The New York Times‘s newest neocon columnist, David Brooks, laptop bombardier Max Boot and others who have taken offense at the neocons–hijacked-the-White House meme have indignantly asked: doesn’t the President have a mind of his own? Plainly, now, the answer is a flat no. This President is like “a blind man in a room full of deaf people,” says former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, and the phrase has reverberated around the current news cycle with such velocity because it rings so true.
O’Neill’s description of a completely disengaged chief executive, virtually bereft of intellectual curiosity, explains much about the otherwise inexplicable behavior of our commander-in-chief. We’ve often wondered how various factions within the administration could not only sabotage their enemies, but openly lash out at each other, and send contradictory messages to both our friends and enemies abroad: why doesn’t the President take this in hand?
Now we know why. The guy is practically in a coma.
O’Neill also averred, in an interview with CBS News, that plans for the invasion of Iraq were at the top of the White House agenda 10 days after Bush took office. Well, yes, of course the Clinton people had signed on to the “Iraq Liberation Act” since both parties are in the pocket of the War Party but to see Iraq as the very first order of business for the new administration, says O’Neill, was a bit startling. After all, wasn’t this the candidate who had campaigned on a platform of a “more humble” foreign policy?
No wonder the Bushies went ballistic and savaged him, issuing threats of an “investigation” into his supposed theft of “secret” government documents here was a Republican saying what many in his party didn’t dare utter out loud. But in their hearts, they’ve always known their President is clueless. Now their fear is confirmed by one of his own top appointees.
As a member of the National Security Council, O’Neill never saw any convincing evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, or represented a credible threat to its neighbors. But, as he told 60 Minutes, taking out Iraq was the subject of his first NSC meeting:
“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. 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, ‘Fine. Go find me a way to do this.'”
Forced to revisit the push to war, the Bush administration’s official story about how 9/11 was the catalyst for a most unhumble foreign policy is unraveling like a cheap sweater. Public attention is now focused on when, how, and why the Bushies made the decision to go to war, not only because of O’Neill’s revelations, but also on account of the Plame case.
Valerie Plame, a veteran CIA undercover officer working on anti-proliferation issues, was outed by vindictive neocons out to get her husband, Joseph C. Wilson. A former ambassador to Gabon, Wilson had been sent to the African nation of Niger to check up on tall tales of Saddam’s search for uranium “yellowcake,” then being circulated by the War Party. The story, he concluded, was completely without merit, as Wilson reported to his superiors, but a few months later this recycled lie (based on a forgery) popped up in the most unlikely of places: the President’s 2003 State of the Union address.
Wilson went public, the neocons retaliated by “outing” his wife as a CIA officer who had finagled him the trip to Niger, and, after incubating for months, the scandal has burgeoned. A special counsel, Patrick J. “Bulldog” Fitzgerald, has recently been appointed to look into the Plame case. If I were any one of a number of second-tier neocons, I would be shopping around for a decent jumpsuit. Those prison-issue orange numbers are perfectly hideous.
In answer to the charge that he took classified documents marked “secret” with him when he left office, O’Neill says he was given the material by the Treasury’s chief legal counsel, on two cds, and didn’t even open them but gave them right to Ron Suskind, the author of The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House and the Education of Paul O’Neill. If any top secret intelligence did get passed to O’Neill on account of some idiot clerk’s error, would anybody be surprised? In an attempt to trip up a prominent critic, this administration only underscores its own venality and incompetence. How typical is that? Shades of Richard Nixon, not to mention a few of the more unsettling Roman emperors.
The grave danger of the monarchical system, or any political arrangement that puts a single individual at the controls and gives them free reign to do what they will as in our imperial “democracy” when it comes to foreign policy is that, while you could wind up with a Marcus Aurelius, just one Nero can do an awful lot of harm.
The Suskind book, already a best-seller, exposes the weird emptiness at the head of the American nation, using words like “opaque” and “inscrutable” to describe a man who could take us to war in a moment, just like he did before, without reason, cause, or provocation. There is something almost sinister about his unresponsiveness, his failure to connect. It’s scary to think about: George W. Bush, the first pod person to be President.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Speaking of pod people, the group known as “Social Democrats USA” may sound like a leftist outfit, but its myriad connections with the neoconservatives over the years gives us a look at the left face of a faction that penetrated the top tiers of two conservative administrations. My article, “Attack of the Trotsky-cons!” appears in the January issue of Chronicles magazine and, no, it’s not online, so you’d better go pick it up at the news stands, or, better yet, subscribe.