Why The O'Neill Revelations Matter
Then: January 30, 2001
It's an honor for both the Vice President and I to say some words about the Secretary of Treasury. With Paul over at the Treasury, he is literally a next door neighbor. And I'm going to see a lot of him right here in this office. He'll be a valued advisor and a steady hand.
Secretary O'Neill has served in this office before, at the Office of Management and Budget. He understands the workings and responsibilities of the Executive Branch. More then that, he understands the private sector, where he and others like him have been driving our country's economic boom.
In a distinguished career, Paul has earned a reputation as a straight shooter and an innovator. And I'm proud to welcome him as the Chief Financial Officer of this nation.
I value Paul's vast experience in the world economy. I value his background in employing American workers. And I value his steadiness, his conviction and his authority.
Now: January 11, 2004
"We didn't listen to [O'Neill's] wacky ideas when he was in the White House, why should we start listening to him now," said a senior official.
(Probably Karl Rove)
So obviously if Paul O’Neill was a whack job, then what does that say about George W. Bush’s judgement in hiring him in the first place?
The trashing of Paul O’Neill will begin in earnest now because no matter what the White House says in dismissing his comments tonight on “60 Minutes” and what is written in the Ron Suskind book when it is released this week, the observations of someone like O’Neill and the interviews and documentary research by Suskind are damaging to this White House.
Even O’Neill’s comments about the reaction he got from Dick Cheney after the midterm elections when he complained about the deficits likely from the second round of Bush tax cuts will do damage to White House claims that they are concerned about the deficits.
O'Neill had been preaching that a fiscal crisis was looming and more tax cuts would exacerbate it. But others in the White House saw a chance to capitalize on the historic Republican congressional gains in the 2002 elections. Surely, Cheney would not be so smug. He would hear O'Neill out. In an economic meeting in the Vice President's office, O'Neill started pitching, describing how the numbers showed that growing budget deficits threatened the economy. Cheney cut him off. "Reagan proved deficits don't matter," he said. O'Neill was too dumbfounded to respond. Cheney continued: "We won the midterms. This is our due."
The Time Magazine piece by John Dickerson yesterday is revealing.
"The biggest difference between then and now," O'Neill tells Suskind about his two previous tours in Washington, "is that our group was mostly about evidence and analysis, and Karl (Rove), Dick (Cheney), Karen (Hughes) and the gang seemed to be mostly about politics. It's a huge distinction."
Discussing the case for the Iraq war in an interview with TIME, O'Neill, who sat on the National Security Council, says the focus was on Saddam from the early days of the Administration. He offers the most skeptical view of the case for war ever put forward by a top Administration official. "In the 23 months I was there, I never saw anything that I would characterize as evidence of weapons of mass destruction," he told TIME. "There were allegations and assertions by people.
Yet the White House, in its efforts to discredit O’Neill’s claim, state that the WMD “evidence” was on a need-to-know basis.
A top Administration official says of the WMD intelligence: "That information was on a need- to-know basis. He wouldn't have been in a position to see it."
Meaning, if you were to believe this, that the National Security Council was kept out of the loop on the Administration’s war plans. Which means that the plans to invade Iraq were judged to not be a matter of national security. And that is why the O’Neill revelations are damaging.
As I said in my comments today in my earlier thread on this topic, our invasion of Iraq was not driven by national security needs, but rather as one of political choice and personal payback. Why do I say this?
There was no imminent threat to the US national security interests posed by Saddam in March 2003. Let's walk down the reasons given and what the Bushies knew:
Saddam and 9/11: The administration says they never made such a connection, even though they allowed such an inference to fester amongst the populace.
Saddam and his WMD stockpiles: The CIA already had the interviews from Saddam's son-in-laws from '95 that claimed the weapons stocks were destroyed in '91. They also had the reports from the IAEA that at the time Saddam shut off the inspections in '98, it was very difficult to confirm what he had left, but that they had found little evidence of a weapons producing industry given the sanctions that had been imposed on him since the early 90's.
Saddam and Al Qaeda: The one allegation made by Cheney and others that an Al Qaeda official met with Saddam's intelligence folks had already been retracted by those who made it first, the Czech intelligence folks, around the time of the invasion. But BushCo now says that Saddam had no connection to 9/11, so this line of justification, taking their own words as credible, was not a supportable reason to invade in March 2003.
Saddam and the Aluminum tubes: The Departments of State and Energy had already cast doubt on any suggestion that the tubes purchased by Iraq were for nuclear weapons development by the time of the invasion. Yet that was ignored.
Saddam and the African uranium purchase: The CIA had already told the White House in October 2002 that the story could not be validated and was from a suspect source. Yet it was placed in the SOTU by Cheney's office and Stephen Hadley of Condi Rice's office and was known to be suspect at the time of the invasion. Yet that was ignored.
Saddam posed an imminent threat: Bush claimed that Tony Blair said the Iraqis possessed the ability to launch WMDs within 45 minutes of an attack, and therefore they posed an imminent threat to American interests. But MI-6 also had told the CIA before the invasion that the 45-minute claim had come from only one source, and he himself was of dubious credibility. Yet that was ignored.
The point is that the Bush Administration knew at the time of the invasion that Saddam posed no imminent threat to our national security interests, yet made an elective choice to invade in March 2003 anyway, rather than allow the inspectors another several months to verify what Saddam actually had. Now the Carnegie Endowment says the Bushies distorted the intelligence they had and willfully misrepresented it to make a false case for immediate war.
They also chose to invade after getting a desperate offer from Saddam in the first half of March to open up his sites to US inspections, and preferential oil contracts.
They also went in without a plan for what to do with the country after they booted Saddam out, a problem which could have been avoided if they had waited another three months, or if they had tested Saddam's sincerity with his desperation offer.
The choice to invade was an elective, political one, not driven by national security imperatives. And it is against that background that it must be evaluated. Is the world safer now with Saddam gone? Frankly no, as the evidence of the last seven months would prove. Toppling Saddam has had no measurable impact on our national security, and anyone who says it has after seeing there was no imminent WMD threat or imminent Saddam/terrorism threat is arguing against the facts on the ground.
Is the world safer several years from now with Saddam gone? Sure, but that could have also been accomplished in other ways short of an invasion.
Will things turn out in Iraq? I suspect so, but at a cost of having 75,000-120,000 of our troops tied up there for another 24 months, unable to deal with other problems in the world. And we'll be occupying Iraq virtually alone.
And there is no evidence that Al Qaeda has been significantly hampered by the takeover of Iraq, as evidenced by our continual threat warnings, and the assessment by many in the intelligence world that they are planning major attacks this spring. So when folks say the toppling of Hussein was worth it because we had to get rid of him, I'm still back to the question: why did we have to do it in March 2003, and what was the immediate reason for doing so?
At the end of the day, if the world is not safer than it was before, and if the threat posed by Saddam wasn't imminent in nature, then the invasion wasn't necessary for national security.
It was for politics, pure and simple, and to settle a personal score. The fact that they were discussing this from Day One only confirms this. As for O'Neill, he is at least as qualified to say what he has said as anyone else Bush selected for his cabinet with high praise. O'Neill isn't the first to say that everything is done in the Bush White House for political reasons. And the Bushies, in defending themselves by saying that the position of the US since Clinton was for regime change, aren't denying O'Neill's contention that they were talking about this since Day One.
In fact, has there been a flat-out denial of what O'Neill has said by the White House, or are they only attacking the messenger now as their only defense?
We know the answer. Karl Rove will try and make O’Neill out to be the crazy uncle in the basement, as Ross Perot would say. But voters will see that O’Neill doesn’t seem so crazy after all.