rate of descent of this faith-based administration has accelerated
to breath-taking g forces over the past few weeks. Just a month
ago, the book (Ron Suskind, The
Price of Loyalty) and interviews (60 minutes, Time, etc.)
expressing former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's disillusionment
could be plausibly waved aside by a top White House aide with a
couple of words, "We didn't listen to him when he was there,
why should we now?" (Time, January 19, 2004).
"wave aside" isn't working any more. If anything, the
combined scandals of all post-FDR administrations may prove as nothing
compared to this administration's sins against the American people
and the world. The Republican party had better be afraid, very afraid.
son of a former president campaigned on the theme that he would
"make us proud" of the oval occupant. He would restore
dignity and integrity to the office. That resonated with a public
disgusted with Clintonian behavior, although Mr. Bush barely squeaked
into office because (putting aside the Florida food fight) his maladroit
opponent couldn't put his own state of Tennessee in the "W"
Bush's first Treasury Secretary, known for his blunt comments and
flurries of controversy that could only ensue in a town shocked
by honest answers, gives us an insider's view of the president and
administration that differs radically from campaign promises and
White House imagery. "From the start, we were building the
case against Hussein and looking at how we could take him out and
change Iraq into a new country," O'Neill recalled. "And,
if we did that, it would solve everything. It was about finding
a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The President saying, u2018Fine.
Go find me a way to do this.'"
me a way? Any old way? Such talk might work in a James Bond movie,
where the license-to-kill good guys follow the script and all ends
happily and Bond gets the girl again. But such a message is incredibly
dangerous in a real government. What those eager-to-please-the-POTUS
heard was, "The ends justify the means." Such a presidential
directive nicely explains the administration's playing fast and
loose with so-called evidence about weapons of mass destruction,
including a document that couldn't pass an intel laugh test asserting
sought uranium in Niger, of all places. [I tried and couldn't
find the State of the Union address, 2003, on the White House website!].
If we ask, "cui bono?," we must regretfully brace ourselves
for a future revelation: operatives in the Pentagon or Office of
the Vice President (Likudists or neocons, however labeled) or their
hired agents may prove to have ginned up the Niger document. If
proven, of course, that would seal this government's fate. In context,
the forgery may not have seemed like a big deal. All on behalf of
a noble cause, right?
White House speechwriter David Frum confirms O'Neill’s rendition
about Bush's early determination on Saddam. In Frum's first meeting
with Bush, soon after the inauguration and six months before 9/11,
the president had only one firm policy backed by real conviction:
to dig Saddam Hussein out of power in Iraq.” When I was chief
economist at the U.S. Labor Department, I saw O'Neill in a few large
meetings at the Treasury regarding Social Security and Medicare
and he is the same guy you see in public. His honesty cannot be
seriously contested. And do his insights ever ring true as we learn
more about the dismal adventure in Iraq!
Bush's media apologists have been jumping ship after Bush's my-lips-are-moving-I'm-dissembling
interview with Tim Russert. Drawing a bead on the heart of the
political problem, pollster John Zogby observes, "The president
is on the ropes now…. Bush's greatest asset was his unimpeachable
integrity in the eyes of most Americans. But
with no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that integrity
has been chipped away and right now some large lumps are falling
O'Neill prescient or what? His fleeting appearance in January was
much ado about much, not little. "In the 23 months I was there,
I never saw anything that I would characterize as evidence of weapons
of mass destruction," he told Time magazine. "To
me there is a difference between real evidence and everything else."
On the eve of the Iraq invasion, O'Neill marveled at this President's
certitude based on paltry evidence: "With his level of experience,
I would not be able to support his level of conviction."
irony is that Bush appointed O'Neill on Dick Cheney's recommendation.
Upon firing O'Neill, Cheney (aka Mr. Integrity) even asked O'Neill
to lie about his departure from Washington but he replied, "I'm
too old to begin telling lies now." As federal prosecutors'
close in on the Veep's office, maybe the Veep wishes he could take
back a few of his knee-slappers.
Reynolds [send him mail],
retired professor of economics at Texas A&M University and former
chief economist, US Department of Labor, lives in Hot Springs Village,