It was clear, as early as 1998, that Clinton's hesitant Iraq policy was coming to embody everything that the now-famous foreign policy neo-cons despised about the Democratic president. By 2000, regime change in Iraq was the ultimate incarnation of the "not Clinton" approach. It should not surprise anyone that, in the early NSC meetings that O'Neill attended, ousting Saddam was indeed "topic A".If this were "new & revealing", then it would be interesting.
But, it was clear during the campaign that Bush was planning on a more robust Iraq strategy than President Clinton had been pursuing.
From the 2000 Presidential Debate (Oct 11):
GOV. BUSH: Well, I think -- it's hard to tell. I think that -- you know, I would hope to be able to convince people I could handle the Iraqi situation better. I mean, we don't --What O'Neill reveals is not really new, it just sounds a little odd given what happened on September 11. But, I don't think it's all that shocking that Saddam was "Topic A" at National Security Council meetings in early 2001. This had been flagged during the campaign.
MR. LEHRER: With Saddam Hussein, you mean?
GOV. BUSH: Yes, and --
MR. LEHRER: You could get him out of there?
GOV. BUSH: I'd like to, of course, and I presume this administration would as well. But we don't know -- there's no inspectors now in Iraq. The coalition that was in place isn't as strong as it used to be. He is a danger; we don't want him fishing in troubled waters in the Middle East. And it's going to be hard to -- it's going to be important to rebuild that coalition to keep the pressure on him.
What's really revealing is that O'Neill took on a cabinet role in the Bush Administration, although it seems pretty clear that he didn't know what the President planned to do or just assumed that campaign promises (on Iraq or tax cuts) could be simply discarded.
In a related note, during the 2000 Vice Presidential debate, Joe Lieberman said the following:
The fact is that we will not enjoy real stability in the Middle East until Saddam Hussein is gone.This is the reason that Bush was discussing ways to remove Saddam in early 2001. And, September 11 is the reason that helping others remove Saddam was transformed into an imperative to do the job ourselves.