McClellan: Now He Tells Us

May 29, 2008

Let's go back a few days -- to Monday, to be precise. The country observed Memorial Day, of course, and President Bush was at Arlington National Cemetery playing the role of the proud yet mournful leader of a nation at war.

"I am humbled by those who have made the ultimate sacrifice that allow a free civilization to endure and flourish," Mr. Bush said in remarks dedicated to all those who have died in battle, but with a particular emphasis on the American servicemen and servicewomen who have died in Iraq in the past year.

Some talk for a commander in chief now described by a once-trusted aide as a man who saw sending others off to war as his one and only shot at attaining greatness.

"War should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary," former White House press secretary Scott McClellan writes in his book "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception."

For Mr. Bush, the tactics of deception meant misleading the country about the very reasons for what's become a disastrous war with no end in sight, Mr. McClellan writes. Selling the war meant ignoring intelligence to the contrary and instead peddling the fiction that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

"Bush and his advisers knew that the American people would almost certainly not support a war launched primarily for the ambitious purpose of transforming the Middle East," Mr. McClellan writes. "President Bush managed the crisis in a way that almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option."

Mr. McClellan, of course, was right there in the White House when the march to war was in such full and disingenuous force. His burst of conscience, five years and more than 4,000 deaths later, is now subject to the very sort of relentless scrutiny Mr. Bush and his administration largely avoided in 2002 and 2003. And it's far too late for a version of truth we have no reason to dispute to have any impact on an administration that will be out of power, at last, in less than eight months.

Some have made the point that the damage has been done -- to the country, to the war's casualties and to Mr. McClellan's own credibility. In the blogosphere, Wonkette tells the tale in six words -- "Bush Propagandist Complains of Bush Propaganda."

Mr. McClellan himself is harsh in his introspection. "I fell far short of living up to the kind of public servant I wanted to be," he writes, making the equally valid point that many of us in the press were enablers in the rush to go to war.

For that, naturally, he gets his from the White House.

"It is sad. This is not the Scott we knew," comes the word from White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

But neither is this the war the country thought it knew, is it?

Shame on Mr. Bush, who's more interested in Memorial Day platitudes than even attempting to rebut a damning if much-belated account of military misadventure.

THE ISSUE: A former White House spokesman bares his soul about Iraq.

THE STAKES: How many lives were lost by the rush to war? How many lives were lost due to the delay in coming clean?

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