Juan Cole: Scott McClellan's misleading memoir





[Mr. Cole is Professor of Modern Middle Eastern and South Asian History at the University of Michigan. His website is http://www.juancole.com.]

Former White House press spokesman Scott McClellan has come to the realization that Bush's presidency veered badly off course and that the Bush White House was in"permanent campaign mode"-- by which he appears to mean that the honesty and transparency necessary to govern were foregone in favor of constant propaganda of the sort it is only decorous for an out-of-power candidate to deploy.

Now if only we could get past the idea that a temporary campaign mode is legitimate, if by" campaign" one means propagandizing.

McClellan 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.” '


Gee, that's not what I hear from John McCain. But of course, he might be in"permanent campaign mode."

The former official cannot quite let go of the idea that Bush had good intentions but was misled:

' “I still like and admire President Bush,” McClellan writes. “But he 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.” '


But elsewhere he says,
' 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.’”'


But if Bush had been honest and sincere, only misled, then wouldn't he want to know why Larry Lindsey had come to that conclusion (he under-estimated the cost by about a factor of 10)? No, Bush was about suppressing anything but his own party line.

McClellan's revelations about the 'permanent campaign mode' and Bush's anger at straight talk on costs help explain the current narrative about Iraq shaped by his spinmeisters. On the one hand he is telling us that the Iraqi Army imposed itself on Basra and Mosul. On the other, the Pentagon comes out and says violence has fallen to March, 2004 levels in the country as a whole. But if the Iraqi army is engaged in hard-fought battles for control of entire cities with a tenacious insurgency, surely violence levels would be up? Then you start to notice that there haven't actually been any battles in Mosul.

In the permanent campaign, as in the permanent war, assertions made to the public about how well the victory is going do not have to be consistent or make sense.

McClellan lays to rest the myth of the 'liberal media.':

' “If anything, the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq. “The collapse of the administration’s rationales for war, which became apparent months after our invasion, should never have come as such a surprise. … In this case, the ‘liberal media’ didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.” '


He clearly seems surprised that network news, owned by rightwing corporations obsequious toward the US government, did not cover the rationales for the war critically! Was he expecting GE to instruct NBC to move to the left? (Though to be fair, NBC has recently gone some way toward redeeming itself, with Matt Lauer's recognition in 2006 that Iraq had fallen into civil war, and with MSNBC's backing for Keith Olbermann's courageous and honest evening magazine show. Bush's White House is signalling to General Electic that it should rein NBC in; the rich and powerful are not used to hearing criticism from channels owned by their friends and the beneficiaries of their largesse.)

Then there is this about Plamegate:

' “There is only one moment during the leak episode that I am reluctant to discuss,” he writes. “It was in 2005, during a time when attention was focusing on Rove and Libby, and it sticks vividly in my mind. … Following [a meeting in Chief of Staff Andy Card’s office], … Scooter Libby was walking to the entryway as he prepared to depart when Karl turned to get his attention. ‘You have time to visit?’ Karl asked. ‘Yeah,’ replied Libby.

“I have no idea what they discussed, but it seemed suspicious for these two, whom I had never noticed spending any one-on-one time together, to go behind closed doors and visit privately. … At least one of them, Rove, it was publicly known at the time, had at best misled me by not sharing relevant information, and credible rumors were spreading that the other, Libby, had done at least as much. …

“The confidential meeting also occurred at a moment when I was being battered by the press for publicly vouching for the two by claiming they were not involved in leaking Plame’s identity, when recently revealed information was now indicating otherwise. … 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.” '


The only time two people have to try hard to get their stories straight is when they have done something wrong and are planning to lie about it.

A primer on the Plame scandal is here.

Oh, and about that"permanent campaign mode" thing. That's nothing compared to the"permanent war mode."

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