President Bush’s former press secretary, the one who helped him sell another Mid-East war to Americans, is coming out with a kiss-and-tell book next week that Politico recently mined for gems.
As the President’s official spokesperson, Scott McClellan took questions from the (pre-screened) press corps, dodged and evaded other questions from the same people, and generally put a positive – some would say, deliberately misleading – spin on the President’s agenda.
McClellan now admits he aided a “propaganda campaign,” though asserts that just as he was duping Americans, he was being duped. Duped about the reasons for the war in Iraq, the source of the Valerie Plame leak, and so on.
As for the man in the head office at the time, McClellan offers that Bush was “plenty smart enough to be President,” but his observations about the President imply the opposite. According to McClellan, Bush was unwilling to grow in office, never reflecting, never reconsidering, and “able to convince himself of his own spin.”
Nevertheless, “Matrix,” as he was codenamed, pushed for the President’s policies and the Iraq war day after day from the White House briefing room, until 2006 when he was forced out by a new chief of staff.
It’s odd that the President’s limited skepticism and intelligence are being “revealed” by McClellan and the pundits who have advance copies of the book. Friends and acquaintances from Governor Bush’s past revealed this to numerous reporters in the weeks and months before Election Day in 2000. Bush himself admitted that he wasn’t particularly interested in books, traveling abroad – you know, stuff that teaches you things about stuff.
“Why do public servants only find the courage to put their oath to the people before their loyalty to the President after they’ve been pushed aside?”
McClellan’s candor and apologies will be music to the millions of Americans who never felt this privileged scion was Presidential material, who gritted their teeth as the so-called liberal media rolled over for the President and the Secretary of Defense, who disapproved of Bush’s policies while it was still considered unpatriotic to do so.
To the Left, it is vindicating that yet another stalwart Republican is admitting this administration has pulled the country far off track these last eight years. But it may not be enough to prevent the next war of opportunity, it’s not likely to bring a faster end to the current one, and it’s no consolation to the American and Iraqi families with empty seats at their dinner tables.
McClellan is only the latest in a growing line of high-placed loyalists jumping from the U.S.S. George W. Bush and revealing the breaches of the public trust that they witnessed or abetted. (With so many insiders trying to wipe their hands clean, by the way, it’s a strong sign that history won’t vindicate this President, as Bush claims it will.)
Such defections, though, are both overdue and disheartening.
Why do people in positions of authority or responsibility only seem to learn or admit their mistakes after they’re out of the spotlight? How did this insider – McClellan – not come to understand until later what was clear to many outsiders all along, that the administration was not desperately seeking alternatives to war with Iraq but actively eliminating them? Why do public servants only find the courage to put their oath to the people before their loyalty to the President after they’ve been pushed aside, when speaking up no longer takes much courage?
And for all his candor, McClellan is still in denial on the most important point. He accuses President Bush of using the phony issue of weapons of mass destruction to sell the war. The real reason, he says, was “an ambitious and idealistic post-9/11 vision of transforming the Middle East through the spread of freedom.”
So much for redemption.
Post-9/11 security concerns wouldn’t have led the administration to pull troops away from Afghanistan. As for freedom, liberals pointed out numerous countries besides Iraq which were also short on freedom, ones which don’t happen to have the world’s second largest oil reserves underfoot.
Apparently, McClellan has replaced one false rationale with another. Either it’s too hard to admit this was never a noble war, or – like his former boss – he’s able to convince himself of his own spin.
In an earlier post I said that it’s hard to see how the odds of a (tragic and unlikely) accident or assassination would be enough to tempt Hillary Clinton to stay in the race. It turns out I wasn’t cynical enough.
Yesterday Hillary defended her decision to stay in the race by referring to Bobby Kennedy, who was assassinated in June of 1968 after winning the California primary.
Apparently Ms. Clinton is holding out for the possibility of an accident or political killing.
And her later remorse for that stunningly tasteless and reckless comment was the “Washington apology,” which involves expressing remorse that anyone was offended.
A protracted nomination process was supposed to benefit the voters by showing us what the candidates are truly like. I think we’ve seen enough now.
