This Week on the Right | Michael Flynn
What’s New | Iran, Airline Missile Defense, David Jeremiah, Michael Ledeen, Morris Amitay, Northrop Grumman, Alliant Techsystems, and more.
Analysis | A Tangled Web, by Jim Lobe
Letters | Libertarian not Right-Wing
Two new books shed light on the thinking and modus operandi of President Bush and his neocon allies.
By Michael Flynn
(See entire column at: /analysis/2004/0401flynn-week.html.)
According to Paul O’Neill, the former Treasury secretary for the Bush administration who was forced out of office in late 2002, President George W. Bush ran Cabinet meetings “like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people.” The president, said O’Neill in an interview about a new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Ron Suskind, demonstrated little interest in taking on challenging questions and forced his staff to make policy based on “little more than hunches about what the president might think.”
According to the Washington Post (January 10, 2003), the book, titled The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill, chronicles the first two years of the Bush administration as seen through the eyes of the former Cabinet member. To write the book, Suskind recorded hundreds of hours of conversations with O’Neill and had access to some 19,000 White House and personal documents the former secretary put at the author’s disposal.
Although the book had not been released as of this writing, some details of it were made available to the Post by CBS, which aired an interview with O’Neill on “60 Minutes” on January 11. O’Neill, who was largely responsible for crafting the administration’s 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut in 2001, was pushed out of office after publicly criticizing the president’s position on steel tariffs and opposing the administration’s efforts to eradicate taxes on corporate dividends.
In the 60 Minutes interview, O’Neill recounts his first Cabinet meeting with the president: “I went in with a long list of things to talk about and, I thought, to engage [him] on. And as the book said, I was surprised that it turned out to be me talking and the president just listening. … As I recall it was mostly a monologue.”
O’Neill also claims in the book that plans to remove Saddam Hussein from power began taking shape long before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks: “From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go. For me, the notion of preemption–that the U.S. has the unilateral right to do whatever we decide to do–is really a huge leap.”
During early discussions at the National Security Council about Iraq, said O’Neill, no one questioned the rationale behind an invasion. “It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The president saying, ‘Go find me a way to do this.’” (Washington Post, January 11, 2003)
In contrast to O’Neill’s description of a disengaged and oftentimes inscrutable president, David Frum opined at a January 9 luncheon at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) that the president is able to simultaneously assess a massive panorama of issues, a fact that Frum thinks ticks off lots of people. Responding to a reporter’s query about whether the United States was able to take on all the trouble spots across the globe in its war on terror, Frum said that this new war was different from the Cold War in that the enemy had no center–“a Moscow”–but was an extremist ideology that had taken hold in much of the world. He contended that in any case, Bush was able to see “the big picture,” and that this was precisely what “irritates a lot of his critics–his ability to see all of it at once as one big problem.”
The luncheon was to promote the release of a book coauthored by Frum, a former Bush speechwriter who is an AEI fellow, and Richard Perle, the former chairman of the Defense Policy Board and current AEI fellow who is widely credited with helping shape Bush policy in Iraq and the Middle East. The book, An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, is billed as a “manual for victory” in the war on terror that proposes “reinvigorating homeland security with a new security agency; waging a global campaign against the terrorist ideology by promoting democracy, open trade, and the rights of Muslim women; and transforming the U.S. government to ensure that all its agencies and parts dedicate themselves to fighting and defeating terror.”
Among the book’s specific policy proposals:
- Aiding Iranian dissidents in their efforts to overthrow their government;
- Creating a national identification card in the United States;
- Pushing Syria to adopt “Western” economic and political policies by threatening to cut off Syrian access to arms supplies and Iraqi oil and pursuing suspected terrorists into the country’s territory;
- Promoting the secession of Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province;
- Preparing a preemptive strike against North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure, despite the fact that “we do not know where all these facilities are”;
- Rejecting the jurisdiction of the United Nations Charter unless it is modified to accommodate the doctrine of preemption.
Frum and Perle argue that militant Islam has replaced communism as the main threat to U.S. and global security, and that “there is no middle way for Americans. It is victory or holocaust.” The authors warn that the “will to win” is beginning to wane in Washington. “We sense the reversion to the bad old habits of complacency and denial.” They see their book as a way to reinvigorate the debate about the war and to push the country to take on the challenge of toppling its enemies.
According to Jim Lobe (IPS, January 10, 2004), the authors “categorically reject, albeit often defensively, any notion that the loss in momentum may be due more to the over-optimistic predictions by them and their friends in Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s offices about the ease with which the United States could occupy Iraq without significant international support. More than once, they insist that if only the White House had installed their hero, Iraqi National Congress chief Ahmed Chalabi, as president of a provisional government before the invasion, all would be well today.”
Lobe contends that the book is chock-a-block with factual errors, including the assertion that “Saudi-inspired extremists” launched wars against Christian communities in Sulawesi and the Malaku islands. Writes Lobe, “They are apparently referring to Laskar Jihad, a militia that most experts believe was not only inspired, but armed, by elements in the Indonesian military. [Perle and Frum] make similar assumptions about the indigenous insurgency in Aceh and what are predominantly ethnic, rather than religious, clashes in northern Nigeria.”
Concludes Lobe: “The neocons may be down but they are most certainly not out. They and their administration allies, notably Cheney, have shown they retain sufficient influence for now to prevent any major softening in the hard lines on North Korea and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If Bush wins a second term with Cheney at his side, neoconservatives like Perle may well find themselves back on top.”
(Michael Flynn is an IRC Research Associate.)
> It takes an earthquake. After months of hand-wringing and tough talk about what to do with Iran and its nuclear ambitions, the Bush administration reacted to the human catastrophe and mind-boggling death toll caused by the earthquake in Bam, Iran, by offering to send Lynne Cheney and a Bush family member on a relief mission. Together with Karl Rove’s alleged assertion that there will be no wars in 2004 (Bush’s reelection campaign clearly trumps imperial ambitions, at least temporarily), the Bam disaster seems to have kicked neocon plans for reshaping the Middle East down the road. But let’s not kid ourselves, the radicals are still chomping at the bit–and they are poised to push for their plans if Bush is reelected.
Right Web Profile: Coalition for Democracy in Iran
> Missile defense for American Airlines? The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has chosen three contractors (Alliant Techsystems/United Air Lines, Northrop Grumman, and BAE Systems) to develop a missile defense system for airliners. Concerned that shoulder-fired heat-seeking missiles– U.S. produced and disseminated, of course–pose an increasing threat to commercial planes, DHS is considering arming jets with flares, lasers, and/or guidance jamming devices. The estimated cost of outfitting all commercial aircraft: a cool $7 billion-$10 billion.
Right Web Profiles: Alliant Techsystems & Northrop Grumman