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Abrams: No Darfur, No Iran. Really?

Former Bush NSC official Elliott Abrams recently gave an interesting interview to his sister-in-law for the Jerusalem Post, which contains a curious assertion about George Bush and Darfur:

Did you believe that Bush was going to bomb Iran before the end of his presidency?

It's hard to remember what I believed about that in, say, at some date in 2002 or 2003. But I did not really believe it in the second term. There was one telltale sign: his decision not to bomb the air force in Sudan so that it could not be used to kill more people in Darfur. And it wouldn't have been that hard to do. But he decided against it, fearing that - after having attacked Afghanistan and Iraq - attacking yet another Arab country would have been very poorly received in the Arab world - and much of the rest of the world.

But isn't there consensus about the genocide in Darfur?

Yes. So, given the consensus about Darfur, and given the military ease with which an operation could be carried out against Sudan, if Bush didn't do it, that was certainly a hint that he wasn't going to turn around and feel it was fine to bomb Iran.

I don't follow his logic. For better or worse, I'm confident the Bush-Cheney team worried far more about the prospect of Iranian nukes than about the suffering in Darfur. That doesn't mean they didn't care about Darfur at all; but we know they spent a massive amount of time sweating over Iran. It's quite plausible to imagine them concluding that Darfur didn't involve sufficient US national security interests to warrant a backlash-threatening intervention, while also concluding that Iran did.

That said, Abrams is correct that by the second half of his presidency Bush had grown more gun-shy than many people imagine him. David Sanger's new book details at length how resistant the Bush administration was not only to an Israeli airstrike on Iran's nuclear facilities, but also to the attack that took out a nascent nuclear reactor in Syria last year.

--Michael Crowley