Bush's Plans to Invade Iraq began days after 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 leap."
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 exploration. "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 start now?"
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 afterwards."
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 truth."
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."
[Source: CBS News, NY, 10Jan04]
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