WHEN IN DOUBT, CREDIT BUSH…. It’s been a little tough to follow the conservative response to the Iranian presidential election. There appear to be some competing angles — the election doesn’t really matter, we’re told, but it does matter insofar as it’s Obama’s fault.

One of the more creative pre-emptive spins on the recent developments is the notion that the reform movement in Iran is a good thing, and the person who deserves credit for it is … George W. Bush.

Veteran spinmeister Ari Fleischer, a former Bush White House spokesman, appears to have been the first out the box, at 11:55 a.m. [on Friday], with an interesting analysis. No one yet knew the final outcome, he wrote in an e-mail to our colleague Glenn Kessler, but “one of the reasons there is a substantial reform movement in Iran — particularly among its young people — is because of George W. Bush’s tough policies.” He noted that Bush’s policies in Lebanon also helped in the recent elections there.

“A big push for reform is because of the desire of Iranians to get out from sanctions, to put an end to the country’s international ostracism,” Fleischer wrote and, most interestingly, “because Shiites in particular see Shiites in Iraq having more freedoms than they do. Bush’s tough policies have helped give rise to the reformists and I think we’re witnessing that today.”

Plus there was all this “outreach to the people of Iran,” he wrote, at the State Department, with those “people-to-people exchange programs” involving artists and doctors and film folks and so forth…. So “I think it’s fair to say the George Bush’s Freedom Agenda planted seeds that have started to grow in the Middle East,” Fleischer concluded.

There’s no evidence that Fleischer was kidding.

I can appreciate the partisan perspective that generates this kind of spinning. The success of pro-Western candidates in Lebanon raised the specter of an “Obama effect” in the region, and if Mousavi was the big winner in Iran, the U.S. president might once again benefit.

So, what’s a “veteran spinmeister” to do? Tell reporters on Friday that before anyone looks favorably on the current American leadership, it’s more important to extol the previous American leadership — you know, the one which was widely reviled throughout the Middle East.

And to think, Ari Fleischer is considered something of a shameless hack. Imagine that.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.