Thoughts on Paul O’Neill

Paul O’Neill has decided to open up about the inner workings of the Bush administration. He’s the primary source for a new Ron Suskind book, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill. O’Neill is also granting interviews galore — see both 60 Minutes and Time. Some not-so-random thoughts:
1) Ron Suskind strikes again!! Despite the Bush administration’s best efforts to keep White House leaks to a minimum (well, except if they involve CIA operatives) he has the ability to get Bush officials to open up on the record.
2) Paul O’Neill is a smart guy, but do bear in mind that he was a pretty lousy Treasury secretary when he was in charge. The day he left, I wrote the following:

O’Neill fundamental strengths were his intelligence and his willingness to say what he though even if it roiled markets and politicians. His fatal flaw was that he knew he was intelligent, and therefore never considered the possibility that he could be wrong. Also, saying what you think is not the most useful skill for a job that requires a fair amount of tact. Since O’Neill had no political ambitions, his incentive to correct these flaws were nil. Therefore, he never learned on this job.

Brad DeLong concurred that “O’Neill seems never to have tried to learn what his job was.” The Time story observed, “Rarely had a person who spoke so freely been embedded so high in an Administration that valued frank public remarks so little.” Later on in the story, even O’Neill thinks that O’Neill goes too far:

Describing top-level meetings, O’Neill tells Suskind that during the course of his two years the President was “like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people.”
In his interview with TIME, O’Neill winces a little at that quote. He’s worried it’s too stark and now allows that it may just be Bush’s style to keep his advisers always guessing.

My point is not to claim that all of O’Neill’s criticisms can be dismissed in a single stroke. He’s clearly a smart person, and no doubt some of his criticisms have the ring of truth. My point is to remind people that O’Neill brings some baggage that he brings to the table — and that even smart people can let that baggage overwhelm them.
3) Both O’Neill and Suskind engage in some slightly revisionist history on Iraq. Here’s the 60 Minutes transcript on this point:

[W]hat happened at President Bush’s very first National Security Council meeting is one of O’Neill’s most startling revelations.
“From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,” says O’Neill, who adds that going after Saddam was topic “A” 10 days after the inauguration – eight months before Sept. 11….
He got briefing materials under this cover sheet. “There are memos. One of them marked, secret, says, ‘Plan for post-Saddam Iraq,’” adds Suskind, who says that they discussed an occupation of Iraq in January and February of 2001.
Based on his interviews with O’Neill and several other officials at the meetings, Suskind writes that the planning envisioned peacekeeping troops, war crimes tribunals, and even divvying up Iraq’s oil wealth.
He obtained one Pentagon document, dated March 5, 2001, and entitled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield contracts,” which includes a map of potential areas for exploration.
“It talks about contractors around the world from, you know, 30-40 countries. And which ones have what intentions,” says Suskind. “On oil in Iraq.”
During the campaign, candidate Bush had criticized the Clinton-Gore Administration for being too interventionist: “If we don’t stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we’re going to have a serious problem coming down the road. And I’m going to prevent that.”
“The thing that’s most surprising, I think, is how emphatically, from the very first, the administration had said ‘X’ during the campaign, but from the first day was often doing ‘Y,’” says Suskind. “Not just saying ‘Y,’ but actively moving toward the opposite of what they had said during the election.”

Suskind’s revelations sound sexy, but they’re pretty overblown. As Glenn Reynolds has pointed out, a lot of what O’Neill talks about and what Suskind cites had been under discussion in the Clinton administration. In early 2001, “peacekeeping troops, war crimes tribunals, and even divvying up Iraq’s oil wealth” were not merely under discussion by neocons that might have wanted to invade Iraq, but by policy wonks across the board. At the time, the Washington consensus about the Iraq policy at the time was that the status quo was an untenable situation. A lot of meetings were being held about ways to rejigger U.S. policy. FULL DISCLOSURE — as a sanctions expert, I participated in one such bipartisan meeting chaired by Richard Haass in the early days of the transition.
Most important, this narrative overlooks the fact that prior to September 11th, the State Department had the lead on Iraq policy — and they wanted to lift a lot of the sanctions. Don’t believe me? Check out Lawrence Kaplan’s attack on Colin Powell and Richard Haass (then-director of Policy Planning) in March 2001 in The New Republic (subscription is required). Kaplan preferred a more hawkish approach, so he took Powell to task. Here’s the good part:

