Jan 19, 2004
A new book called The Price of Loyalty raises a scandal about the Bush administration. The book by reporter Ron Suskind relies heavily on records of Paul O'Neill, former head of the Alcoa Company conglomerate and the first Treasury secretary under George W. Bush.
O'Neill states that Bush's goal from his first day in office was to invade Iraq. Eight months before 9/11, the question in Bush's Cabinet and in the National Security Council was not whether to invade – but how to get it done. In other words, how could the government persuade American citizens to support an invasion? Eight months later, the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers would provide the cover they were searching for, to make their lies about weapons of mass destruction appear credible.
No official, including O'Neill, has openly confessed that the purpose of sending an invasion force halfway around the world was to take command of Middle East oil fields. But O'Neill is clear about several things. Eight months before 9/11, the occupation of Iraq was already on the agenda. One memo from that time is titled, "Plan for post-Saddam Iraq." It describes occupying forces, war crimes tribunals, and the disposition of Iraqi oil. Another memo, dated March 5, 2001, is titled "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts." This includes a map of oil exploration in Iraq, and which oil contractors from other countries had contracts for which oil fields.
Saddam Hussein did not have to go because he was a bad guy. The U.S. government keeps the world well supplied with bad guys – under firm U.S. control. Saddam became a problem only when he began to sign oil deals with European and Russian interests, against the wishes of the U.S. oil companies. O'Neill's account and the book's published memos can hardly be more clear.
But if O'Neill, together with the book's many other anonymous sources, disagreed at first with planning an invasion, they remained very silent until now. Why now? Why are these very highly-placed, wealthy, influential people just now airing some dirty Bush laundry? O'Neill is not a closet Democrat. Nor does he need money – as a past CEO of Alcoa, he's got more than he'll ever need. Moreover, his corporate and government experience puts him inside the world's most elite wielders of money and power. Why lift a corner of the curtain behind which his own elite operates?
Even though it is always difficult to know why such people do what they do, it is sometimes possible to make a few reasonable guesses. For the U.S. elite, the big political problem today, overshadowing all others, is that the occupation of Iraq is not going well. The Bush administration gambled – and slipped into a quagmire they cannot yet control. It's a botched-up job. If someone like O'Neill gets critical in public, it is a warning to this administration – and to whomever may replace it – that some part of the U.S. ruling class is very unhappy with the Bush performance thus far.
However, even though critical of Bush, it is not a warning that should give anyone hope about ending the occupation, freeing the Iraqis and bringing U.S. troops home. Nowhere in the book, or in any report about it, appears the consideration that Iraq's oil should be Iraq's to handle as its people see fit. Nowhere appears the conviction that Iraq should be governed by the Iraqis themselves, free from outside interference. Not at all. O'Neill's new – and delayed – critique of the Bush administration is merely that they have fouled up the occupation. They have not established quick and easy access for U.S. companies to a free flow of Iraqi oil. In fact, the situation in Iraq remains so dangerous that no U.S. oil company has yet placed bids on future exploration contracts there!
If representatives of some part of the U.S. ruling class are beginning to put public pressure on this administration, it's not because they disagree with invading and occupying Iraq. It's because they want U.S. control to be imposed more cleanly, more powerfully, more thoroughly – more profitably.
Those whom O'Neill represents are not intervening in public in order to stop the occupation, the needless deaths, the virtual imprisoning of the Iraqi population within a ring of American troops. No. They are simply impatient to begin reaping the spoils of war.