EDITORIAL: McClellan's Expose Rings a Bit Hollow
Even The New York Times, often inclined toward Bush-bashing, has its qualms about the controversial new book by the president's former spokesman, Scott McClellan.
There are three kinds of Washington memoirs, The Times editorialized Thursday. First: "I Reveal the Honest Truth." Second: "I Was There at the Start." And third: "I Knew It Was a Terrible Mistake, but I Didn't Mention It Until I Got a Book Contract."
McClellan's memoir, called "What Happened," definitely falls in the last category. Though the book (we haven't read it) is said to provide juicy reinforcement for all of us who have had our doubts all along about the Iraq war in particular and the competency and honesty of the current administration in general, there is an obvious self-serving air about it.
Son of a family friend, the soft-spoken and low-key McClellan was a trusted Bush loyalist for years, beginning when he went to work for the then-governor of Texas in 1999. He helped Bush win the presidency in 2000 and doggedly defended the administration for six years, first as a deputy press secretary and then press secretary.
He departed in 2006 as part of a general shakeup that saw him replaced by the now-ailing and much-missed Tony Snow, who projected much greater credibility. The relatively lightweight Dana Perino now holds down that job.
Perino and others still in the administration quickly launched a counterattack, accusing McClellan of disloyalty. Several responders, from the president on down, used suspiciously similar language, saying they were "puzzled" at the book's assertions and that this wasn't the Scott they used to know -- suggesting that he may have gone off his rocker. But there did seem to be a genuine sense of hurt that their old comrade had so violently turned on them.
In "What Happened," McClellan says he knew all along that the war in Iraq was "a serious strategic blunder" and that the White House consciously decided to "turn away from candor and honesty." He says Bush started the war not only because he thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction but also because he thought forcing democracy on Iraq would help him earn a place in history. He says he knew the handling of Huricane Katrina was a disaster. He says he wasn't being truthful when he claimed Karl Rove and Lewis Libby were not involved in the outing of CIA operative Valerie Wilson because the two men deceived him. And so on.
Now he tells us.
'Wants to Promote That Book'
Most of those things are probably true. But isn't this the same McClellan who helped conceptualize and disseminate the "culture of deception" he now decries? How many times did he go before the press to ridicule critics of the war and impugn their patriotism? Wasn't it he who said those who questioned the administration's Katrina response were playing a "blame game"? If he had quit in protest at the time, it would have meant something.
Here's a particular irony: In 2004, when former counterterrorism adviser Richard A. Clarke's book criticizing Bush's terrorism policy came out, McClellan publicly said that Clarke "wants to go out there and promote that book" and asked: "Why, all of a sudden, if he had all these grave concerns, did he not raise these sooner?"
Good question. The man who asked it, and who is now so belatedly biting the hand that fed him, needs to answer it himself.
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