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Context of '(January 12, 2004): Donald Rumsfeld Warns Paul O’Neill About Going Ahead With Book'

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The Bush White House holds its first National Security Council meeting. The focus is on Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 261] This meeting sets the tone for how President Bush intends to handle foreign affairs. Counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke wants to focus on the threat from al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorism, especially in light of the recent attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). But Bush isn’t interested in terrorism. [Unger, 2007, pp. 201]
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict to be 'Tilted Back Towards Israel' - Instead, Bush channels his neoconservative advisers, particularly incoming Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (see February 18, 1992 and April-May 1999), in taking a new approach to Middle East affairs, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Referring to President Clinton’s efforts to make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Bush declares: “Clinton overreached, and it all fell apart. That’s why we’re in trouble. If the two sides don’t want peace, there’s no way we can force them. I don’t see much we can do over there at this point. I think it’s time to pull out of the situation.… We’re going to correct the imbalance of the previous administration on the Mideast conflict. We’re going to tilt it back towards Israel.” His view is that the Israeli government, currently headed by Ariel Sharon, should be left alone to deal as it sees fit with the Palestinians. “I’m not going to go by past reputations when it comes to Sharon. I’m going to take him at face value. We’ll work on a relationship based on how things go.” Justifying his position, he recalls a recent trip he took to Israel with the Republican Jewish Coalition. “We flew over the Palestinian camps. Looked real bad down there.… I don’t see much we can do over there at this point.” Secretary of State Colin Powell, surprised by Bush’s intended policy towards the 50-year old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, objects. According to Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neil, Powell “stresse[s] that a pullback by the United States would unleash Sharon and the Israeli army.” When Powell warns the president that the “consequences of that [policy] could be dire, especially for the Palestinians,” Bush shrugs. “Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things,” he suggests. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 265-266; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004] In this and subsequent meetings, Bush’s National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, “parrot[s]… the neocon line,” in author Craig Unger’s words, by discussing Iraq. “Iraq might be the key to reshaping the entire region,” she says, clearly alluding to regime change and overthrow in that nation (see March 8, 1992, Autumn 1992, July 8, 1996, Late Summer 1996, Late Summer 1996, 1997-1998, January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, and Shortly after January 20, 2001). [Unger, 2007, pp. 201]
Possible WMD Sites in Iraq Spark Bush to Order Plans for Ground Assaults - The meeting then moves on to the subject of Iraq. Rice begins noting “that Iraq might be the key to reshaping the entire region.” She turns the meeting over to CIA Director George Tenet who summarizes current intelligence on Iraq. He mentions a factory that “might” be producing “either chemical or biological materials for weapons manufacture.” The evidence he provides is a picture of the factory with some truck activity, a water tower, and railroad tracks going into a building. He admits that there is “no confirming intelligence” on just what is going on at these sites. Bush orders Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Hugh Shelton to begin preparing options for the use of US ground forces in Iraq’s northern and southern no-fly zones in support of a native-based insurgency against the Hussein regime. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 267; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004] Author Ron Suskind later sums up the discussion: “Meeting adjourned. Ten days in, and it was about Iraq. Rumsfeld had said little, Cheney nothing at all, though both men clearly had long entertained the idea of overthrowing Saddam.” Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang later writes: “If this was a decision meeting, it was strange. It ended in a presidential order to prepare contingency plans for war in Iraq.” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Regime Change Intended from the Outset - US Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, later recalls: “From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go.… From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime. Day one, these things were laid and sealed.” O’Neill will say officials never questioned the logic behind this policy. No one ever asked, “Why Saddam?” and “Why now?” Instead, the issue that needed to be resolved was how this could be accomplished. “It was all about finding a way to do it,” O’Neill will explain. “That was the tone of it. The president saying ‘Go find me a way to do this.’” [CBS News, 1/10/2004; New York Times, 1/12/2004; Guardian, 1/12/2004; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 234] Another official who attends the meeting will later say that the tone of the meeting implied a policy much more aggressive than that of the previous administration. “The president told his Pentagon officials to explore the military options, including use of ground forces,” the official will tell ABC News. “That went beyond the Clinton administration’s halfhearted attempts to overthrow Hussein without force.” [ABC News, 1/13/2004] Unger later writes, “These were the policies that even the Israeli right had not dared to implement.” One senior administration official says after the meeting, “The Likudniks are really in charge now.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 201]
Funding the Iraqi National Congress - The council does more than just discuss Iraq. It makes a decision to allow the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an Iraqi opposition group, to use $4 million to fund efforts inside Iraq to compile information relating to Baghdad’s war crimes, military operations, and other internal developments. The money had been authorized by Congress in late 2004. The US has not directly funded Iraqi opposition activities inside Iraq itself since 1996. [Guardian, 2/3/2005]
White House Downplays Significance - After Paul O’Neill first provides his account of this meeting in 2004, the White House will attempt to downplay its significance. “The stated policy of my administration toward Saddam Hussein was very clear,” Bush will tell reporters during a visit to Mexico In January 2004. “Like the previous administration, we were for regime change.… And in the initial stages of the administration, as you might remember, we were dealing with desert badger or fly-overs and fly-betweens and looks, and so we were fashioning policy along those lines.” [New York Times, 1/12/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, Hugh Shelton, Paul O’Neill, George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Craig Unger, Iraqi National Congress

