Ex-aide: Bush wanted Iraq
CRAWFORD, Texas – Former Treasury secretary Paul O’Neill charged in remarks released Saturday that President Bush began planning to oust Saddam Hussein within days of taking office and before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
– This war is brought to you by …
Providing firsthand testimony bolstering a longtime contention of White House critics, O’Neill told Lesley Stahl of CBS’s “60 Minutes” that preparations to oust Saddam long predated Bush’s revealing his pre-emption doctrine in June 2002, when he said the United States must strike looming enemies.
“From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,” O’Neill said, according to CBS. “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.”
Administration officials Saturday pointed out that “regime change” had been the official policy of the United States since President Clinton said in 1998 that containment of the Iraqi president was no longer sufficient and a change of leadership was necessary.
O’Neill was fired in December 2002, when Bush replaced most of his economic team in preparation for another round of tax cuts in 2003. The former CEO of Alcoa Inc. had publicly voiced doubts about the need for another round of tax cuts as federal budget deficits ballooned.
Bush tapped former CSX Corp. chief executive John Snow to replace him.
O’Neill gave the interview to “60 Minutes,” which is to air tonight, in connection with the publication of “The Price of Loyalty,” by Ron Suskind, who interviewed O’Neill after he was fired.
O’Neill is quoted in the book as saying that in early discussions at a National Security Council meeting he attended, no official questioned why Iraq should be invaded.
“It was all about finding a way to do it,” O’Neill said. “That was the tone of it. The President saying, ‘Go find me a way to do this.’ “
Some Bush critics say he came into office with a built-in grudge against Saddam due to an alleged Iraqi plot to assassinate his father, the former president, on a 1993 visit to Kuwait following the first Persian Gulf War.
According to a CBS press release, Suskind says in the book that O’Neill and other White House insiders gave him documents that show that in the first three months of 2001, the administration was examining options for removing Saddam and planning for the aftermath, including such details as peacekeeping troops and war crimes tribunals.
Suskind said one document discussed contractors in 30 or 40 countries that might be interested in Iraq’s oil.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan would neither confirm not deny Saturday that the White House began Iraq war planning early in Bush’s term.
But, McClellan said, Saddam “was a threat to peace and stability before September 11th, and even more of a threat after September 11.”
“It appears that the world according to Mr. O’Neill is more about trying to justify his own opinions than looking at the reality of the results we are achieving on behalf of the American people,” McClellan said in Texas, where the President is staying at his ranch.
The administration began sending signals about a possible confrontation with Iraq even before Sept. 11, 2001.
In July 2001, after an Iraqi surface-to-air missile was fired at an American surveillance plane, Bush’s national security adviser put Saddam on notice that the United States intended a more resolute military policy toward Iraq.
“Saddam Hussein is on the radar screen for the administration,” Condoleezza Rice said at the time.