Scott McClellan, President Bush’s famously loyal and tight-lipped press secretary, recalled that “I promised reporters and the public that I would someday tell the whole story of what I knew.” Did he ever. He was not just blowing smoke.
He has written a strikingly critical account, “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception,” of his three years as chief spokesman for the White House.
Bush aides portrayed McClellan as a “disgruntled,” even disloyal ex-employee with a book to peddle. Those who remember the ferocious beating McClellan took at the hands of the White House press corps after he was set up to deceive the reporters about the role of Karl Rove and Scooter Libby in the unmasking of CIA agent Valerie Plame might scent some small element of payback.
“What Happened” doesn’t officially go on sale until June 1 but several news organizations have obtained copies. Based on the excerpts, except for the authoritative candor of one who was inside, there is not much any student of the Bush White House didn’t already know or couldn’t have guessed.
Bush does have considerable smarts, personal charm and political skills but he is also stubborn and incurious. He was also increasingly out of touch, one explanation for the fiasco of the Air Force One flyover of Katrina-ravaged New Orleans.
From day one of his presidency, Bush was intent on winning, as his father had not, a second term: “And that meant operating continually in campaign mode: never explaining, never apologizing, never retreating. Unfortunately, that strategy also had less justifiable repercussions: never reflecting, never reconsidering, never compromising. Especially not where Iraq was concerned.”
And from year two of his term Bush was determined on war with Iraq. McClellan says the administration did not engage in “out-and-out deception” to sell the war — although others might differ — but Bush “managed the crisis in a way that almost guaranteed the use of force would become the only feasible option.”
McClellan’s book joins that growing body of literature by former members of the administration seeking to explain away, distance themselves, absolve themselves from all the things that went so terribly wrong in a presidency that took office with so much promise.
And then there is the lesson learned. Said McClellan, “What I do know is that war should be waged only when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary.”
Now he tells us.