Paul O’Neill’s new book blasting President Bush has garnered a lot of publicity, although no one yet knows exactly what it says. Based on what has been made public, however, it doesn’t look promising. News accounts have all quoted O’Neill’s statement that President Bush conducted cabinet meetings “like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people.” Oddly, I haven’t seen anyone point out that this metaphor is completely meaningless. Blind man? Deaf people? What is supposed to be the point? That’s got to be as poor a metaphor as I’ve ever seen, and if it’s one of the book’s quotable high points, the volume is in trouble.
O’Neill’s account of his first private meeting with the President is similarly odd: “I went in with a long list of things to talk about and, I thought, to engage [him] on. And as the book said, I was surprised that it turned out to be me talking and the president just listening.” O’Neill must be the first former cabinet secretary to complain that he was listened to. If his book doesn’t have anything better than these purported “highlights,” it will head quickly for the remainder table.
UPDATE: The “good stuff” is starting to come out now. Drudge says that tomorrow night on 60 Minutes, in what is ominously described as O’Neill’s “first interview,” O’Neill will say that: “The Bush Administration began laying plans for an invasion of Iraq including the use of American troops within days of President Bush’s inauguration in January of 2001, not eight months later after the 9/11 attacks as has been previously reported.” O’Neill recounts a meeting of the National Security Council in which “no one…questioned why Iraq should be invaded.”
Putting aside the question whether Treasury secretaries attend National Security Council meetings, O’Neill’s account fails to account for one very basic fact: the Bush administration didn’t invade Iraq until March 2003. So regardless of what planning may have been in place, nothing was done to oust Saddam until more than a year after Sept. 11. My understanding is that at any time, the U.S. military has contingency plans to attack any number of countries. I would think that some kind of plan to invade Iraq has been in existence, and has periodically been revised, for at least the last fifteen years. Can O’Neill really be so ignorant of how military preparedness works that he fails to realize this? I doubt it. One small irony: O’Neill apparently considers it scandalous that the administration was “planning for the aftermath of Saddam’s downfall, including post-war contingencies like peacekeeping troops, war crimes tribunals and the future of Iraq’s oil.” Well, I would hope so, but note how this fails to comport with the usual Democratic complaint that the administration “didn’t have a plan” for post-war Iraq.
O’Neill’s book is written by Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind; the book is based mainly on O’Neill’s stories, but also includes information from other former administration officials, and documents leaked to Suskid by O’Neill and others. The second “bombshell” in Suskind’s book, as reported by Drudge, is his claim that in a meeting on the President’s proposed second round of tax cuts, ‘the president seem[ed] to be wavering about going forward…. ‘Haven’t we already given money to rich people,’ Suskind says the president uttered, according to a nearly verbatim transcript of an Economic Team meeting he says he obtained from someone at the meeting, ‘Shouldn’t we be giving money to the middle?'” Yeah, I love those “nearly verbatim” transcripts. This one reads like a liberal’s fantasy. Liberals may think that cutting someone’s taxes constitutes “giving money to” that person–a view that assumes the government really owns all of your money. But neither President Bush nor any conservative would talk that way.
Suskind and O’Neill’s book has all the earmarks of a partisan hatchet job, but I expect it will create a huge stir. It will give the Democrats the “scandal” they have sought in vain for the last three years. Hell hath no fury, I guess, like a Treasury secretary scorned.
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