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The Bush White House holds its second National Security Council meeting. Like the first meeting (see January 30, 2001), the issue of regime change in Iraq is a central topic. [CBS News, 1/10/2004; New York Times, 1/12/2004] Officials discuss a memo titled “Plan for post-Saddam Iraq,” which talks about troop requirements, establishing war crimes tribunals, and divvying up Iraq’s oil wealth. [ [Sources: Paul O’Neill] Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld interrupts Colin Powell’s discussion of UN-based sanctions against Iraq, saying, “Sanctions are fine. But what we really want to discuss is going after Saddam.” He continues, “Imagine what the region would look like without Saddam and with a regime that’s aligned with US interests. It would change everything in the region and beyond it. It would demonstrate what US policy is all about.” [Suskind, 2004, pp. 85-86 Sources: Paul O’Neill] According to Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, Rumsfeld talks at the meeting “in general terms about post-Saddam Iraq, dealing with the Kurds in the north, the oil fields, the reconstruction of the country’s economy, and the ‘freeing of the Iraqi people.’” [New York Times, 1/12/2004 Sources: Paul O’Neill] Other people, in addition to O’Neill, Bush, and Rumsfeld, who are likely in attendance include Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard B. Myers. [US President, 2/13/2001]

Entity Tags: Paul O’Neill, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, George J. Tenet, Richard B. Myers

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Kim Jong Il and Kim Dae Jung.Kim Jong Il and Kim Dae Jung. [Source: Encyclopedia Brittanica]President Bush meets with South Korean president Kim Dae Jung (known in the administration as KDJ), and pointedly snubs Kim in an official press conference, announcing that he has no intention of following the Clinton policy of engaging North Korea in any sort of dialogue regarding North Korea’s nuclear buildup. Kim has attempted to implement a “sunshine” policy of open negotiations with the North, including economic trade and nuclear talks, but his efforts are predicated on US support. Secretary of State Colin Powell advocates working with Kim to further implement negotiations with North Korea, but loses out (see March 7, 2001) to pressure from Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, who believe Clinton had been doing little more than appeasing a tyrant in negotiating with North Korea’s Kim Jong Il. Bush misstates the facts in the conference, saying that “we’re not certain as to whether or not they’re keeping all terms of all agreements,” when there has only been a single agreement between the US and North Korea, the 1994 agreement to freeze North Korea’s plutonium processing (see October 21, 1994). Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill believes that the gaffe is due to Bush’s lack of understanding of the complex situation between the US, North Korea, and the US’s allies in Southeast Asia, and Bush’s failure to “do his homework” before Kim’s arrival in Washington. O’Neill attempts to salvage the situation by lauding South Korea’s superb literacy rate among its citizens, earning a look of surprise from Bush. O’Neill privately mulls over the decision-making process in the White House, with Bush damaging ten years of “delicately stitched US policy towards North Korea” in just a few minutes. [Suskind, 2004, pp. 114-115] In 2004, foreign affairs reporter Fred Kaplan will offer an explanation of Bush’s behavior. To negotiate with an “evil regime” such as North Korea’s is, in Bush’s view, “to recognize that regime, legitimize it, and—if the negotiations led to a treaty or a trade—prolong it.” Bush has already told one reporter that he “loathed” Kim Jong Il. He distrusts anyone such as KDJ who has any intention of accomodating or even negotiating with such a regime. Additionally, Bush views the South Korean leader—a democratic activist who had spent years in prison for his beliefs—with what Kaplan calls “startling contempt.” Charles “Jack” Pritchard, who had been director of the National Security Council’s Asia desk under Clinton and is now the State Department’s special North Korean envoy under Bush, will later recall, “Bush’s attitude toward KDJ was, ‘Who is this naive, old guy?’” Bush and his advisers, particularly Rumsfeld and Cheney, hope not only to isolate North Korea, but to undermine Kim Dae Jung’s regime in hopes to shake his administration and drive South Koreans to elect a conservative in the next elections. [Washington Monthly, 5/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Paul O’Neill, Fred Kaplan, Donald Rumsfeld, Charles Pritchard, George W. Bush, Kim Dae Jung, Kim Jong Il

