President Bush led meetings "like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people." So sayeth Paul O'Neill.
And furthermore, what some suspected all along: The President was preparing plans to move against Iraq "from the very beginning."
"I'm old and I'm rich," Paul O'Neill, former Secretary of the Treasury said " when asked if he were afraid of recriminations. "What can they do to me?"
Now the rest of the story.
The following morning, as Mr. O'Neill bends down to pick up the daily newspaper outside his suburban home. A black shoe filled by an enormous gentleman steps on the paper.
Hugo: Good morning, sir.
O'Neill: Who the hell are you?
Hugo: They call me, Mr. Hugo.
O'Neill looks up. O'Neill has heard of Mr. Hugo, but never knew if he existed or not until this moment.
O'Neill (now nervous) I suppose that you're here about the book and all that.
Hugo: (smiling) Something like that.
O'Neill: Well, that's what I saw. The President didn't have any interest at all in anything I had to say.
Hugo: (still smiling) Well, sir, let me tell you that I have an interest. I have a great interest in what you have to say. For example, I noticed that you made some reference to the fact that you were rich and old. And that you weren't afraid of any recriminations? But sir -- I don't believe the same can be said about your grandchildren -- not yet, anyway.
O'Neill: My grandchildren?
Hugo: Yes, little Paul, Jr III. He may be rich one day -- and, well, he might even be old one day. But I'm not so sure about that. You see, I'm not deaf. I'm not blind. I'm in pretty good shape.
O'Neill: I think you've watched too many Godfather movies.
Hugo: (reaching into his pocket) Here's my card.
He hands O'Neill a playing card with the Ace of Spades on it, and as O'Neill goes to take it, he grabs O'Neill around the shoulder -- a friendly bear hug -- and slips the card gently into O'Neill's suit pocket.
Hugo: (walking away) Have a nice day.
A day later, Mr. O'Neill was doing the company dance again. He now says that he is sorry to have described some cabinet meetings that way, and that all administrations had to have a plan about Iraq. There was no news in that.
Maybe that's a touch melodramatic. But something happened to turn him around and I'd love to know what it was.