It would appear that President Bush is beginning to exercise a bit more caution in the language he uses, or so we might believe from the Associated Press (via Yahoo! News) account of today's press conference:
Challenged on the accuracy of U.S. intelligence, President Bush said Wednesday there is no doubt the Iranian government is providing armor-piercing weapons to kill American soldiers in Iraq. But he backed away from claims the top echelon of Iran's government was responsible.
Bush's strategy was to try to anchor his comments to "what we do and do not know about the Quds Force:"
Three senior U.S. military officials, at a weekend briefing in Baghdad, said the highest levels of the Iranian government had ordered the weapons smuggled into Iraq. They based their claim on the belief the weapons are moving into Iraq through the Iran's Revolutionary Guards elite Quds Force.
But Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said later he was not ready to conclude that Iran's top leaders were behind the attacks. Some lawmakers also have questioned the administration's statements.
Wading into the debate, Bush said the Quds Force was instrumental in supplying the weapons — "we know that," he said — and that the Quds Force was part of the Iranian government. "That's a known," he said. "What we don't know is whether or not the head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds Force to do what they did."
Pressed again on the subject, Bush displayed some irritation and said, "Whether (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad ordered the Quds Force to do this, I don't think we know. But we do know that they're there and I intend to do something about it. And I've asked our commanders to do something about it. And we're going to protect our troops." Ahmadinejad has denied Iran was behind the attacks.
The Boston Globe is hoping to provide a clearer picture by bringing in more "knowledge sources:"
Daniel Serwer, a specialist at the US Institute for Peace, a Washington-based think tank, said he was not convinced that the Iranian government had decided "at the highest levels" to provide weapons to target US troops, as the three US officials told reporters.
"The question is not so much about whether there are Iranian weapons inside Iraq," said Serwer, who served as executive director of the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan commission on Iraq. "Sure there are. The question is whether there is a conscious policy by the Iranian government or some part of the Iranian government to support lethal attacks against Americans. I haven't seen any proof of that yet."
This would appear to provide some support for Pace's position. Meanwhile, Senator Christopher Dodd has decided to recognize the dead moose on the table and wonder aloud whether or not the White House is crying wolf again:
A senior Democratic senator compared the US allegations to the charges against Iraq's former President Saddam Hussein in the months before the US invasion in March 2003.
"I am deeply troubled by this administration's escalating rhetoric against Iran, especially intelligence from unnamed officials that is not fully documented," Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, said in a statement. "It is frighteningly reminiscent of the pattern we saw in the drumbeat that led to the war with Iraq."
As I suggested earlier this morning, this is a case where we have to assume that all the narrators are unreliable (particularly now that the whistle has been blown on Rice's credibility). So, while Bush is now trying to cover his own ass with more judicious use of language, the prospect that this mess will be resolved by informed decisions seems pretty bleak.