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Jan 10, 2004 7:20 pm


IMAGINE IT, MR. O'NEILL



In reading Drudge's latest Paul O'Neill"breaking scandal" report, I was most struck by the final line:

"I can't imagine that I am going to be attacked for telling the truth."
I find it hard to believe that a grown man -- and especially one who has spent as much time in politics as O'Neill has -- could actually believe this. I suspect he doesn't, in fact -- and that he only hopes he won't"be attacked for telling the truth."

Well, good luck to him. He'll need it. The major focus of the Drudge Report item is this:

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. That is what former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill says in his first interview about his time as a White House insider. O'Neill talks to Lesley Stahl in the interview, to be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday, Jan. 11 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

"From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go," he tells Stahl."For me, the notion of pre-emption, that the U.S. has the unilateral right to do whatever we decide to do is a really huge leap," says O'Neill.

O'Neill, fired by the White House for his disagreement on tax cuts, is the main source for an upcoming book,"The Price of Loyalty," authored by Ron Suskind. Suskind says O'Neill and other White House insiders he interviewed gave him documents that show that in the first three months of 2001, the administration was looking at military options for removing Saddam Hussein from power and 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."There are memos," Suskind tells Stahl,"One of them marked 'secret' says 'Plan for Post-Saddam Iraq.'" A Pentagon document, says Suskind, titled"Foreign Suitors For Iraqi Oilfield Contracts," outlines areas of oil exploration."It talks about contractors around the world from...30, 40 countries and which ones have what intentions on oil in Iraq," Suskind says.

In a similar vein, I cannot believe that any of this comes as news to anyone who has followed events at all for the last year and done even 15 minutes of research. For heaven's sake, the friendly little gang of neocons - oh, dear, excuse me; did I use a bad word? -- wrote this in a letter to President Clinton in January 1998:
We are writing you because we are convinced that current American policy toward Iraq is not succeeding, and that we may soon face a threat in the Middle East more serious than any we have known since the end of the Cold War. In your upcoming State of the Union Address, you have an opportunity to chart a clear and determined course for meeting this threat. We urge you to seize that opportunity, and to enunciate a new strategy that would secure the interests of the U.S. and our friends and allies around the world. That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power. We stand ready to offer our full support in this difficult but necessary endeavor.
Paul Wolfowitz was one of those who signed the letter.

And in 1997, in its Statement of Principles, PNAC said this:

We aim to make the case and rally support for American global leadership. ...

Of course, the United States must be prudent in how it exercises its power. But we cannot safely avoid the responsibilities of global leadership or the costs that are associated with its exercise. America has a vital role in maintaining peace and security in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. If we shirk our responsibilities, we invite challenges to our fundamental interests. The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire. The history of this century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership.

Our aim is to remind Americans of these lessons and to draw their consequences for today. Here are four consequences:

-- we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future;

-- we need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values;

-- we need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad;

-- we need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.

In fact, these particular proponents of this"muscular," aggressive, interventionist foreign policy have been touting these ideas for over a decade.

But in a culture which prefers its story lines presented in a simple, connect-the-dots fashion -- where most people prefer to believe that we are now only reacting to the attacks of 9/11, and we had to go into Iraq because...well, he was a bad guy, too, maybe he wasn't the same bad guy who attacked us on 9/11, but bad guys have gotta go, you know, and anyway it's sort of in the same general area, and he was sort of the same kind of person -- I suspect that most people probably aren't familiar with all this background.

And most people don't want to hear the truth. So I would advise Mr. O'Neill to prepare himself. He's in for a very bumpy ride.

WELL: That didn't take long:

CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller reported Saturday that, as the White House sees it, O'Neill's remarks are those of a disgruntled former official, and it should not have come as a surprise to O'Neill that the U.S. advocated Saddam's ouster.

In fact, a senior administration official tells CBS News it would have been irresponsible not to plan for Saddam's eventual removal.

As for the charge that there were early plans to invade Iraq, Knoller says the official calls that"laughable." Suggesting that O'Neill doesn't know what he's talking about on this matter, the official told CBS News O'Neill had enough problems in his own area of expertise.

Another senior administration official told CBS News Saturday,"No one ever listened to the crazy things he said before, why should we start now?"

Welcome back to the real world, Mr. O'Neill.
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Oscar Chamberlain - 1/12/2004

The only thing that I find truly surprising here is the last part of this statement:

"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."

Most of the postwar actions show precious little evidence of planning. Either they lost the plans or they confused their fantasies with plans.

That brings a line from Leonard Cohen's "Story of Isaac" to mind: "a scheme is not a vision."

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