Powell didn’t dream up this policy disaster on his own. Though the notion of scaling back sanctions against Iraq has been floating around the State Department for some time, much of the credit for dusting it off belongs to Richard Haass, a Powell ally from the first Bush administration whom the secretary of state has installed as his director of policy planning with the rank of ambassador. Haass, who’s made a name for himself over the years championing carrots rather than sticks in America’s dealings with Iraq, Iran, Libya, and pretty much everyone else. (Israel being the occasional exception), has become Powell’s Middle East guru. And in recent weeks he’s been peddling to administration officials recommendations gleaned from a policy paper titled, aptly enough, “Iraq: Time for a Modified Approach.” Written last month by Meghan O’Sullivan, who worked for Haass at the Brookings Institution, the brief for softening the sanctions regime neatly anticipates almost every utterance Powell has made recently about Iraq–from his insistence that loosening the embargo will dispel Arab anger to the old canard that “there is linkage to the situation between the Israelis and Palestinians.” Bush, of course, inherited Haass from his father’s Middle East team. And, with him, he’s inheriting its worst inclinations.
Haass’s return to Middle East policy-making, coupled with the sanctions episode, has thrown administration hawks into a funk.

It’s worth reading the whole thing, if for no other reason to see Kaplan accuse Haass — who was a dove on Iraq — of being in the pocket of the oil companies!!
The larger point is that Haass and Powell had the upper hand on Iraq policy — until September 11th. [UPDATE: Ted Barlow over at Crooked Timber has a Bush quote that captures this point perfectly]. Clearly, after 9/11, Bush changed his mind. But to claim that George W. Bush planned to invade Iraq from day one of his administration is utter horses&$t.
4) This paragraph from Time made me reflect on my own qualms with the Bush policy process:

So, what does O’Neill reveal? According to the book, ideology and electoral politics so dominated the domestic-policy process during his tenure that it was often impossible to have a rational exchange of ideas. The incurious President was so opaque on some important issues that top Cabinet officials were left guessing his mind even after face-to-face meetings. Cheney is portrayed as an unstoppable force, unbowed by inconvenient facts as he drives Administration policy toward his goals.

O’Neill’s statements dovetail with the TNR cover story by John Judis and Spencer Ackerman from six weeks ago (sorry, subscription required again) — this section in particular:

Cheney’s ideology hardly made a dent in the first Bush White House. But, in the second, George W. Bush tasked him with a robust foreign policy portfolio….
The Office of the Vice President (OVP) was more than a consolation prize. Cheney gave his national security staff far greater responsibilities than had traditionally been accorded the vice president’s team. His regional specialists wouldn’t be involved only in issues relevant to the vice president–they would participate fully in the policymaking process and attend almost every interagency meeting. When Cheney first created this new structure, some Bushies openly described the operation as a “shadow” NSC. For those in the NSC itself, it often seemed like the “shadow” had more power than the real deal. One former Bush official says, “In this case, it’s often the vice president’s office that’s driving the policy, leading the debate, leading the arguments, instead of just hanging back and recognizing that the vice president is not supposed to be driving the policy.”

I’m beginning to wonder how much Cheney’s activism — which Bush enabled — has thrown the NSC process completely off-kilter.
UPDATE: I’m not sure I explained that last point completely. This has nothing to do with the policy positions Cheney has taken on Iraq or anything else. Rather, the difficulty is that even cabinet-level officials can be reluctant in disagreeing with him because he’s the vice-president. This leads to a stunted policy debate, which ill-serves both the President and the country. Brad DeLong’s excerpt from the Wall Street Journal on the cabinet-level meeting on steel tariffs provide another case where Cheney seemed to choke off opposition to his position.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Bruce Bartlett has more.
FINAL UPDATE: A lot of the commentors have asked me about O’Neill’s comments regarding both fiscal policy and the White House obsession with the political.
Andrew Sullivan, after a funny line (“This White House is all about politics. Yes, and banks are full of money.”) makes much of the same points I would on this front.
NO, REALLY, THIS IS THE FINAL UPDATE — I SWEAR: O’Neill walks back the Iraq allegations completely in this Reuters story:

