Skip to comments.Helen Thomas: Ex-Treasury Chief O'Neill Rejects Price Of Loyalty
Posted on 01/15/2004 7:10:08 AM PST by presidio9
"I can't imagine I would be attacked for telling the truth."
That statement came from former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill during an interview with CBS-TV'S "60 Minutes." He has learned differently since then.
O'Neill caused a big stir with his remarkably candid new book, "The Price of Loyalty," about his Cabinet tenure as President Bush's man at the Treasury Department.
In the book written by journalist Ron Suskind, O'Neill charges that Bush had planned to depose Saddam Hussein from the start of his administration in 2001 -- not, as the White House would have us believe, as the result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
O'Neill said on CBS that Bush's early meetings with his advisers were "all about finding a way to" take out Saddam.
O'Neill told Suskind that at Bush's first National Security Council meeting on Jan. 30, 2001, the president directed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to "examine our military options" with regard to Iraq.
Getting rid of Saddam has been a long-standing U.S. goal going back to his 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
It was the policy of President Bill Clinton, who relied on economic sanctions, support for Iraqi dissidents and political pressure.
What's different here is that the current president started a war to attain that goal. And the book about O'Neill makes it clear that Bush quickly set about to find a rationale to persuade Americans that their safety depended on U.S. military action against Saddam.
At first the White House apparently decided it could kiss off O'Neill's charges. Scott McClellan pooh-poohed it, saying: "We're not in the business of doing book reviews."
But when O'Neill's allegations gained wide attention, the administration rolled out the big guns with fuller rebuttals from Bush and Rumsfeld.
Both said they were simply following Clinton's policy of "regime change" in Iraq. The president and his Pentagon chief somehow overlooked the fact that Clinton did not start a war to overthrow Saddam. In my book, that's a big difference.
At a joint news conference Monday with Mexican President Vicente Fox in Monterrey, Mexico, Bush tried -- again -- to justify the invasion by coating it with the transparent veneer of the U.S. war against terrorism.
Denying that he contemplated war against Iraq "in the initial stages" of his administration, Bush continued: "And then, all of sudden, September 11th hit," adding that it was his duty to protect the security of the United States.
The president himself has said previously that Iraq did not have a hand in the terrorist attacks against the United States. Last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell confirmed that Iraq had no ties to al-Qaida and was not responsible for 9/11.
On Tuesday, Rumsfeld acknowledged that he had twice called O'Neill, an old friend, to ask about the book, but he denied warning him not to write it.
The defense secretary also rejected O'Neill's portrayal of Bush as a detached president, disinterested in issues and inept at engaging his Cabinet secretaries on the business of government.
On the contrary, Rumsfeld told reporters, Bush brings "his brain, his engagement, his interest, his probing questions, his constructive and positive approach to issues."
In addition to television appearances, O'Neill launched his book with a Time magazine interview, which stressed Bush's need to make a case for war with Iraq.
"In the 23 months I was there," O'Neill said to Time, "I never saw anything that I would characterize as evidence of weapons of mass destruction. There were allegations and assertions by people."
"And I never saw anything in the intelligence that I would characterize as real evidence" to justify an attack on Iraq, he added.
"For me, the notion of preemption -- that the U.S. has the unilateral right to do whatever we decide to do -- is a really huge leap," O'Neill said.
Bush sacked O'Neill, who worked in both the Ford and Nixon administration and later as chairman of Alcoa, the aluminum giant, for opposing big tax cuts and the growing budget deficits.
Suskind had thousands of O'Neill documents to work with, including transcripts of National Security Council meetings, but denied any of them were classified.
A Jan. 7 New York Times profile on national security adviser Condoleezza Rice has a fascinating nugget buried deep in the story.
When Richard Haass, then a top State Department official, came to see her in July 2002 to discuss the pros and cons of making Iraq a priority.
She told him: "Save your breath -- the president has already decided what he's going to do on this."
O'Neill apparently decided the price of loyalty is too high. Maybe other insiders will see it the same way some day and become whistle blowers.
OOOPS! I recently referred to a letter in the Washington Post and gave the wrong date. The letter was published in the Post on Jan 5.
Typical liberal response. Refutation of their lies is an "attack."
I am trying NOT to envision you painting her toenails by the pool...
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.