Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, Bush
Planned Invasion Within Days Of Inauguration
The Bush Administration began making plans for an
invasion of Iraq, including the use of American troops, within days of
President Bush's inauguration in January of 2001 -- not eight months
later after the 9/11 attacks, as has been previously reported.
That's what former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill says in his first
interview about his time as a White House insider. O'Neill talks to CBS
News Correspondent Lesley Stahl in the interview, to be broadcast on 60
Minutes, Sunday, Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
"From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam
Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go," he tells Stahl.
"For me, the notion of pre-emption, that the U.S. has the
unilateral right to do whatever we decide to do is a really huge
O'Neill, fired by the White House for his disagreement on tax cuts, is
the main source for an upcoming book, "The Price of Loyalty,"
authored by Ron Suskind.
Suskind says O'Neill and other White House insiders he interviewed gave
him documents that show that in the first three months of 2001, the
administration was looking at military options for removing Saddam
Hussein from power and planning for the aftermath of Saddam's downfall
-- including post-war contingencies such as peacekeeping troops, war
crimes tribunals and the future of Iraq's oil.
"There are memos," Suskind tells Stahl, "One of them
marked 'secret' says 'Plan for Post-Saddam Iraq.'"
A Pentagon document, says Suskind, titled "Foreign
Suitors For Iraqi Oilfield Contracts," outlines areas of oil
"It talks about contractors around
the world from...30, 40 countries, and which ones have what intentions
on oil in Iraq," Suskind says.
In the book, O'Neill is quoted as saying he was surprised that no one in
a National Security Council meeting questioned why Iraq should be
invaded. "It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the
tone of it. The president saying 'Go find me a way to do this,'"
says O'Neill in the book.
CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller reported Saturday that, as the White
House sees it, O'Neill's remarks are those of a disgruntled former
official, and it should not have come as a surprise to O'Neill that the
U.S. advocated Saddam's ouster.
In fact, a senior administration official tells CBS News it would have
been irresponsible not to plan for Saddam's eventual removal.
As for the charge that there were early plans to invade Iraq, Knoller
says the official calls that "laughable." Suggesting that
O'Neill doesn't know what he's talking about on this matter, the
official told CBS News O'Neill had enough problems in his own area of
expertise, so, "Why should anyone believe he has a credible
understanding of foreign policy?"
Another senior administration official told CBS News Saturday, "No
one ever listened to the crazy things he said before, why should we
Separately, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan added Saturday,
"We appreciate his service. While we're not in the business of book
reviews, it appears the world according to Mr O'Neill is more about
justifying his own opinions than looking at the reality of the results
we're achieving on behalf on the American people.
"The president is going to continue to be forward-looking and focus
on building on the results we've achieved on the economy and efforts to
make the world safer and a better place."
According to CBS News Reporter Lisa Barron in Baghdad, "The Iraqi
National Congress, an umbrella group of former exiles, says it's not
surprised by O'Neill's remarks. Spokesman Entifadh Qanbar tells CBS News
that the Bush administration opened official channels to the Iraqi
opposition soon after coming to power, and discussed how to remove
Saddam. The group opened an office in Washington shortly
Suskind also writes about a White House meeting in which he says the
president seems to be wavering about going forward with his second round
of tax cuts. "Haven't we already given money to rich people ...
Shouldn't we be giving money to the middle," Suskind says the
president uttered, according to a nearly verbatim transcript of an
Economic Team meeting he says he obtained from someone at the meeting.
O'Neill, who was asked to resign because of his opposition to the tax
cut, says he doesn't think his tell-all account in this book will be
attacked by his former employers as sour grapes. "I will be really
disappointed if [the White House] reacts that way," he tells Stahl.
"I can't imagine that I am going to be attacked for telling the
O'Neill also is quoted saying in the book that President Bush was so
disengaged in cabinet meetings that he "was like a blind man in a
roomful of deaf people."
Also, as saying the administration's decision-making process was so
flawed that often top officials had no real sense of what the president
wanted them to do, forcing them to act on "little more than hunches
about what the president might think."
"It's revealing," said Stahl on The Early Show Friday. "I
would say it's an unflattering portrait of the White House and of the
president -- and specifically, about how they make decisions."
A lack of dialogue, according to O'Neill, was the norm in cabinet
meetings he attended. And it was similar in one-on-one meetings, says
O'Neill. Of his first such meeting with the president, O'Neill says,
"I went in with a long list of things to talk about and, I thought,
to engage [him] on...I was surprised it turned out me talking and the
president just listening...It was mostly a monologue."
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