It seems the President’s accusations of appeasement have grown legs. It’s a salacious charge – conflating Barack Obama’s stated willingness to talk to any foreign leader with the appeasement of Adolf Hitler – but the media were all too happy to spread it about for him.
At first blush it’s hard to see why the President would come down so hard on the idea of holding talks with an adversary. Even if they’re “unconditional,” that simply means both parties can get to the table without arguing first. And if the other side asks for too much – say, for better mineral water or half of the Czech Republic – the President can always leave the table. No harm done.
What is harmful (and naive, too) is continuing the status quo as if the other side will suddenly give up and give us what we want. In Israel, President Bush’s policy was to chide one of the two guilty parties and repeat the other side’s demands. The result is no surprise – continuing and rising tensions with no near-term prospects for a resolution. And in Iran, the Bush policy of talking tough and placing warships off the coast seems to have only strengthened the Ayatollah’s power over the moderates in his government.
It’s odd that after seven years of the “Bush Doctrine” – with little or even negative progress in all three of his “evil axis” countries – the President is lecturing his potential successor against diplomacy.
“. . . If the other side asks for too much – say, for better mineral water or half of the Czech Republic – the President can always leave the table.”
If the President’s policies had made the country’s future even marginally more secure – strengthening nuclear non-proliferation, stabilizing Afghanistan, empowering moderate allies over extremist adversaries – then he might have a soapbox to stand on. But what has Mr. Bush’s talk-to-the-hand approach achieved?
One of the few successes he can point to is bringing Libya back into the international community (with the help of the Clinton administration, which began the process), but that was achieved through negotiation. And I don’t believe any Democrat stooped to accuse the President of appeasement.
Clearly, Mr. Bush’s recent comments aren’t a rational assessment of what’s worked and what hasn’t in his tenure. They’re merely designed to help John McCain define Barack Obama as weak on foreign policy, truth be damned.
In Bush’s Washington, if you want to keep diplomacy on the table you are compared to a Nazi appeaser. But if you proudly reserve the right to annihilate your enemy’s civilian population with a nuclear weapon, you just might have what it takes to be President.
(P.S. Democratic Senator Joe Biden is trying to show he has what it takes to be Vice President, or Secretary of State, in an Obama administration. See his answer to Sen. Joe Lieberman’s highly misleading attack on Democratic foreign policy in the Wall Street Journal. [Methinks Senator Lieberman is angling for the #2 spot on the Republican ticket!])
“Liberals are weak on foreign policy, soft on terrorists, and simply not tough enough to defend America’s interests.”
It’s no stretch to say this is the conventional wisdom of most conservatives in the U.S. (maybe of a lot of moderates too.) By contrast, the Republican party is firm and strong. Why do people think this? The President talks tough and says “Bring ‘em on”; Republicans don’t wait for an invitation from the U.N. before attacking bad guys; and the administration sanctions torture if that’s what it takes to “get the job done.”
The failures of that kind of foreign policy – heavy on bluster and light on results – is widely documented elsewhere. But today revealed the utter emptiness of the Republican toughness brand.
President Bush traveled to Saudi Arabia to ask its king to increase oil production so that Americans can continue paying low prices for their low-mileage fleet of vehicles.
“Eight years of tough talk and short-sighted policies gave the President exactly zero leverage on his mission abroad.”
It’s a sad image, one I’m surprised more conservatives aren’t ashamed of – the President of the United States, standing hat in hand before the authoritarian ruler of the country which bred Bin Laden and his 15 highjackers. (I’m sure the right-wing radio hosts would muster plenty of outrage if that President were a Democrat.)
King Abdullah said no to President Bush, for the second time in five months.
Speaking loudly and waving a big stick around was supposed to make the world roll over to U.S. demands. How come now we can’t get one of our best friends to help us out a teeny bit?
In his 2006 State of the Union address the President declared that the U.S. needs to kick its “addiction to oil.” Tough talk, but the President called only for more research. Even modest rules for, say, better automobile efficiency from Detroit carmakers would have gone a long way. But tough words, it seems, are reserved for foreign leaders; when it comes to domestic CEO’s, Read the rest of this entry »