He described the reaction to Suskind’s book as a “red meat frenzy” and said people should read his comments in context, particularly about the Iraq war.
People are trying to say that I said the president was planning war in Iraq early in the administration. Actually there was a continuation of work that had been going on in the Clinton administration with the notion that there needed to be a regime change in Iraq.”
What surprised him, said O’Neill, was how much priority was given to Iraq by the president….
Asked about his comment that during Cabinet meetings Bush was like “a blind man in a room full of deaf people,” O’Neill said he regretted some of the language he used to describe his former boss.
If I could take it back, I would take it back. It has become the controversial centerpiece.”
Pressed whether he would vote for Bush in the November presidential election, O’Neill said he probably would, but he said the American people needed to demand more of their leaders. (emphasis added)

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43 responses to “Thoughts on Paul O’Neill”

  1. Robin Roberts

    I guess one would have to define “off-kilter”.

  2. Frank

    Here’s a link to the Judis and Ackerman article referenced above. (Required reading.)

  3. David Thomson

    I’m simply bored with the Paul O’Neal stuff. Every administration, Democrat or Republican, does contingency planning. It would actually be far more shocking if President Bush didn’t do likewise with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. But Dan Drezner has got my blood boiling over Richard Haass, Meghan O’Sullivan, and the Brookings Institution. Please consider spending the $20 annual fee for the TNR’s online publication. I will take the risk of engaging in copyright violations by offering these following quotes for your perusal:
    “Chief among these businesses, needless to say, is the oil industry. So it’s perhaps no surprise that oil companies such as Conoco and arco fund a chunk of Haass’s sanctions project at Brookings–an undertaking that has produced, among other things, O’Sullivan’s policy paper on Iraq. According to Conoco representatives, Haass has also consulted for the oil company, which the U.S. government barred from doing business in Iran in 1995. USA*Engage, the anti-sanctions business coalition, tirelessly promotes Haass’s work. And another oil firm, the Santa Fe International Corporation, whose parent company helps pay for his sanctions project, even installed him on its board of directors. “That’s perfect,” sighs one Bush adviser. “Why not just have the oil companies brief Powell directly?””
    “In addition to “Iraq: Time for a Modified Approach,” her oeuvre includes such titles as “The Politics of Dismantling Containment” and “Replacing the Rogue Rhetoric: A New Label Opens the Way to a Better Policy.” (Meghan) O’Sullivan finds the term “rogue state,” which she claims “is interpreted by U.S. allies and other nations as symptomatic of extremist American policies,” especially demeaning. “Noam Chomsky,” she adds approvingly, “suggests that the United States itself qualifies for `rogue’ status.” Nor, in her view, does engaging countries like Iraq, Iran, Libya, and North Korea mean simply lifting sanctions against them. As she spells out in a piece written for the French journal Politique Étrangère, true engagement means reducing America’s reliance on military force, covert action, and even regional alliances. Hence, after the recent round of air strikes against Baghdad, O’Sullivan complained to the press about U.S. planes patrolling the skies above Iraq. If all this sounds familiar, well, like the sanctions project on which she labors, part of O’Sullivan’s own salary at Brookings is paid with oil money.”
    Oh my God, the liberal media are simply morally disgusting and vile. Does anybody doubt for a moment that Haass, O’Sullivan, and the Brookings Institution would be cut slack over their support of the oil companies if they were so-called neoconservatives?

  4. HH

    Probe called for in leak of classified info

    “Frog march Karl Rove!!!” Oh, it’s from O’Neill? Never mind.

