Scott McClellan’s Memoirs: Former Press Secretary Speaks Out

Scott McClellan, a former Bush press secretary, recently released his memoirs, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception.  There are some things cited in this article that impressed me.  One of them was how Mr. McClellan admires and respects the president as an individual, but had a hard time with the manner some things were carried out.

I also like his humility, as evidenced by this statement:

I frequently stumbled along the way…My own story, however, is of small importance in the broad historical picture. More significant is the larger story in which I played a minor role: the story of how the presidency of George W. Bush veered terribly off course.

He had a hard time with some members of the Bush administration.  Regarding the ardent defense of the war in Iraq and the war on terror, he remarks:

But he {President Bush] and his advisers confused the propaganda campaign with the high level of candor and honesty so fundamentally needed to build and then sustain public support during a time of war. … In this regard, he was terribly ill-served by his top advisers, especially those involved directly in national security.

His biggest issue was with the Iraq war.  He writes:

History appears poised to confirm what most Americans today have decided: that the decision to invade Iraq was a serious strategic blunder. No one, including me, can know with absolute certainty how the war will be viewed decades from now when we can more fully understand its impact. What I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary.

Simple, clear, and concise.  “War should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary.”  I like it.

A few more interesting tidbits the article points out about the book:

• Steve Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser, said about the erroneous assertion about Saddam Hussein seeking uranium, included in the State of the Union address of 2003: “Signing off on these facts is my responsibility. … And in this case, I blew it. I think the only solution is for me to resign.” The offer “was rejected almost out of hand by others present,” McClellan writes.

• Bush was “clearly irritated, … steamed,” when McClellan informed him that chief economic adviser Larry Lindsey had told The Wall Street Journal that a possible war in Iraq could cost from $100 billion to $200 billion: “‘It’s unacceptable,’ Bush continued, his voice rising. ‘He shouldn’t be talking about that.’”

• “As press secretary, I spent countless hours defending the administration from the podium in the White House briefing room. Although the things I said then were sincere, I have since come to realize that some of them were badly misguided.”

The long list of disgruntled administration insiders (including Larry Wilkerson, Jack Goldsmith, John Ashcroft, Richard Clarke, and others; watch No End in Sight, for instance, to get a flavor) makes a negative imprint on the Bush administration, in my opinion.

In closing, let me quote from Scott McClellan’s thoughts upon seeing Scooter Libby and Karl Rove get together for a confidential pow-wow, during a time when the Valerie Plume incident was very visible and very problematic:

I don’t know what they discussed, but what would any knowledgeable person reasonably and logically conclude was the topic? Like the whole truth of people’s involvement, we will likely never know with any degree of confidence.

And so it goes.  There are so many things we can “never know with any degree of confidence.”  We can never see exactly what transpired and why.  But we certainly see enough to make some judgments.  Why did President Bush attack Iraq?  We may not know.  But certainly the evidence indicates that no matter what his motivation, it was a tragic move for nearly all parties, and continues to be so.

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Filed under foreign policy, Libertarian, politics, role of government

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