Sun, Jan 11, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Bush `disengaged': former official

ATTACK A former treasury secretary paints a picture of the US president in a new book that is far from flattering, showing a man with no interest in discussion

THE GUARDIAN , NEW YORK

PHOTO: NY TIMES

A former senior economic adviser to George Bush has made an astonishing attack on the president, saying that he was so disengaged in cabinet meetings that he "was like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people."

Paul O'Neill, who was Bush's treasury secretary, makes his comments in an interview with the CBS show 60 Minutes.

The programme will be broadcast today.

It is his first interview since Bush sacked him a little over a year ago.

O'Neill sheds light on the president's decision-making process, suggesting that there was an almost total absence of dialogue with his advisers.

The president, he says, encouraged neither the free flow of ideas nor open debate.

"There is no discernible connection," he tells CBS.

Bush's lack of engagement left advisers with "little more than hunches about what the president might think."

O'Neill recalls his own first personal meeting with Bush, during which the president failed to ask him a single question.

"I went in with a long list of things to talk about and, I thought, to engage him on. I was surprised it turned out to be me talking and the president just listening. It was mostly a monologue."

The interview has been timed to coincide with a forthcoming book by a former Wall Street Journal reporter, Ron Suskind, for which O'Neill was the main source, and where many of his criticisms are repeated.

The Price of Loyalty is reported to portray the president as a man uninterested in government policy or detailed discussion of the economy, whose decisions are chiefly informed by political motives.

The White House tried to shrug off the criticisms.

"It's well known the way the president approaches governing and [sets] priorities," its spokesman Scott McClellan said.

"The president is someone that leads and acts decisively on our biggest priorities, and that is exactly what he'll continue to do."

O'Neill was replaced in December 2002 after disagreements about the president's plans for $1,600bn in tax cuts designed to stimulate the economy.

O'Neill, who had served in the Johnson, Nixon and Ford administrations, publicly expressed his view that the tax cuts would do little to help the economy and would leave the US hugely in debt.

He also clashed with the president over the decision to impose import tariffs to protect the American steel industry.

Although the tax cuts can be argued to have played a part in getting the economy moving again at the end of last year, other critics have also questioned the wisdom of the policy.

They include the International Monetary Fund and Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve.

The tax cuts plus increases in spending, much of it related to the war in Iraq, have left the country with record-breaking budget deficits and caused the dollar to plunge.

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