Will Anyone Hold Bush Accountable?

You’d think that President Bush would be facing, to quote Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, a long, hard slog in his bid to recapture the White House for a second term what with all the information trickling out of the president’s administration the past few months showing that senior administration officials knowingly mislead the American public about the reasons for launching a preemptive attack against Iraq.

But, unfortunately, there’s too much infighting taking place among the nine Democrats campaigning for their party’s presidential nomination and not enough attention to the administration’s misdeeds. Too bad, because this is the type of ammunition that even the weakest Democratic candidate should be able to easily spin to convince voters that Bush should be replaced come November.

Still, despite the evidence that shows how Bush and his closest advisers have spent most of the three years they’ve been in office lying to the American public about their knowledge of the 9-11 terrorist attacks right on down to the reasons the United States invaded Iraq, Bush’s approval rating is still above fifty percent and he holds a strong lead over all of the Democratic presidential contenders.

Maybe the drama now unfolding will put a permanent dent in Bush’s armor once and for all.

Bush’s former Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, has revealed in a new book, “The Price of Loyalty,” by journalist Ron Suskind, that the Iraq war was planned just days after the president was sworn into office.

“From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,” O’Neill said, adding that going after Saddam Hussein was a priority 10 days after the Bush’s inauguration and eight months before Sept. 11.

“From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime,” Suskind said. “Day one, these things were laid and sealed.”

As treasury secretary, O’Neill was a permanent member of the National Security Council. He says in the book he was surprised at the meeting that questions such as “Why Saddam?” and “Why now?” were never asked.

O’Neill was fired from his post for disagreeing with Bush’s economic policies. In typical White House fashion, senior administration officials have labeled O’Neill a “disgruntled employee,” whose latest remarks are “laughable” and have no basis in reality.

Moreover, claims by O’Neill that the U.S. and Britain were operating off of murky intelligence during the buildup to war came six days after Bush’s inauguration. It was then that British intelligence communicated to the CIA, the Pentagon and National Security Adviser Rice’s office that an Iraqi defector told British intelligence officials that Saddam Hussein had two fully operational nuclear bombs, according to two senior Bush advisers.

The London Telegraph reported the defector’s claims on Jan. 28, 2001.

“According to the defector, who cannot be named for security reasons, bombs are being built in Hemrin in north-eastern Iraq, near the Iranian border,” according to the Telegraph report. The defector said: “There are at least two nuclear bombs which are ready for use. Before the UN inspectors came, there were 47 factories involved in the project. Now there are 64.”

That information turned out to be grossly inaccurate, but it was cited by Vice President Dick Cheney during a speech in 2002 as a means to build the case for war.

However, O’Neill’s allegations that Bush planned an Iraq invasion prior to 9-11 are backed up by dozens of on-the-record statements and speeches made by the president’s senior advisers, including Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, during Bush’s first four months in office.

In dozens of transcripts posted on the Defense Department’s web site between January and May 2001, months before 9-11, Rumsfeld said the United States needed to be prepared for surprises, such as launching preemptive wars against countries like Iraq.

“If you think about it, Dick Cheney’s (Secretary of Defense) confirmation hearing in 1989 — not one United States senator mentioned a word about Iraq,” Rumsfeld said in a May 25, 2001 interview with PBS’ “NewsHour.”The word “Iraq” was never mentioned in his entire confirmation hearing. One year later we’re at war with Iraq. Now, what does that tell you? Well, it tells you that you’d best be flexible; you’d best expect the unexpected.”

In fact, Rumsfeld discusses the above scenario in a half-dozen other interviews in May 2001 and appears to suggest, by specifically mentioning Iraq, that history would eventually repeat itself.

Responding to a reporter’s question on Jan. 26, 2001 about the Bush administration’s policy toward Saddam Hussein’s regime days after his Senate confirmation hearing, Rumsfeld said “I think that the policy of the country is that it is not helpful to have Saddam Hussein’s regime in office.”

In his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 2001 President Bush also alluded to the possibility of war, although he did not mention Iraq by name.

“We will confront weapons of mass destruction, so that a new century is spared new horrors,” Bush said. “The enemies of liberty and our country should make no mistake… We will defend our allies and our interests.”

Further evidence suggests that when the Bush administration took office it was worried that the U.S. was losing international support for the sanctions it placed on Iraq ten years earlier leaving the door open to the possibility that Saddam Hussein would be let out of his proverbial box. President Bush sent Powell on a trip to the Middle East in late February 2001 to study the situation in Iraq to decide whether the administration should keep the sanctions in place or whether it should start to lay the groundwork for a preemptive strike.

But Powell returned to the U.S. and championed the sanctions saying, Iraq posed absolutely no threat to the U.S., during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 8, 2001, much to the dismay of Vice President Cheney, Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, all of whom believed in using military force to oust Saddam Hussein.

“When we took over on the 20th of January, I discovered that we had an Iraq policy that was in disarray, and the sanctions part of that policy was not just in disarray; it was falling apart,” Powell said during his Senate testimony. “We were losing support for the sanctions regime that had served so well over the last ten years, with all of the ups and downs and with all of the difficulties that are associated that regime, it was falling apart. It had been successful. Saddam Hussein has not been able to rebuild his army, notwithstanding claims that he has. He has fewer tanks in his inventory today than he had 10 years ago. Even though we know he is working on weapons of mass destruction, we know he has things squirreled away, at the same time we have not seen that capacity emerge to present a full-fledged threat to us.”

In an interview with broadcast journalist Charlie Rose last Wednesday, Richard Perle, the former chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board and one of the major architects of the war against Iraq, lent further credibility to the claim that one of the reasons Iraq became a target for invasion was because support for sanctions were eroding.

Perle also said that White House lawyers advised President Bush and members of the National Security Council to accuse Iraq of violating United Nations resolutions by concealing stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons so as not to break international laws when the time came to attack the country.

With the possibility of finding Iraq’s alleged WMD’s, which the Bush administration used to as a basis to invade Iraq last March, becoming increasingly remote after 10 months of combat and as the President’s hand-picked team hired to search for the weapons begins to filter out of Iraq empty handed, Bush and his hawks still maintain that the war was justified.

In a heated exchange with “20/20” anchor Dianne Sawyer several weeks ago, Bush admitted that he personally saw no difference as to whether Iraq had physical weapons or a weapons program. Either way, the president said, “Saddam Hussein was a dangerous person.” But it wasn’t the threat of an Iraqi weapons program that Bush said threatened the U.S. when he spoke before the U.N. Security Council and Congress and the Senate to support the war. It was an actual stockpile of weapons that posed the threat.

Finally, Bush is going to face a tough crowd come September. That’s when the Republican National Convention hits New York City and officially nominates Bush for a second-term. This is the same New York City that Bush denied tens of billions of dollars in aid to after the terrorists obliterated the World Trade Center, breaking a promise to help rebuild the city’s downtown area. And this is the same New York City that the Environmental Protection Agency, on orders from the White House, told New Yorkers it was safe to breathe when reliable information on air quality was not available.

Beware, Mr. President, you messed with the wrong city.


JASON LEOPOLD is the former Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires where he spent two years covering the energy crisis and the Enron bankruptcy. He just finished writing a book about the crisis, due out in December through Rowman & Littlefield. He can be reached at: jasonleopold@hotmail.com