January 15, 2004

O'Neill tells all, and it's not pretty

Joe Conason: By contrast, Mr. OíNeill is unlikely to
succumb to the intimidation that apparently
overwhelmed Mr. DiIulio. As he told Mr. Suskind during
their initial conversation, he could understand why
anyone might shy away from "a 50-year battle with this
gang," because "these people are nasty, and they have
a very long memory." But, he added, "Iím an old guy,
and Iím rich. And thereís nothing they can do to hurt
me."

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http://www.workingforchange.com/article.cfm?itemid=16272


O'Neill tells all, and it's not pretty
Joe Conason - The New York Observer

01.14.04 -

The White House believes that massive deficits donít
matter.

The White House serves the narrow interests of the
wealthiest few.

The White House diligently heeds oil men and coal
operators.

The White House willfully ignores scientists and
environmentalists.

The President and his advisers care about politics
rather than policy.

The President and his advisers prefer scripted
consensus to candid debate.

The President and his advisers jump at the command of
corporate donors.

The President wonít read any document longer than
three pages.

The President canít discuss substantive policy issues.

The Vice President is in charge.

Few of those statements are likely to surprise
Americans who have been paying attention to their
government for the past three years. Most fall neatly
within the category of what everyone has heard or
read. But this week, a high-ranking insider with a
reputation for honesty validated all those
unflattering assessments. In The Price of Loyalty:
George W. Bush, the White House and the Education of
Paul OíNeill, the former Treasury Secretary presents a
candid portrait of the Bush administration to author
Ron Suskind.

Although he writes for a monthly magazine, Mr. Suskind
continues to unearth stories that elude the very
important daily and weekly journalists in the White
House press corps. A year ago, his searing Esquire
profile of John DiIulio, the former director of the
Presidentís "faith-based initiative," exposed how
cynical political calculations and right-wing ideology
had ruined "compassionate conservatism" -- and how
little serious thought supports the weak policy
process in this administration. Somehow, Mr. DiIulio
was induced to recant what he had told Mr. Suskind
after conversations with some White House officials.

By contrast, Mr. OíNeill is unlikely to succumb to the
intimidation that apparently overwhelmed Mr. DiIulio.
As he told Mr. Suskind during their initial
conversation, he could understand why anyone might shy
away from "a 50-year battle with this gang," because
"these people are nasty, and they have a very long
memory." But, he added, "Iím an old guy, and Iím rich.
And thereís nothing they can do to hurt me."

Unfortunately for the White House, the path of least
resistance is also closed. It isnít possible to simply
ignore the Suskind bookís revelations. Topping the
list of embarrassments are Mr. OíNeillís recollections
about "regime change" in Iraq -- which he said had
obsessed the administration from its earliest days,
without real justification based on intelligence or
policy. Privy to classified briefings and data as a
national security official, he told Mr. Suskind that
there had been only one real reason for attacking Iraq
after Sept. 11, 2001. Unlike extirpating Osama bin
Laden and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, a difficult task
that might "develop into a mess," deposing Saddam
Hussein and the corrupt Baathist regime would most
assuredly be "doable."

Long before the book appeared, administration
officials attempted to dissuade Mr. OíNeill from
cooperating in its preparation. Old friends implored
him, and officials whispered offers of sinecures and
ambassadorial posts. He didnít want anything, and when
the bookís details began to leak out, White House
operatives decided to get tough.

They called him an embittered loser. They accused him
of belatedly attempting to justify rejected ideas. And
suddenly from his old headquarters emanated the charge
that he had disclosed "classified" information.

His successor at the Treasury Department -- a team
player of no great distinction -- announced
instantaneously and eagerly that the inspector general
would "investigate" whether Mr. OíNeill had purloined
a paper marked "Secret" that showed up during a
televised interview.

It isnít difficult to imagine the conversation between
a Treasury aide and a White House political operative
that preceded the announcement of the OíNeill probe.
As Mr. OíNeill placidly pointed out, however, his
pursuers would have served themselves better by
inquiring about the circumstances that attended his
departure.

When he and Mr. Suskind began their literary
collaboration last year, he provided an enormous
volume of materials collected during his Treasury
tenure. This was, as Mr. Suskind explains, perfectly
legal: "OíNeill approached his former colleagues at
the Treasury Department for what he insisted was his
due: copies of every document that had crossed his
desk. One day, as he was leaving Washington for
Pittsburgh, he passed me a few unopened CD-ROMs. ĎThis
is what they gave me,í he said. When I started to open
the disks, I wondered if there was an error on my hard
drive: nineteen thousand documents were listed." In
the hands of the Pulitzer-winning reporter, those
documents will probably discourage any charges of
fabrication.

Indeed, nobody at the White House has accused Mr.
OíNeill of lying, so far. That would be hard to say
about a man who was fired for his excessive bluntness.


COPYRIGHT (c) 2003 THE NEW YORK OBSERVER


URL:
http://www.workingforchange.com/article.cfm?itemid=16272

Posted by richard at January 15, 2004 02:07 PM