Obviously, I'm most interested in that last point. O'Neill says the administration started planning to attack Iraq almost from the first days in office, January 2001. The CBS story, by the way, is based on an interview with Lesley Stahl that will be broadcast later Sunday:
"From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go," he [O'Neill] 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."So I guess that means the invasion of Iraq was not really sparked by 9/11, eh? Anyone who has read the Clinton-era documents of the Project for a New American Century already suspected that. Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Scooter Libby and the other alums of that institution wanted war since 1998. Some of them wanted war since 1991.
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 such as 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.
Update: Time has an interview with O'Neill too.
"In the 23 months I was there, I never saw anything that I would characterize as evidence of weapons of mass destruction," he told TIME. "There were allegations and assertions by people.Of course, an administration official says O'Neill wouldn't have been in a position to see the evidence -- in whatever form it might have existed.
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. And I never saw anything in the intelligence that I would characterize as real evidence."
Though O'Neill is careful to compliment the cia for always citing the caveats in its findings, he describes a White House poised to overinterpret intelligence. "From the start, we were building the case against Hussein and looking at how we could take him out and change Iraq into a new country," he tells Suskind. "And, if we did that, it would solve everything. It was about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The President saying, 'Fine. Go find me a way to do this.'"
This made me laugh.
In the book, O'Neill suggests a very dark understanding of what happens to those who don't show it. "These people are nasty and they have a long memory," he tells Suskind. But he also believes that by speaking out even in the face of inevitable White House wrath, he can demonstrate loyalty to something he prizes: the truth. "Loyalty to a person and whatever they say or do, that's the opposite of real loyalty, which is loyalty based on inquiry, and telling someone what you really think and feel—your best estimation of the truth instead of what they want to hear." That goal is worth the price of retribution, O'Neill says. Plus, as he told Suskind, "I'm an old guy, and I'm rich. And there's nothing they can do to hurt me."
Another update: Atrios includes a quote from Fox reporter Chris Wallace noting that O'Neill was, in fact, on the National Security Council. Thus, he would have had access to all sorts of Iraq stuff.