Suskind, Ron, The Price of Loyalty, London: Simon & Schuster, 2004
Paul O’Neill was George Bush’s first Treasury Secretary from 2001-02. After he was fired he turned over his notes and thousands of government documents to writer Ron Suskind which led to The Price of Loyalty. It gave the first insider’s account of the Bush administration. It had two main themes. First, was O’Neill’s disagreement with the president over tax cuts. The second, was the secretary’s belief that the White House wanted to take on Saddam Hussein from the start of the new presidency. It also gave some personal insights into the president that has since been corroborated by other people that help explained his decision making.
What made the book famous was O’Neill’s recollections that Iraq was the first foreign policy topic the Bush administration dealt with. The initial meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) was in January 2001. The president started by saying that the U.S. was going to do the opposite of Clinton and walk away from the Arab-Israeli conflict. The rest of the meeting dealt with Iraq. CIA Director George Tenet presented a picture of a factory that was suspected of producing WMD although there was nothing but suspicion. Secretary of State Colin Powell talked about how sanctions were not working and they needed to be changed. There was no decision made and Bush simply told each attendee to work on the topic. The second meeting again dealt with Iraq with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld talking about regime change and then backing away from it. The third meeting asked the question what America’s Iraq policy should be. After 9/11 Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz both said the attack should be used to go after Saddam Hussein. O’Neill was struck by this discussion. No one ever talked about why Iraq was a problem. All the talk was about what to do about it. O’Neill believed that Bush and especially Rumsfeld wanted to make an example out of Iraq as a warning to other countries to not challenge the United States. He was also never convinced by any of the intelligence he saw about Iraq’s WMD noting that it was always full of qualifications. In fact, Bush never made a decision about Iraq during these early meetings. What The Price of Loyalty did show was that Bush and others in his cabinet had Iraq on their mind from the very beginning. It helps explain why after 9/11 the president decided that the war on terror should shift from Al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein. Bush, Rumsfeld and others believed Iraq was a threat based upon faith rather than any hard evidence which O’Neill felt was shocking.
Another important part of Suskind’s book that also relates to Iraq was the Treasury Secretary’s impression of the president. O’Neill was baffled by Bush and frustrated as well. The secretary would go in for meetings and end up doing all the talking. Bush rarely if ever said anything. O’Neill couldn’t understand his style at all. Then Bush would make decisions like dropping out of the Kyoto Accord without consulting with anyone nor even giving an explanation. It was simply him going with his gut and instincts. O’Neill didn’t believe that should be the way that a government operated. O’Neill worked in previous administrations where briefing papers were presented. There was a discussion and arguments and then the president picked one side. There was little of that in the Bush White House. The same thing happened with Iraq. The president never had a meeting where he said the U.S. was going to invade Iraq. There was no back and forth with his cabinet on the issue. He simply felt that Saddam had to go and the administration fell in line behind him. Like Suskind wrote with the start of the NSC all the talk was about how to go after Iraq with nothing on the reasons.
While most of The Price of Loyalty actually has to do with Bush’s two tax cuts in 2001 and 2002 the parts about Iraq and how the Bush administration worked are the most noteworthy. The president’s lack of inquisitiveness, making decisions based off his gut without consulting with others and his early focus upon Iraq all help explain the 2003 invasion. It’s important background to go along with all the other books on the topic that discuss the steps that led to the Iraq War.
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