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The mouth that whined

By Charles Bloomer
web posted January 20, 2004

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill made a splash last week, starting with a 60 Minutes interview and hitting all the usual gab shows. I'll be upfront with you and tell you that I have not read the book, nor did I see any of the interviews with him. From reading the various reports of his performances, though, I get the distinct impression that O'Neill is a disgruntled, vindictive, and petty has-been whose ego needs to be stroked. Evidently, he figured that his Bush-bashing screeds would catapult him into the ranks of "somebodies." The predominantly anti-Bush media have been happy to cooperate.

His cheap shots at the president aside, I find it terribly annoying when people like this try to turn normal events into indictments of evil-doing. Specifically, O'Neill has brought two items that he thinks are utterly damning – first, no real evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction ever surfaced during Cabinet meetings, and second, the Bush administration had plans for invading Iraq even before September 11, 2001. These two points are presented as shocking – shocking! – proof that President Bush lied to the American people and dishonestly led the United States into invading Iraq.

Actually, O'Neill is trying to make mountains of molehills. Given less than ten nanoseconds of thought, the average American can see just how nonsensical these points are.

As for the first point, it will be remembered that O'Neill was the Secretary of the Treasury. The Secretary of the Treasury is not included in the President's National Security Council. While I do not claim to know what is discussed in Bush's cabinet meetings, I seriously doubt that details about Iraqi WMDs would be prime candidates for open cabinet meetings. I expect that the president reserves discussions regarding sensitive intelligence issues to meetings with the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the CIA Director and the National Security Advisor.

Whatever O'Neill's qualifications were that got him appointed to the Treasury, expertise in foreign affairs, military or intelligence matters were not among them. I would no more expect a president to consult the Treasury Secretary on weapons of mass destruction than I would expect him to consult the Secretary of Defense on economic issues. So it comes as no surprise to me that O'Neill was not privy to whatever evidence the president had to prove the existence of Iraqi WMDs.

Did the president have plans to invade Iraq before September 11? Of course he did. I am also sure that the president, via the Pentagon, has plans for several dozen contingencies. Despite what some people seem to think, the military does not just sit around waiting to react to crises. Military planners, when not working on a current crisis, write contingency plans for any number of potential conflicts. Many are products of War College assignments; others are the bases for war games. This pre-planning allows the military leadership the ability to review and critique assumptions, logistics requirements, transportation issues, and resource assignment.

As a result, it would not surprise me if there were plans on the shelf that deal with every hostile or potentially hostile country in the Middle East – Iran, Syria, Lebanon, probably even Saudi Arabia. I expect there are contingency plans for a major conflict with China, or even Russia. Certainly there are plans for minor crises for places like Cuba and North Korea.

The lack of contingency plans for potential problems areas would be utter stupidity that would reflect gross irresponsibility and incompetence on the part of our military leadership.

Is it unreasonable to expect that the president might have expressed an interest in Pentagon plans regarding Iraq? Considering that Iraq had been a festering problem since the first Gulf War, considering that Saddam Hussein had ignored and violated 17 United Nations resolutions regarding WMDs, and considering the available intelligence that tied Saddam Hussein's brutal dictatorship to Al Qaeda terrorists, it would have been totally irresponsible for President Bush not to consider his options, including aggressive, preemptive military options.

Paul O'Neill's overblown hyperbole has convinced me that he isn't worth listening to. His whining comes across as petty and juvenile. This president fired him and now he wants to get even. He is trying to make the president look bad. It isn't working.

Charles Bloomer is a Senior Writer for Enter Stage Right. He can be contacted at clbloomer@enterstageright.com.

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