  5. HH

    Probe called for in leak of classified info

    “Frog march Karl Rove!!!” Oh, it’s from O’Neill? Never mind. (Link in above post was incorrect)

  6. Zathras

    It has happened in past administrations that a disengaged or indecisive President faced with State and Defense Secretaries who often disagreed allowed or encouraged other officials to take major roles in the design or execution of foreign policy. Usually the empowered official has been the National Security Adviser; at times it has been the CIA Director. The Clinton administration gave the Treasury Secretary an unusually prominent foreign policy role.
    Cheney’s influence — which extends into certain domestic policy areas as well — is unprecedented as far as I know. As Dan points out, Cheney could not play the role he does if President Bush did not want him to. He could not, as far as foreign policy is concerned, exercise so much influence if one of the major departments was not willing to implement his suggestions and snap up all the policymaking authority Cheney could throw its way. His long relationship with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is obviously key here.
    It is an irony that a major reason past Vice-Presidents were relegated to the policymaking sidelines was that even strong, self-confident Presidents who knew their own minds were reluctant to empower the one official they could not fire. Bush, with his less robust self-confidence and manifest ignorance about so many issues, is the President who took the bold step of giving his Vice President a major substantive role.

  7. uh_clem

    Nice post, Dan.
    I’m surprised that as an economist you didn’t have anything to say about the “Deficits don’t matter” quote attributed to Cheney by O’Neill.
    So, what’s your take on that?

  8. inkling

    “Ideology and electoral politics” dominating the White House policy process? Shocking!
    I’ve always found that “ideology” is a code word for “ideas that one doesn’t agree with.” The other side in a debate is always mired in ideology, while one’s own P.O.V. is always based entirely on, what was O’Neill’s felicitous phrase? — careful reasoning based on the facts (I’m paraphrasing here).
    As for electoral politics, isn’t that what a democracy is all about? Paying attention to what the voters want?
    O’Neill’s claims about Bush’s early intentions toward Iraq are on even shakier ground. This website points to some of the fault lines. But it really collapses when you examine that Iraqi oil document waved by Suskind in the 60 Minutes interview. It’s part of a series of energy-policy documents analyzing oil reserves throughout the Middle East, including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Are Suskind/O’Neill claiming that Bush planned to attack them as well? An insightful analysis of these documents can be found at If this analysis holds up, it will prove that O’Neill is perpetrating a terrible hoax on the American people.

  9. MQ

    Predictions for the New Year:
    I hereby make the shocking and almost-certain-to-be-accurate prediction that O’Neill did nothing at all illegal. It’s not illegal to show documents from Cheney’s energy task force, no matter how hard Cheney tries to hide them. It’s not illegal to tell a reporter about top-secret national security meetings unless you actually leak military secrets. Please see Woodward’s book-length hagiography of Bush for numerous supposedly verbatim transcripts of national security meetings clearly leaked by the participants.
    I further predict that after this is revealed most of the wingers posting here will totally ignore it and move on to other ways of minimizing the Bush Administration’s willingness to violate the law to get its political enemies.

  10. Opus

    Great post. I’m among those who still feel that Bush planned an Iraq invasion from the beginning — but who wouldn’t have been as angry about it if it had been proposed as it is being described now (Middle East stability, human rights defense), rather than tied (cleverly and obliquely) to 9/11 in order to win immediate public support.
    All of that is to say that O’Neill’s “disclosures” about that issue didn’t even cause me to raise an eyebrow. (And yes, I find it ridiculous that the WH would make a fuss about “classified” documents when the President hasn’t done the most fundamental things to discover the ID of the Plame leak.)
    And while I did listen with interest to his comments on Bush (no surprises but gossipy, which is always fun), I was primarily startled by his quote from Cheney re: tax cuts and am curious, like um_clem, what you think about that.

