ONeill spills beans on White House

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill has become one of the Bush re-election campaign’s worst nightmares. In a book published this week by Ron Suskind, “The Price of Loyalty,” O’Neill joins a growing list of former officials who have disclosed politically damaging details about the inner workings of the far-right Bush administration.

The book has created a stir because O’Neill, the former CEO of Alcoa, is a consummate corporate insider who served in two Republican administrations.

Basing his book on thousands of documents and two years of interviews, Suskind helps O’Neill draw a picture of a president who made premeditated war on Iraq, ruthlessly gave tax breaks to the rich as a matter of principle, and showed little regard for facts or details in policy making. Decisions were driven more by right-wing political rancor, O’Neill says.

Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of 600 peace groups, told the World that the revelations in the book “reinforce the message of the antiwar movement.” She said, “There was no legitimate reason to go to war. They used whatever pretense they could to justify the war.”

Pre-publication media coverage of the book focused on its emphasis on the lack of data to support the launching of war on Iraq. In fact, O’Neill says no administration official ever questioned the need for invading Iraq. Further, he saw no evidence come before the National Security Council, a body on which he served, that would have confirmed the existence of weapons of mass destruction, the principal rationale that Bush used to justify the invasion.

Still more damning, O’Neill said that the war in Iraq was planned well before the elections and the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, confirming what members of Congress and the peace movement have said for over a year.

Scott Lynch, communications director of Peace Action, told the World, “Piece by piece, coming from official sources, we are getting confirmation of what we thought all along.” He continued, “Bush is what he accused Al Gore of being. They’re liars.” He also said, “The revelations will help chances of a challenger in presidential election and hopefully will have coattails in the congressional fight.”

CBS News, which broadcast an interview with Suskind and O’Neill on Jan. 11, reported that one of the documents cited in the book, titled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts” and dated March 5, 2001, includes a map of areas in Iraq for potential oil exploration. “It talks about contractors around the world from, you know, 30-40 countries. And which ones have what intentions on oil in Iraq,” says Suskind.

The Bush administration is generally known for its tight-lipped hostility toward the press. But O’Neill’s revelations have become the focus of a frantic campaign of press interviews and sniping sound bites by Bush administration officials seeking to dismiss him.

The Washington Post reports that a senior official said O’Neill’s “suggestion that the administration was planning an invasion of Iraq days after taking office is laughable. Nobody listened to him when he was in office. Why should anybody now?”

Administration press agents are also trying shift the public’s focus on the Bush’s increasingly discredited policy of preemptive war to the support that many Democrats gave to the war effort. They cited the bipartisan passage of the Iraq Liberation Act under President Clinton, which called for support for efforts to remove the regime of Saddam Hussein from power.

However, press reports long ago revealed the existence of a committee headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, well before he was elected to office, which outlined the case for a preemptive strike against Iraq in a policy document issued by “The Project for the New American Century.”

The Bush administration has also launched an investigation on the possible use of classified materials in the book. When “Today Show” co-host Katie Couric asked O’Neill whether he thought the investigation was retribution for his negative portrayal of the Bush administration, he responded with a shrug. All of the materials he used were reviewed by the Treasury Department’s general counsel after O’Neill was fired as treasury secretary in 2002, and O’Neill suggested Bush officials start asking questions there.

When asked if he was worried about retribution, O’Neill told CBS, “Well, I don’t think I need to be because I can’t imagine that I’m going to be attacked for telling the truth. Why would I be attacked for telling the truth?”

The author can be reached at jleblanc@pww.org.