President Bush’s former top advisers reappeared out of retirement this week to pour contempt on their former colleague, Scott McClellan, in response to the press secretary’s criticisms of the administration.
Karl Rove, Dan Bartlett, Ari Fleischer and others hurled abuse on McClellan’s book, “What Happened,” and leveled two main criticisms at him.
First, they said he didn’t know that much because he wasn’t in all the most important meetings. Second, they said that if he had reservations or doubts about the Iraq war when he was at the White House, he should have spoken up or resigned.
The second criticism shows that Rove, Bartlett et. al. had likely not read the book as of Wednesday.
Mr. McClellan makes clear in the introduction to his book that he reached his controversial conclusions about Iraq only after leaving “the White House bubble” and during the writing of his book.
And he also says that while he still worked at the White House, he was legally “constrained” from discussing the Valerie Plame affair after it was exposed that he had made false statements about the involvement of top administration officials in revealing the CIA agent’s identity.
Former White House counsel Harriet Miers also told him he couldn’t discuss the Plame affair, he alleges.
Mr. McClellan says he decided to write the book after he concluded that he was misled by Rove, by Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff, Lewis I. “Scooter” Libby, and “possibly” by Mr. Cheney himself, about the disclosure of Mrs. Plame’s identity.
And Mr. McClellan indicates that only while writing the book did he become troubled about the way the Bush administration led the American people into the Iraq war.
“I’ve found myself constantly questioning my own thinking, my assumptions, my interpretation of events,” he writes in the preface. “Many of the conclusions I’ve reached are quite different from those I would have embraced at the start of the [writing] process.”
Mr. McClellan writes that as the Bush administration prepared to invade Iraq in 2003, he was “uncertain about the necessity for war and the new doctrine of preemption that was being used to push us toward it.”
“But I trusted the president and the policymakers on his national security team,” Mr. McClellan wrote. “Like most Americans, I was inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt unless and until they proved unworthy of it.”
But the Bush administration’s main motive for invading Iraq was to introduce “coercive democracy,” Mr. McClellan says, and their “marketing decision” to present a different rationale - weapons of mass destruction - led the White House down a slippery slope of misrepresentation.
Since leaving the White House, Mr. McClellan now says, he believes the Iraq war was “not necessary.”
As for his lack of knowledge of key decisions, when he took the job of press secretary in June 2006, Mr. McClellan said he was “assured I’d have necessary access to the president and to most presidential meetings.”
“But it was also clear that there would be limits to my access. Like Ari, I would probably not be included in some key decision-making discussions, particularly some informal, very small meetings when Bush wanted information compartmentalized and restricted to as few people as possible – and not made public until later,” Mr. McClellan wrote in his book.
“The press secretary was excluded from ‘strategery’ meetings,” he wrote.
Mr. McClellan said he “thought about going further and asking about a couple of meetings that Ari had not been included in” but did not make that a condition of his taking the job.
He also admits that upon assuming the top spokesman job he “had a sense that the Bush administration gave minimal support to the role of press secretary.”
“Few among the president’s top policy advisers took a proactive stance when it came to keeping the press secretary informed about behind the scenes policy changes and the reasons behind them,” Mr. McClellan wrote. “Worse still, at times even after the press secretary got wind of an important development, getting details about it from some key advisers involved a game of twenty questions.”
This problem, Mr. McClellan wrote, stemmed from President Bush’s belief that the press was “a necessary evil or nuisance.”
— Jon Ward, White House correspondent, The Washington Times