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

George Tenet pointing at a map and describing CIA operations in Afghanistan on September 30, 2001. Also at the table are George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Andrew Card.George Tenet pointing at a map and describing CIA operations in Afghanistan on September 30, 2001. Also at the table are George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Andrew Card. [Source: White House]President Bush and his top advisers meet at Camp David to discuss how to respond to the 9/11 attacks. Attendees include: CIA Director George Tenet, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. [Washington Post, 1/31/2002; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 232] There is discussion on a paper submitted by the Defense Department submitted the day before depicting Iraq, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda as priority targets (see September 14, 2001).
Push to Attack Iraq - Rumsfeld has already suggested that the US should use 9/11 as an excuse to attack Iraq (see 10:00 p.m. September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001). Now Wolfowitz pushes for regime change in Iraq, claiming that there is a 10 to 50 percent chance that Iraq was involved in the attacks. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 83; Vanity Fair, 5/2004; Washington Post, 7/23/2004] Attacking Afghanistan is uncertain at best, Wolfowitz argues, with the likelihood that US troops will get mired in mountain fighting. In contrast, Iraq is, in author Bob Woodward’s words, “a brittle, oppressive regime that might break easily. It was doable.” According to Woodward, chief of staff Andrew Card believes that Wolfowitz is doing nothing more than “banging a drum” and is “not providing additional information or new arguments.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 83; American Conservative, 3/24/2003] Powell will later recall that Wolfowitz argues that Iraq should be attacked because it is ultimately the source of the terrorist problem. Wolfowitz “was always of the view that Iraq was a problem that had to be dealt with. And he saw this as one way of using this event as a way to deal with the Iraq problem.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 335] Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin will later recall that the discussion about possible Iraqi involvement in 9/11 “went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The [CIA] argued that that was not appropriate, not the right conclusion to draw at this point.” Secretary of State Colin Powell supports the CIA on this. Then, according to McLaughlin: “At the end of all this deliberation, the president says, ‘Thank you all very much. This has been a very good discussion. I’m going to think about all of this on Sunday, and I’ll call you together Monday [September 17] and tell you what I’ve concluded.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
Focus on Afghanistan First - Bush will later tell reporter Bob Woodward that, in his own mind, he made the decision not to immediately attack Iraq in the morning on this day. He wants to focus on Afghanistan first. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 335] Wolfowitz will later recall in an interview with Vanity Fair: “On the surface of the debate it at least appeared to be about not whether but when. There seemed to be a kind of agreement that yes it should be, but the disagreement was whether it should be in the immediate response or whether you should concentrate simply on Afghanistan first. To the extent it was a debate about tactics and timing, the president clearly came down on the side of Afghanistan first. To the extent it was a debate about strategy and what the larger goal was, it is at least clear with 20/20 hindsight that the president came down on the side of the larger goal.” [Vanity Fair, 5/9/2003] In his 2002 book Bush at War, Woodward will write, “Bush’s advisers wondered if they would ever find a way to end the talking and pull the trigger.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 106]

Entity Tags: Paul O’Neill, George J. Tenet, George W. Bush, Robert S. Mueller III, Donald Rumsfeld, John E. McLaughlin, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld telephones former treasury secretary Paul O’Neill and warns him that it might be against his best interest to go ahead with the publishing of The Price of Loyalty, an insider account of how Iraq quickly became the administration’s focus once in office. The book, authored by journalist Ron Suskind, is based upon O’Neill’s experience as secretary of the treasury. [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: Ron Suskind, Paul O’Neill, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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