The Price of Loyalty

Posted: Mar 19, 2004 12:00 AM

Memo to: Paul O?Neill
From: Rich Tucker
Subject: The Price of Loyalty

 Dear Paul:
First of all, may I call you Paul? It seems presumptuous. I?m a mere columnist and you?re a former Treasury Secretary, CEO of Alcoa, and many other things. But throughout the book ?The Price of Loyalty,? which you helped Ron Suskind write, most people are known only by their first names. Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan is simply ?Alan,? Vice President Cheney is ?Dick,? and so forth. I?m simply following form.

 Also, I?m sorry this won?t be a ?Brandeis brief,? the memo you frequently praise in the book. I won?t be taking an in-depth look at a subject, considering all the possible options and suggesting a course of action. Instead, I?d simply like to pose a few questions.

 Finally, allow me to apologize for my tardiness. The book came out in January and generated a media firestorm at that time. I?m dozens of news cycles behind. Still, I wanted to actually read the book before I attempted to discuss it. Given the size of my monthly Visa bill, I waited until it became available at the library. Certainly you support my concern for fiscal restraint in not shelling out $26 for the book.

Of course, this is Ron?s book, not yours, and his opinion, not yours. Still, it couldn?t have been penned without your files and your corroboration.

So: In the new administration?s first National Security Council meeting, you seemed surprised that President Bush wanted to change course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  American policy under President Clinton was to be extremely involved in that conflict, to the point that Clinton (Bill?) actually hosted talks at Camp David in 2000. Ron claims that gathering failed because Clinton pushed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to go too far, too fast.

In fact, the Israeli side started negotiations by offering Arafat about 90 percent of the land he?s always demanded, plus a partial resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem and Palestinian sovereignty over the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Quite an opening offer. Arafat probably could have succeeded in getting Israel to go even further. Prime Minister Ehud Barak wanted a peace deal to save his administration.

Instead, Arafat refused to engage in substantial talks, then returned to his fiefdom and launched the second Intifida. President Clinton specifically blamed Arafat for the breakdown in the talks.

Paul, do you agree with Ron that it was all Clinton?s fault? If so, can you explain why you were surprised by the new administration?s change of tactics? After all, by January 2001, it was clear that strong American involvement hadn?t worked. Why would you expect an incoming president to maintain the failed policies of his predecessor?

Another question is about water for Africa.

Several times in the book, Ron discusses your belief that real change could happen if the United States was willing to spend $25 million to drill wells in Africa. That seems reasonable. It?s also reasonable that you were frustrated when bureaucracy blocked any progress.

However, as a Washington veteran, you must have know it would be almost impossible to get any rapid movement on an aid package, even one for so relatively small a sum as $25 million. However, a private investment team could move quickly.

Paul, you?ve been out of office more than a year. You are, in your own words, an ?old man? with ?nothing to lose.? Plus, as you discussed, in the early days of the administration, you sold off a block of Alcoa stock for at least $80 million. There?s enough loose change in that $80 million to serve as seed money for a ?Save Africa? fund. So have you done anything to bring clean water to Africa?

After all, you spent more than a week with rock star Bono, a multi-millionaire in his own right. Certainly between the two of you, you could find enough wealthy donors to pull together $25 million without breaking a sweat. Have you raised the funds and drilled any of those lifesaving wells?

One final question: Was the book worth it? When you read the finished product, didn?t it strike you the book was not written for posterity, but to show the president in the worst possible light right at the start of his reelection campaign? Was that your intention? It certainly was Ron?s.

Paul, I always respected you, and you certainly raised some legitimate questions about administration policy. I enjoyed the inside look you and Ron made possible. Thank you for that, and when you write back, please call me Rich.