the administration is simply making a show of force to pressure Iran. But that’s what many people thought before the U.S. went to war against Iraq and declared the American intention to take preemptive military action against prospective enemies. Iran, even before it became a nuclear threat, was part of Bush’s “axis of evil.” And the neo conservatives who helped Bush sell the war on Iraq, are calling for preemptive war against Iran.
Hersh’s piece outlining possible action the U.S. is preparing to take against Iran, includes conventional “bunker buster” bombs or a tactical nuclear weapon, the B61-11 capable of penetrating deep into the concrete lined underground centrifuge site. Even before the U.S. sent a second aircraft carrier task force into the Persian Gulf, Hersh wrote that American planes from a carrier in the Arabian Sea “have been flying simulated nuclear weapons delivery missions…within range of Iranian coastal radars.”
And Hersh wrote that the U.S. has covert forces operating inside Iran and that, within a 24-hours notice, the carrier-based aircraft could mount a conventional bombing campaign aimed at destroying Iran’s military power and infrastructure, in an effort to bring about regime change, which remains a goal of the administration.
But Lakoff differentiates conventional and nuclear weapons. Is the administration willing to take nuclear weapons off the table? “Nuclear war is nuclear war!” he writes. “It crosses a moral line.”
We need to find out if crossing that moral line for the first time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki is among the options on the table.