If Scott McClellan’s allegations about President Bush sound as if he copied them from the editorial page of any liberal newspaper, there is a reason for it: As White House press secretary, McClellan was not privy to sensitive policy decisions and therefore has no specifics to back up his charges.
In “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception,” McClellan claims that the White House sold the Iraq war to the American people with a sophisticated “political propaganda campaign” led by Bush. He says it was aimed at “manipulating sources of public opinion” and “downplaying the major reason for going to war.”
McClellan says that he and his subordinates were not “employing out-and-out deception” to make their case for war in 2002. But 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.”
McClellan cites no details, and for good reason. McClellan was not invited to attend classified meetings where the decisions about going to war were discussed.
“The role of the press secretary does not have him in the most sensitive military and intelligence briefings that the president conducts with his national security advisor and secretary of defense,” Fran Townsend, the former White House counterterrorism chief who was at many of those crucial meetings, tells me. “So the facts and policy discussions he sees are limited.”
Instead of supplying specifics, McClellan makes sweeping allegations that contradict the underlying facts and therefore lack credibility.
First, Saddam Hussein’s own generals thought they had chemical weapons that they were supposed to use if the U.S. invaded. As recounted in my book “The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack,” in secret debriefings after his capture, Saddam admitted to FBI agent George Piro that he was bluffing about having weapons of mass destruction. So it was Saddam, not Bush, who was engaging in deception.
Second, before the invasion of Iraq, Bush gave Saddam an ultimatum: leave Iraq or face war.
“He [Saddam] was given the opportunity to leave Iraq and go to live in Saudi Arabia and be very wealthy and very happy,” Piro told me. “The Saudis gave him the option. But what would that have done to his legacy? And if he were to have said ‘I’m bluffing,’ or ‘I’m not as strong as I present myself,’ where would he have then fit in the historical scheme of Iraq?”
Third, a public relations effort accompanies any White House initiative. One does not go to war without explaining to the American people the rationale for doing so. That effort may be called propaganda if it is an effort to deceive, but McClellan stops short of saying Bush was purposely deceptive.
McClellan claims Bush's real reason for invading Iraq was "an ambitious and idealistic post-9/11 vision of transforming the Middle East through the spread of freedom." In making that claim, McClellan seems to suggest that Bush himself did not consider Iraq a threat. McClellan thus ignores the fact that the CIA and every other intelligence agency in the world believed that Iraq had WMD and that former President Clinton, Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton all said they considered Iraq a threat. But then on NBC's "Today Show," McClellan said he thinks Bush did believe Iraq was a "grave danger." So what is all the fuss about? That WMD were never found? That is not exactly news.
Townsend calls the allegations “self-serving, disingenuous and unprofessional.” She says, “If Scott had concerns, he had an obligation to voice them at the time or even resign. He did neither. Even when he left no one had the slightest idea of any of these allegations. I knew him as a good White House colleague, and I find this shocking and disappointing.”
The bottom line is that, as Saddam told Piro, he was planning to resume his WMD program — including developing a nuclear weapon — within a year. That was when Saddam thought United Nations sanctions would be lifted, in part because he was paying off UN officials.
“His goal was to have the sanctions lifted,” Piro says in an account the media have largely ignored. “And they likely would have been lifted if it were not for 9/11. Even the United Nations changed after 9/11. So Saddam was on the right track. His plan to have sanctions lifted was working. But he told me he recognized that he miscalculated the long-term effects of 9/11. And he miscalculated President Bush.”
Unlike McClellan, who stands to gain by hyping the material in his book, Saddam had nothing to gain by lying. He knew he was about to be executed. Saddam’s own words confirm the wisdom of Bush’s decision to topple him.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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