U.S. President George W. Bush wasted no time yesterday in capitalizing on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's latest gaffe. This time, the Iranian president wasn't threatening to wipe Israel off the map or denying the Holocaust; he merely promised to fill the "power vacuum" in the Middle East that will inevitably arise when U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq.
For Bush, who is desperate to head off growing congressional opposition to the Iraq war, Ahmadinejad's blunder was like manna from heaven. He wasted no time in responding:
Mr Bush accused Tehran of destabilising Iraq and Afghanistan and threatening the Middle East with the "shadow of a nuclear holocaust". "We will confront this danger before it is too late," he said.
It would be a "disaster" if the "forces of radicalism and extremism", including Iran, succeeded in driving the US out of Iraq, Mr Bush said.
"The region would be dramatically transformed in a way that could imperil the civilised world," he said. "Iran could conclude that we were weak and could not stop them from gaining nuclear weapons. And once Iran had nuclear weapons, it would set off a nuclear arms race in the region."
The White House immediately followed up with a leak to the Washington Post saying that Bush would soon ask Congress for another $50 billion for Iraq. After all, who in Congress wants to be blamed for giving Iran free reign in the region?
But there's just one problem: Iran's rising influence in the Middle East has happened precisely because there are U.S. troops occupying Baghdad, not in spite of it. Perhaps ol' Mahmoud is foxier than he appears.