  11. Tom Holsinger

    More people are shocked, shocked! that the sun rises in the East!
    President Carter was the first president in modern times to give his vice-president (Walter Mondale) significant influence in policy-making and, in some areas, authority. Their relationship worked well, especially at grooming Mondale for succession to the presidency.
    President Reagan did the same with Bush 39. The latter’s de facto job in the Reagan Administration was Chief Executive Officer for national security affairs – he did the administrative work in implementing policy that Reagan didn’t want to given his focus on setting policy and keeping people focused on National Defense, Cutting Taxes and Reducing Federal Power.
    Bush 39 had as much or more input during the planning stage as anyone, but also knew, and behaved, as Reagan’s loyal subordinate once policy was set.
    This was great preparation for him as President, notably in that the x-USSR was brought down peacefully. There was significant fear in informed circles at the time that the place would collapse into a civil war which might go nuclear.
    Bush 39 as President lacked the self-confidence of Carter or Reagan, and had an Alfred E. Neuman vice-president.
    President Clinton didn’t give Al Gore the independent authority Carter gave Mondale, but Gore was definitely a major player in the Clinton Administration. Gore was certainly far more qualified to be President in 2000 than he was in 1992, and the authority & influence given him by Clinton had much to do with that.
    Bush 41′s relationship with Cheney indicates a degree of self-confidence by Bush 41 that his father lacked, and continues an emerging tradition of strong vice-presidents set in three of the past four administrations.
    Note that almost all of those who feel Cheney has too much power also feel, despite all evidence, that Bush 41 is a light-weight, oppose his foreign policy, opposed the conquest of Iraq, etc., i.e., this is just another expression of blind partisanship a la Republican Hillary-haters.
    Get a life.

  12. Mike K

    The map of Iraqi oil fields was apparently misrepresented by O’Neill and the book. The link is:
    It is from Cheney’s initial energy task force assessment, had nothing to do with the war and was one of a series of maps that include other countries. This will hit O’Neill’s credibility if it turns out that he was part of a hoax, alleging that these maps were part of the war planning.

  13. uh_clem

    Note to Tom Holsinger: Learn to count.
    George W Bush is the 43rd president, commonly referred to as Bush43. His dad was the 41st, commonly referred to as Bush41.
    Bush39 is a figment of your imagination.
    I can only hope that Bush[N] (N>43) is equally ficticious.

  14. jason

    o’neill is a complete non story. he has nothing compelling to say.

  15. erp

    There’s an old saying – “Take from whence it comes” and if it comes from a fired employee who’s no longer important and people don’t return his calls, writing a book is better than going postal and shooting up your former colleagues.
    This book will sink like a stone. Bush won’t deign to notice it. He does that very effectively.

  16. Thorley Winston

    He got briefing materials under this cover sheet. “There are memos. One of them marked, secret, says, ‘Plan for post-Saddam Iraq,’” adds Suskind, who says that they discussed an occupation of Iraq in January and February of 2001.

    Okay now we know that O’Neil is lying because everyone knows that the administration never had a plan for a post-Saddam Iraq ;)

  17. uh_clem

    o’neill is a complete non story. he has nothing compelling to say.
    No, you just don’t want to listen because he’s saying things you don’t want to hear.
    Take your fingers out of your ears. You just might learn something.

  18. Ciel

    I don’t think any of them *can* take their fingers out of their ears by now. There’s ever so much they don’t dare or care to hear.

  19. JoJo

    You Are A Idiot.

  20. Matt Ryan

    I’m confused. If O’Neil is so smart, why would he hand over documents clearly marked “secret” (and that’s just what hit the 60 Minutes camera – I wonder if there were top secret or higher documents released) to a journalist? Surely somebody in the administration (Security officials) briefed O’Neil both when he was named as Treasure Secretary and when he left the administration. As a former military officer, I find this pretty astonishing. At least white out the “Secret” before you pass the document or ask the journalist not to show the documents on national television!
    And then when he said that we would be surprised that Bushies might be offended? Surprised because it was the truth? O’Neil’s never heard of the expression: the truth hurts? Please. It couldn’t hurt Bush because it was the truth!
    I think Bush treated him shabbily, he was hurt, and here’s the revenge. He can’t be that stupid to think that his disclosures wouldn’t be deemed damaging by those that dislike Bush. I think he comes off just as petty as Bush does with the ‘Big O’ – frathouse worthy – nickname. Why did Bush name O’Neil in the first place – a guy evidently with thin skin managed by someone that would nickname such a person the ‘Big O’?

  21. GFW

    Jeez, O’Neill must have struck a nerve.

