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Ex-Press Aide: Bush Misled US

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THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW - June 5, 2008
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Ex-Press Aide Writes That Bush Misled US on Iraq
by: Michael D. Shear, The Washington Post

Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan writes 
in a new memoir that the Iraq war was sold to the American 
people with a sophisticated "political propaganda campaign" 
led by President Bush and aimed at "manipulating sources 
of public opinion" and "downplaying the major reason for 
going to war." 

McClellan includes the charges in a 341-page book, "What 
Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's 
Culture of Deception," that delivers a harsh look at the 
White House and the man he served for close to a decade.
He describes Bush as demonstrating a "lack of inquisitive-
ness," says the White House operated in "permanent 
campaign" mode, and admits to having been deceived by some 
in the president's inner circle about the leak of a CIA 
operative's name. 

The book, coming from a man who was a tight-lipped defender 
of administration aides and policy, is certain to give fuel 
to critics of the administration, and McClellan has harsh 
words for many of his past colleagues. He accuses former 
White House adviser Karl Rove of misleading him about his 
role in the CIA case. He describes Secretary of State 
Condoleezza Rice as being deft at deflecting blame, and he 
calls Vice President Cheney "the magic man" who steered 
policy behind the scenes while leaving no fingerprints. 

McClellan stops short of saying that Bush purposely lied 
about his reasons for invading Iraq, writing that he and 
his subordinates were not "employing out-and-out deception" 
to make their case for war in 2002. 

But in a chapter titled "Selling the War," he alleges that 
the administration repeatedly shaded the truth and that 
Bush "managed the crisis in a way that almost guaranteed 
that the use of force would become the only feasible 
option." 

"Over that summer of 2002," he writes, "top Bush aides had 
outlined a strategy for carefully orchestrating the coming 
campaign to aggressively sell the war.... In the permanent 
campaign era, it was all about manipulating sources of 
public opinion to the president's advantage." 

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McClellan, once a staunch defender of the war from the 
podium, comes to a stark conclusion, writing, "What I do 
know is that war should only be waged when necessary, and 
the Iraq war was not necessary." 

McClellan resigned from the White House on April 19, 2006, 
after nearly three years as Bush's press secretary. The 
departure was part of a shake-up engineered by new Chief 
of Staff Joshua B. Bolten that also resulted in Rove 
surrendering his policy-management duties. 

A White House spokeswoman declined to comment on the book, 
some contents of which were first disclosed by Politico.com.
The Washington Post acquired a copy of the book yesterday, 
in advance of its official release Monday. 

Responding to a request for comment, McClellan wrote in 
an e-mail: "Like many Americans, I am concerned about 
the poisonous atmosphere in Washington. I wanted to take 
readers inside the White House and provide them an open 
and honest look at how things went off course and what 
can be learned from it. Hopefully in some small way it 
will contribute to changing Washington for the better and 
move us beyond the hyper-partisan environment that has 
permeated Washington over the past 15 years." 

The criticism of Bush in the book is striking, given that 
it comes from a man who followed him to Washington from 
Texas. 

Bush is depicted as an out-of-touch leader, operating in 
a political bubble, who has stubbornly refused to admit 
mistakes. McClellan defends the president's intellect - 
"Bush is plenty smart enough to be president," he writes 
- but casts him as unwilling or unable to be reflective 
about his job. 

"A more self-confident executive would be willing to 
acknowledge failure, to trust people's ability to forgive 
those who seek redemption for mistakes and show a readiness 
to change," he writes.

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In another section, McClellan describes Bush as able to 
convince himself of his own spin and relates a phone call 
he overheard Bush having during the 2000 campaign, in 
which he said he could not remember whether he had used 
cocaine. "I remember thinking to myself, 'How can that 
be?'" he writes. 

The former aide describes Bush as a willing participant 
in treating his presidency as a permanent political 
campaign, run in large part by his top political adviser, 
Rove. 

"The president had promised himself that he would 
accomplish what his father had failed to do by winning 
a second term in office," he writes. "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." 

McClellan has some kind words for Bush, calling him "a man 
of personal charm, wit and enormous political skill." He 
writes that the president "did not consciously set out to 
engage in these destructive practices. But like others 
before him, he chose to play the Washington game the way 
he found it, rather than changing the culture as he vowed 
to do at the outset of his campaign for the presidency." 

McClellan charges that the campaign-style focus affected 
Bush's entire presidency. The ill-fated Air Force One 
flyover of New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina struck 
the city, was conceived of by Rove, who was "thinking 
about the political perceptions" but ended up making 
Bush look "out of touch," he writes. 

He says the White House's reaction to Katrina was more than 
just a public relations disaster, calling it "a failure 
of imagination and initiative" and the result of an 
administration that "let events control us." He adds: "It 
was a costly blunder." 

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McClellan admits to letting himself be deceived about the 
unmasking of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, which 
resulted in his relentless pounding by the White House 
press corps over the activities of Rove and of Cheney aide 
I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby in the matter. 

"I could feel something fall out of me into the abyss as 
each reporter took a turn whacking me," he writes of the 
withering criticism he received as the story played out. 
"It was my reputation crumbling away, bit by bit." He also 
suggests that Rove and Libby may have worked behind closed 
doors to coordinate their stories about the Plame leak. 
Late last year, McClellan's publisher released an excerpt 
of the book that suggested Bush had knowledge of the leak, 
something that won McClellan no friends in the 
administration. 

As McClellan departed the White House, he said: "Change 
can be helpful, and this is a good time and good position 
to help bring about change. I am ready to move on." 

He choked up as he told Bush on the South Lawn, "I have 
given it my all, sir, and I have given you my all." 

Bush responded at the time: "He handled his assignments 
with class, integrity. He really represents the best of 
his family, our state and our country. It's going to be 
hard to replace Scott." 

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Staff writer Michael Abramowitz contributed to this report. 

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