Here we have former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill disclosing that George Bush came into office planning to overthrow Saddam Hussein, and MSNBC polls its audience with the question, Did O'Neill betray Bush?
Is that really the big question? The White House had a sharper nose for the real meat of Leslie Stahl's "60 Minutes" interview with O'Neill and Ron Suskind, the reporter who based much of his expose of the Bush White House, "The Price of Loyalty," on 19,000 government documents O'Neill provided him.
What bothers the White House is one particular National Security Council (NSC) document shown in the "60 Minutes" interview, clearly drafted in the early weeks of the new administration, which showed plans for the post-invasion dispersal of Iraq's oil assets among the world's great powers, starting with the major oil companies.
For the brief moment it was on the TV screen one could see that this bit of paper, stamped Secret, was undoubtedly one of the most explosive documents in the history of imperial conspiracy. Here, dead center in the camera's lens, was the refutation of every single rationalization for the attack on Iraq ever offered by George W. Bush and his co-conspirators, including Tony Blair.
That NSC document told "60 Minutes'" vast audience the attack on Iraq was not about national security in the wake of 9/11. It was not about weapons of mass destruction. It was not about Saddam Hussein's possible ties to Osama bin Laden. It was about stealing Iraq's oil, the same way the British stole it three quarters of a century earlier. The major oil companies drew up the map, handed it to their man George, helped him (through such trusties as James Baker) steal the 2000 election and then told him to get on with the attack.
O'Neill says that the Treasury Department's lawyers OK'ed release of the document to him. The White House, which took 78 days to launch an investigation into the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA officer, clearly regards the disclosure of what Big Oil wanted as truly reprehensible, as opposed to endangering the life of Ms. Plame. It's going after O'Neill for this supposed security breach.
Forget about O'Neill "betraying" Bush. How about Bush lying to the American people? It's obvious from that document that Bush, on the campaign trail in 2000, was as intent on regime change in Iraq as was Clinton in his second term and as Gore was publicly declaring himself to be.
Here's Bush in debate with Gore Oct. 3, 2000:
"If we don't stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we're going to have a serious problem coming down the road. I'm going to prevent that."
The second quote is from a joint press conference with Tony Blair on Jan. 31, 2003. Bush's reply:
"Actually, prior to September 11, we were discussing smart sanctions. We were trying to fashion a sanction regime that would make it more likely to be able to contain somebody like Saddam Hussein. After September 11, the doctrine of containment just doesn't hold any water. The strategic vision of our country shifted dramatically because we now recognize that oceans no longer protect us, that we're vulnerable to attack. And the worst form of attack could come from somebody acquiring weapons of mass destruction and using them on the American people. | now realize the stakes. I realize the world has changed. My most important obligation is to protect the American people from further harm, and I will do that."
In his cabinet meetings before 9/11, Bush may, in O'Neill's words, have been like a blind man in a room full of deaf people. But, as O'Neill also says, in those early strategy meetings Bush did say the plan from the start was to attack Iraq, using any pretext. Bush's language about "smart sanctions" from the press conference at the start of last year was as brazen and far more momentous a lie as any of those that earned Bill Clinton the Republicans' impeachment charges.
Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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