FORMER TREASURY SECRETARY PAUL ONEILL SAYS INVASION OF IRAQ WAS PLANNED IN THE FIRST DAYS OF THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION LONG BEFORE 9/11, IN AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW SUNDAY ON “60 MINUTES”
The Bush Administration began laying 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 is what former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill says in his first interview about his time as a White House insider. O’Neill talks to Lesley Stahl in the interview, to be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday, Jan. 11 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
“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,” says O’Neill.
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 like 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.
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,” 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, “Shouldn’t we be giving money to the middle?”
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.”