|By RICHARD W. STEVENSON
WASHINGTON, Jan. 11 President Bush was focused on
removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq from the start
of his administration, more than seven months before the terrorist
attacks that he later cited as the trigger for a more aggressive
foreign policy, Paul H. O'Neill, Mr. Bush's first Treasury
secretary, said in an interview broadcast on Sunday.
"From the very beginning, there was a conviction that
Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,"
Mr. O'Neill said in an interview with the CBS program "60
Mr. O'Neill, who was dismissed by Mr. Bush more than a year
ago over differences on economic policy, said Iraq was discussed
at the first National Security Council meeting after Mr. Bush's
inauguration. The tone at that meeting and others, Mr. O'Neill
said, was "all about finding a way to do it," with
no real questioning of why Mr. Hussein had to go or why it
had to be done then. "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," Mr. O'Neill said.
Mr. O'Neill gave the interview to "60 Minutes"
to promote a new book, "The Price of Loyalty,"
by Ron Suskind. Mr. O'Neill cooperated extensively on
the book, turning over 19,000 documents from his two years
as Treasury secretary, including transcripts of National Security
Council meetings, Mr. Suskind told "60 Minutes."
Mr. O'Neill also gave an interview to Time magazine, which
quoted him as casting doubt on the strength of the evidence
Mr. Bush cited in making the case for war with Iraq.
"In the 23 months I was there, I never saw anything
that I would characterize as evidence of weapons of mass destruction,"
Mr. O'Neill told Time, speaking of his tenure in the administration.
"There were allegations and assertions by people. But
I've been around a hell of a long time, and I know the difference
between evidence and assertions and illusions or allusions
and conclusions that one could draw from a set of assumptions.
"To me there is a difference between real evidence and
everything else," he continued. "And I never saw
anything in the intelligence that I would characterize as
Mr. O'Neill, a former chairman of Alcoa, served in the Nixon
and Ford administrations and was close to Vice President Dick
Cheney and Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve chairman. Mr.
O'Neill had a rocky tenure as Treasury secretary. His departure
came after he made it clear he differed with the White House
over the need for more tax cuts. In his typically blunt style,
he made no effort at the time to pretend he was not angry
and hurt over being forced out.
But the account of his service to Mr. Bush, as given to Mr.
Suskind, whose book is to be published Tuesday (1/13/04),
is the first by a former senior Bush administration official.
It is sure to fuel questions from Mr. Bush's political opponents
about the administration's rationale for invading Iraq, and
to focus new attention on Mr. Bush's management style and
the balance in the White House between politics and policy.
A White House spokesman, Ken Lisaius, said on Sunday night
that the administration "simply is not in the business
of doing book reviews."
Mr. Lisaius said the book and the interviews appeared to
be "an attempt to justify the former secretary's own
opinions instead of the results this administration has achieved
on behalf of the American people."
In the interviews and in excerpts from the book, Mr. O'Neill
described Mr. Bush as hard to read and seemingly disengaged
from the details of many policy debates. He portrayed Mr.
Cheney as unwilling to serve the role of honest broker during
In the interviews on Sunday, Mr. O'Neill did not describe
in depth the early discussions about removing Mr. Hussein
from power. Mr. Suskind told "60 Minutes" that he
had documents dating from before Sept. 11, 2001, showing planning
for the aftermath of a war with Iraq, covering peacekeeping
forces, war crimes tribunals and Iraqi oil fields.
Since the Clinton administration, the official position of
the United States, backed by bipartisan votes in Congress,
has been to call for "regime change" in Iraq. Even
before taking office, Mr. Bush had spoken to exiled Iraqi
opponents of Mr. Hussein about his desire to drive the Iraqi
leader from power.
But the administration has disclosed few details of its early
thinking about war with Iraq and did not publicly raise the
prospect of such a war seriously until August 2002.
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