  22. David Thomson

    “I hereby make the shocking and almost-certain-to-be-accurate prediction that O’Neill did nothing at all illegal. It’s not illegal to show documents from Cheney’s energy task force, no matter how hard Cheney tries to hide them.”
    I am uncertain whether Paul O’Neal actually broke the law in a significant manner deserving of punishment. My rule of thumb is this: no one should be prosecuted on a mere legalistic “gotcha” technicality. In other words, the book should not be thrown at somebody for driving 55 1/8 miles per hour in a 55 per hour speed zone!

  23. Jon H

    Matt Ryan writes: “I’m confused. If O’Neil is so smart, why would he hand over documents clearly marked “secret” (and that’s just what hit the 60 Minutes camera – I wonder if there were top secret or higher documents released) to a journalist”
    It may be that no law was broken. There is no official secrets act in the US. Leaking classified information is not illegal, unless the information falls into certain narrow categories, like the identity of a covert agent.

  24. SamAm

    I think this hypocritical and vindictive repsonse fron the WH will backfire. Indeed, they’ve already proven that “no one cares what O’Neill has to say” isn’t exactly true. Between the outright intimidation of the investigation, the contrast to the Plame affair, and the journalistic assumption of “where there’s smoke there’s fire” the White House will regret moving in this direction. They’re trying to play the media for fools. I hope the media wont let them. However, I’m sure a crack reporter like Lisa Myers is on the case of that terrorist O’Neill right now…

  25. Jim

    Is the Secretary of the Treasury actually invited to National Security Council meetings? Why? I understand why the Secretary of Defense is present, and the Secretary of State, and maybe even the Attorney General, but the Secretary of the Treasury?

  26. SamAm

    Treasury has the Secret Service. I’m sure they offer expertise, for example, on terrorist financial networks.

  27. SamAm

    “They” being Treasury, not the Secret Service.

  28. Matt Ryan

    Jon H. “It may be that no law was broken. There is no official secrets act in the US. Leaking classified information is not illegal, unless the information falls into certain narrow categories, like the identity of a covert agent.”
    My military experience was more than a dozen years ago and my behavior was governed by the UCMJ not Federal Law, but why have classified information at all if it’s permissible to be shown on 60 Minutes? Isn’t it the point of having classified information to restrict its access?
    You may be right, but I don’t think it’s permissible at all to pass secret information to journalists. Surely not all law makes sense (Texas sodomy law that was overturnd for one). But I’m having difficult understanding the point of having classified information at all if it’s permissible to share it with those that haven’t been cleared. It may not be the same law that applies in the Plame situation but it would be bizzare that if there were no law at all.

  29. Rich

    The O’Neill story is actually two different stories. The first part is the accusation that invading Iraq was on the table before 9/11. Anyone who has been following the comments section of this blog will now that I am no fan of Bush. But even I think this is a non-story. Sadaam was (and is) a bad dude.
    As the administration got settled in to the White House it almost would be irresponsible to not talk about Iraq and what comes next in Iraq. I remember a story in the New Yorker from several years ago that really convinced me that something needed to be done in Iraq.
    In the end I think they were a bit too eager to invade Iraq without doing a good enough job making sure it wasn’t over the wishes of many nations, but that is another argument, and one that I know many people disagree with, so don’t bother trying to flame me.
    The more interesting part of O’Neill’s comments have to do with the President’s engagement in policy making. While I think many have believed this to be the case, I find the confirmation disturbing. I probably would not find it so disturbing if I agreed with Dick Cheney, but I don’t, I find him very creepy, and think that all he does is hold the place for a Jeb Bush run in 2008.
    In the end though I don’t even think that Bush’s management style is the real problem. If he was not running a huge deficit, being a more positive influence in a globalizing world, and respecting human rights in the US and abroad I would have no issue at all with his management.

  30. Tim

    Yep. This is a real world, full-blown scandal. A marginalized Treasury Secretary who never signed on to the program gets fired, helps write a book “disclosing” “embarrassing” “truths” about the Administration and finds an eager audience in the established media and anti-Bush citizens. Shocking, shocking. What is this world coming too?

