Group blasts Bush policies

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, who collaborated with Ron Suskind, is in the news. Their new book, The Price of Loyalty, came out last week. It details O’Neill’s two years inside the Bush administration.

O’Neill says he was dismissed because he disagreed with the president’s tax cut policy. He is known for saying what he thinks.

The new book contains some glimpses inside the White House. O’Neill says there was little exchange of ideas or open debate in cabinet meetings.

He said the president, at those meetings, was “like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people. There is no discernible connection,” forcing the top officials to act “on little more than hunches about what the president might think.” He made those comments on the CBS TV program 60 Minutes.

One of O’Neill’s most damning and startling revelations concerned his attendance at National Security Council meetings. He was a permanent member as Treasury Secretary.

He told CBS’s Leslie Stahl that planning for the invasion of Iraq and the ouster of Saddam Hussein was on the table from day one.

“From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,” O’Neill said. He added that Saddam was a major topic 10 days after the inauguration. O’Neill said no one asked, “Why Saddam?” and “Why now?”

“It was all about finding a way to do it,” he said. “That was the tone of it.”

“From the very first instance (eight months before the fact), it was about Iraq,” said Ron Suskind, who wrote the book with O’Neill’s aid. “It was about what we can do to change this regime. Day one, these things were laid and sealed.”

At the same time, the Asia Times reported three experts from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in a 107-page report, appealed for creation of an independent commission to investigate what the U.S. intelligence community knew about Iraq’s WMD program between 1991 and 2003.

The report charged the Bush administration “systematically misrepresented” the threat from such weapons.

Jessica Mathews, George Perkovich and Joseph Cincione said the probe should try to learn if intelligence analyses were tainted by foreign intelligence agencies or by political pressure.

The three said: “It is very likely that intelligence officials were pressured by senior administration officials to conform their threat assessments to pre-existing policies.”

The Carnegie analysts said they found “no solid evidence” of a working relationship between Saddam Hussein’s government and al-Qaeda, nor was there any evidence to back the claim that Saddam would have transferred WMDs to bin Laden’s group under any circumstances.

“The notion that any government would give its principal security assets to people it could not control in order to achieve its own political aims is highly dubious,” they said.

The Bush administration itself now admits its pre-war claims about WMDs in Iraq were wrong. The New York Times recently reported that a 400-member military team has quietly been pulled out of the 1,400-member Iraq Survey Group that has been scouring Iraq for months, trying to find such weapons. The effort has cost $1 billion and has found nothing.

One administration official, who was not identified, said: “I think it’s pretty clear by now that they don’t expect to find anything at all.”

Asia Times said the Carnegie report is likely to be the most serious blow yet to the credibility of the Bush administration. Carnegie is the publisher of the journal Foreign Policy.

The newspaper commented: “…while its general political orientation is slightly left of center, it has long been studiously nonpartisan, and also houses right-wing figures, such as neo-conservative writer Robert Kagan.”

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