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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 January, 2004, 01:44 GMT
Bush set to weather attack

By Kevin Anderson
BBC News Online in Washington

Former US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill has provided the grist for an unflattering tell-all book about the Bush White House called "The Price of Loyalty".

George W Bush and Paul O'Neill
O'Neill was once close to the president
And George W Bush, who values loyalty and a tight lip from his staff, must be wondering what the effect Mr O'Neill's disloyalty will have on him as he begins his re-election bid.

Democrats looking to challenge the President Bush for the White House seized upon the book as a confirmation about their criticisms of Mr Bush's push to go to war in Iraq and tax-slashing economic policy.

But Mr Bush will probably suffer little long term harm from the book because his supporters will find it easy to discount Mr O'Neill's criticisms as coming from a disgruntled former political appointee.

Democrats pounce

This was the first insider account from the inner circle of George W Bush's White House, and it has been dominating political news in Washington.
Wesley Clark
When he writes that the Bush administration is planning ... on how to go to war with Iraq as soon as they took office, that just confirms my worst suspicions about this administration
Wesley Clark
Democratic presidential candidate

Mr O'Neill said President Bush was disengaged, "a blind man in a room full of deaf people," and said the administration was hatching plans to invade Iraq from the day Mr Bush entered office.

Mr O'Neill was sacked after two years as head of the Treasury Department for differing with President Bush over the need for additional tax cuts.

Democrats looking to challenge President Bush for the White House quickly seized on Mr O'Neill's comments.

Front runner Howard Dean said it proved that the Bush administration planned to go to war all along.

And Wesley Clark said Mr O'Neill "just confirms my worst suspicions about this administration."

Sour Grapes

Republicans quickly jumped to the defence of their president.

Representative Peter King of New York told the BBC this was a bitter attack from a man on the outside of the White House inner circle.

"This is Paul O'Neill trying to even the score," Mr King said.

Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution told the BBC that the revelations about Iraq will do little political harm to President Bush.

"On the question of Iraq, it's such an overriding issue that Americans have made up their mind," Mr Hess said.
Daniel Dowds
If they would have just came out, up front and said, (Iraq) is a strategic place where we need to make our presence felt, then it would have been all right
Daniel Dowds, Washington

Voters don't seem to be immediately to be angered by what Mr O'Neill has revealed.

Logan Breed of Alexandria, Virginia said he believed the US went to war in Iraq because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

If the administration planned long before 11 September to invade Iraq, he said, "if true, I would find that upsetting, but I have to discount what (Mr O'Neill) said because it sounds like sour grapes to me."

Daniel Dowds of Washington also discounted Mr O'Neill's comments because "he has a book to sell."

Plans to confront Saddam Hussein from the early days of the administration didn't surprise Mr Dowds.

"They've been planning that for decades," he said.

Ready for blowback

Ron Suskind, the author of The Price of Loyalty, has found chinks in the White House's armour before.

In a January 2003 article in the magazine Esquire, Mr Suskind wrote about the influence of Karl Rove, senior adviser to President Bush.

Mr Suskind quoted the former head of the White House faith-based initiatives John J DiIulio Jr as saying, "What you've got is everything - and I mean everything - being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."

After initially defending his statements, Mr DiIulio, who left the white House in August 2001, apologised saying his criticisms were "groundless and baseless due to poorly chosen words and examples."

Mr Suskind defended his reporting and released a seven-page letter that Mr DiIulio had written to him under the heading of "For/On the Record".

Mr O'Neill was prepared for the fallout from his comments.

"These people are nasty and they have a long memory," he said of Bush political operatives.

"I'm an old guy and I'm rich, and there's nothing they can do to hurt me," he added.

It's good that he was prepared for the political blowback.

The US Treasury Department wants to investigate whether Mr O'Neill released classified documents in a television interview promoting the book.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Matt Frei in Washington
"All this only deepens the divisions"



SEE ALSO:
US Treasury to probe O'Neill book
12 Jan 04  |  Americas
O'Neill lashes 'blind man' Bush
10 Jan 04  |  Americas
New US treasury secretary named
09 Dec 02  |  Business
Paul O'Neill: Careless talk?
12 Jan 04  |  Business
Bush revamps economic team
07 Dec 02  |  Business


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