  31. Crid

    See also “O’Neill’s List” by Michael Lewis, NYT Magazine, 13Jan2002

  32. BradDad

    The Bush haters will still have to get their story straight – is he the eeevilll genius who was planning to invade Iraq all along & was just looking for some pretense to do it or the dunce who signed the White House over to the VP?
    Story sinks like a stone in a hurry. As for whether O’Neill broke any laws, sorry, but it has to be looked into – parading documents marked “Secret” on TV for everyone to see is at least “bad manners” & you can’t give a guy a pass just because those who already hate you will scream about it.
    Doesn’t mean it will be prosecuted – but there at least has to be an answer about the legality of it so we all know what the rules are for the future.

  33. Jerry

    Hell hath no fury like a cabinet secretary given the boot. O’Neill apparently was so far out of the loop he didn’t know regime change was in the works for Saddam and his criminal syndicate even back in the touchy-feely, multilateralism-loving Clinton administration. That old smoothie was smart enough to know that even his slick charm wasn’t enough to bring Chirac, Schmidt, Putin and the other sanctions-busters on board. So he did nothing.

  34. TR

    You have no way of knowing whether these statements of yours are really true:
    “The larger point is that Haass and Powell had the upper hand on Iraq policy — until September 11th. Clearly, after 9/11, Bush changed his mind. But to claim from day one of his administration that George W. Bush planned to invade Iraq is utter horseshit.”
    Using the State Department as an example to claim that Bush+Cheney and co. never had an intention to invade Iraq is illogical. This administration is famous for having contradictory positions – not only amongst its fraudulent principals, but contradictory positions in individuals over a period of time. Heck, Bush couldn’t make up his own mind about global warming and CO2 before 9/11. Why in the world could there not have been a scenario where Rumsfeld, Cheney and co., who have long been looking to invade Iraq, were pressing Bush prior to 9/11 and making plans but not officially announcing them until an opportune moment? Paul O’Neill was part of the National Security Council and I don’t think you were.

  35. badger

    In light of the mess that the U.S. government has inherited in Iraq and reports that Saddam Hussein is dying of cancer I am intrigued by your outright rejection of the idea of lifting some sanctions or, more generally, finding some way to work with Saddam Hussein in the medium term. In retrospect it was probably the smart thing to do.

  36. Roger Sweeny

    “Rumsfeld, Cheney, and co.” may well have wanted to invade Iraq prior to 9/11. But Dan is absolutely right that “Haass and Powell had the upper hand on Iraq policy — until September 11th.” And that was Bush’s decision.
    I’m sure he would have loved to see Saddam go–but invasion was not in the cards.
    Now perhaps R, C, and co. could have “wrestled control” of mideast policy from the State Department eventually had there been no 9/11. And perhaps there would eventually have been an invasion anyway. But since there was a 9/11, we’ll never know.

  37. capt joe

    badger, rememeber that the succession of Saddam would have been by Uday and Qusay. Somehow I don’t think things would have improved.

  38. Cecil Turner

    The categories for prosecuting disclosure of classified information are not all that narrow. They basically fall into three areas: defense information, crypto, and diplomatic codes. (The covert agents statute was an add-on, is quite narrow, and the Plame case likely doesn’t qualify). There are also civil penalties for violating the Classified Nondisclosure Agreement, and an agreement is required before access can be granted. A good overview is at:
    Regime change in Iraq has been the stated US policy since the Clinton administration. As Instapundit pointed out, Candidate Bush said the same thing. O’Neill’s complaints about staffing boil down to: “He didn’t listen to me!”
    On process, Cheney is the second-ranking member of the NSC and eminently qualified to perform national security duties. And I think it laughable that the nameless former Bush official is trying to give lessons in Iraq strategy to the guy who was SecDef during Desert Storm.

