And so it comes out.
Invading Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein was a top priority at U.S. President George Bush's very first National Security Council meeting — seven full months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks Bush then cited as a reason for "pre-emptively" disarming Saddam's regime.
"From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go," former Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill has confirmed in a whistle-blowing appearance on the CBS program 60 Minutes.
"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.'"
O'Neill even saw a secret memo entitled Plan for Post-Saddam Iraq and other related documents.
This won't shock the 7 in 10 Canadians who were unpersuaded by Bush's 9/11 case for war. But it may hurt him with the 6 in 10 Americans who were taken in.
During two years in cabinet, O'Neill "never saw anything I would characterize as evidence of weapons of mass destruction." And Saddam's alleged coziness with Osama bin Laden has never been documented.
These comments have caused a stir, and remind Prime Minister Paul Martin to arm himself with skepticism as he begins to manage tricky Canada/U.S. issues ranging from mad cow to missile defence. This White House has forfeited any right to have its utterances taken on faith.
Right up to the March, 2003, invasion, Bush led the world to think war might be avoided.
"I believe the free world . . . can disarm this man (Saddam) peacefully," he said five months before the troops landed. While the U.S. had wanted "regime change," Bush hinted Saddam could yet redeem himself.
"If he were to meet all the conditions of the United Nations . . . that in itself will signal the regime has changed," Bush said.
Now we know differently. Saddam's fate had been sealed years earlier. Diplomacy was irrelevant.
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