The point is that the credentials of the critics just keep getting better. How can Howard Dean's assertion that the capture of Saddam hasn't made us safer be dismissed as bizarre, when a report published by the Army War College says that the war in Iraq was a 'detour' that undermined the fight against terror? How can charges by Wesley Clark and others that the administration was looking for an excuse to invade Iraq be dismissed as paranoid in the light of Mr. O'Neill's revelations?
So far administration officials have attacked Mr. O'Neill's character but haven't refuted any of his facts. They have, however, already opened an investigation into how a picture of a possibly classified document appeared during Mr. O'Neill's TV interview. This alacrity stands in sharp contrast with their evident lack of concern when a senior administration official, still unknown, blew the cover of a C.I.A. operative because her husband had revealed some politically inconvenient facts.
Some will say that none of this matters because Saddam is in custody, and the economy is growing. Even in the short run, however, these successes may not be all they're cracked up to be. More Americans were killed and wounded in the four weeks after Saddam's capture than in the four weeks before. The drop in the unemployment rate since its peak last summer doesn't reflect a greater availability of jobs, but rather a decline in the share of the population that is even looking for work.
More important, having a few months of good news doesn't excuse a consistent pattern of dishonest, irresponsible leadership. And that pattern keeps getting harder to deny.
My favourite White House critique of O'Neill was the claim that he lacked sufficient access to make those judgements.
A top U.S. administration official told Time that O'Neill was not in a position to have seen the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction because access to it was limited.
The top US official did not mention that he was a member of the National Security Council. It follows that NSC members do not get adequate intelligence to perform their function or that the White House source was simply lying. And if they are prepared to lie about a matter of public record what are they prepared to do about matters that are not on the public record?
Now O'Neil is to face a leaks inquiry. The White House took 74 days to investigate the Plame leak and less than 24 hours to investigate O'Neil. The Plame leak threatened national security. The O'Neil leak threatens only Bush's job security.
Lastly, the president himself has chosen untruth as a means of defence. He is quoted in the Washington Post as follows:
I appreciate former secretary O'Neill's service to our country," Bush said, rejecting O'Neill's description of the Iraq chronology. "In the initial stages of the administration, as you might remember, we were dealing with Desert Badger or flyovers and fly-betweens and looks, and so we were fashioning policy along those lines. And then all of a sudden September the 11th hit.
We now know that the White House was given warning of an al-Qai'da attack and (despite their denials) were also warned of the possible use of weaponised jetliners. September 11th did not 'all of a sudden, hit'. September 11th happened after an astonishing period of White House complacency.