  39. N R

    Perhaps if O’Neil was the only person to date to say that policy is being tailored to politics instead of reason, this could be dismissed. However, O’Neil is definitely not the first person to be saying this. People have been saying this for years now. The director of faith-based programs said it. Whitman, in an editorial in the times on Monday said it to a lesser degree (also at dems too, but given timing, its interesting). Editors of Science have said it about Bush’s descion regarding scientific matters. The tarrif descion says it. The list, goes on and on and on.
    The only question is how much will really change people’s minds? And the question is, for most Bush supporters nothing will change their minds. Their beliefs are unfalsifiable. I don’t think supporters could create a conditional of the form “I would no longer support the president if it is true that X”.
    Why do I say this? Because these are generally the same people that think signficant WMD are in Iraq, that the inteligence wasn’t distorted, and that Iraq had significant ties to Al-Queda. None, of those beliefs have been falsifiable (don’t know what more you could ask for in those cases). So why should Policy descions in the Bush administration be any different.

  40. Rich

    Bradad asked:
    The Bush haters will still have to get their story straight – is he the eeevilll genius who was planning to invade Iraq all along & was just looking for some pretense to do it or the dunce who signed the White House over to the VP?
    I hate Bush. And my story is straight. He is not an evil genius. Closer to being a dunce who signed over the White House to the VP. The notable exception is that he is quite saavy about politics (esp. domestic), and with Karl Rove (not run by Karl Rove) he can pull some serious tricks out of a hat for his political advantage. Summary: Not a moron, just a bit slow on all matters of policy.

  41. HH

    More of the same vague complaints (not unlike those we heard about the Clinton admin.) and non-scandals are not “enough,” that’s for sure…

  42. Stephen Maturin

    Gee, I thought the anti-war crowd was lambasting the President for presenting the war on Iraq as a response to 9/11, while the Administration was strenuously denying they did any such thing, and I thought the left was criticizing the decision to go to war as being made far too hastily.
    Along comes evidence that the President was mulling over war with Iraq (a) before 9/11 and (b) years before it was publicly proposed. I would have thought this would be cause for admissions of error among the Administration’s critics on this subject. Apparently the President really didn’t propose war on Iraq *because* (or only because) of 9/11, and apparently he *did* think it over for long years. Do these people have no shame? Or sense of consistency?
    I’m also pretty puzzled by why anyone should be shocked that the President delegates significant responsibility — in any area — to the Vice President.
    Er, didn’t Mr. Bush, by choosing Mr. Cheney as his Vice-President (note the word after the dash) indicate his confidence that Mr. Cheney was entirely qualified to run any aspect of Administration policy, in short, to act Presidential? And didn’t we the voters concur? What’s up with this? I mean, you can make the case that no one voted for Hillary in ’92 and ’96, so giving her major political responsibility was undemocratic. But as I recall Dick Cheney was elected to his current post.
    Finally, horror at the possibility that the President may have seemed bumbling in policy meetings — dumb bunny among a herd of blind elephants, or whatever the forgettable metaphor was — leaves me equally bemused. Excuse me, but aren’t *results* what counts? If Mr. Bush’s decision-making *looked* bumbling but *proved* decisive and correct, should we forget what actually happened and become fearful of what looked like it might be going to happen? Man, this kind of thinking takes post-modernist denial of objective reality to new heights, or depths. . .
    And, on the other side, if you think the Administration’s policy decisions were in practise wildly disastrous, who cares whether they were made with solemn deliberation according to strict rules of propriety, everyone wearing a tie and a long face, or by Dick Cheney alone in an Escher room with a Magic 8-Ball, cackling insanely after consultating with the Prince of Darkness and the shade of Uncle Joe Stalin?
    A stupid decision is not made *more* stupid for having been arrived at weirdly, no more than a clever decision can be vitiated by having been taken through inspiration, luck, or the after-effects of too much pepperoni pizza and a giant glass of Pepto-Bismol.

  43. N R

    SM: the point on Iraq is that the war was grossly missold. There is no way to get around this. Read the speeches, From “mushroom cloud” — to no nuclear program. Inteligence was cooked, and this was known widely before we went ot war. If you read O’Neil’s statements, there was no mulling about whether or not to go to war, the PNAC crowd had already decided, there was just military planning. Of course, we know how sad the planning for Post-War Iraq was and how people who knew weren’t consulted.
    Let’s see results of Bush’s policies.: