ONeill's Comments Show We Can No Longer Turn a Blind Eye
Paul Vitello, writing for Newsday (New York) (Jan. 13, 2004)
The war in Iraq has become a fact of life in the U.S. - another worry in a sea of murky worries, and about as threatening to the average American as mad cow disease.
Except for the people killed and maimed daily on Iraqi soil, and except for the people who might be maimed or killed, and except for the families and loved ones of the people in those categories, Americans seem to be moving on.
We have elections to worry about, the job market, the dangers of hamburgers and farm-raised salmon. We have the Academy Awards.
Last year, at last count, 70 percent of Americans said they believed Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. And in a poll taken this month, 60 percent say the president did the right thing to invade Iraq in March 2003.
But as President George W. Bush himself said last year, correcting a misconception he was primarily responsible for fostering, Hussein had no known role in the 9/11 attacks.
And as his former treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, revealed in a CBS"60 Minutes" interview on Sunday, Bush was looking for an excuse to invade Iraq from the moment he took office, eight months before 9/11.
Iraq was discussed at the first National Security Council meeting after the inauguration, O'Neill says. And"from the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go." From that point on, he said, the issue was never what to do about Hussein but how to get rid of him -"finding a way to do it."
The administration had an agenda, in other words. And, to extrapolate one degree past what O'Neill says, when CIA people later complained that the White House had misused and stretched their intelligence to justify war, maybe that was why.
So now that the war is a dim fixture in the nightly news firmament - a stalemate in which the Iraqis hate and dread and need us with equal vigor - some testimonials begin to emerge indicating that maybe we were duped, or at least misled into it.
Besides his"60 Minutes" interview, O'Neill tells Time magazine this week that he never saw evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, though he sat in on national security meetings for 23 months. (Iraq's alleged possession of WMD was the official justification for war.)
Then, there is a report published recently, with much less public notice, by the U.S. Army War College. In it, visiting research professor Jeffrey Record of the college's Strategic Studies Institute criticizes the Bush administration's war on Iraq as"unnecessary" and as a"detour" that has diverted attention and resources from the threat posed by al-Qaida.
This paper was published on the War College Web site and reported on in the Washington Post."The war against Iraq was not integral to the Global War On Terrorism but rather a detour from it," Record wrote."The global war on terrorism as presently defined and conducted is strategically unfocused, promises much more than it can deliver, and threatens to dissipate U.S. military and other resources in an endless and hopeless search for absolute security."
From the perspective of a military analyst, then, the war was a bad decision made with good but unrealistic intentions.
A much darker view, however, is expressed in a new book by Kevin Phillips, the former Republican strategist turned historian and Republican critic. His book,"American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush," is about four generations of Bush family business interests in Middle East oil kingdoms.
In an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, Phillips says his book traces"many decades of entanglement and money-hunting in the Middle East" by various members of the Bush family, though most notably George H.W. Bush, the president's father. And he says these pursuits"have created a major conflict of interest that deserves to be part of the 2004 political debate."
It is the most damning criticism possible of a political leader - that the president's personal and family interests may have informed his judgment in sending Americans to fight and die on foreign soil.
It certainly should be part of the political debate - along with O'Neill's story and the war professor's judgment, and the few other faint voices now shouting into the wind of our busy, distracted American lives.
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