A Glimpse into the Bush White House

Scott McClellan was part of the Bush White House from day one, and was the president's Press Secretary between 2003 and 2006. In this book he reveals much of the deception practiced there, focusing on two issues, the "sale" of the war in Iraq on false premises and the deliberate outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

But McClellan is a Texas Republican and believes in George W Bush, so you have to take much of what he says with a pitch of salt. Even if he is more critical than any previous Bush insider, he still plays down the faults. In the background there is a sense of "the Democrats did this stuff too, we just failed in our attempt to be better than them".

Not everyone would agree with that opinion.

On the war, McClellan claims Bush had a dream from the beginning of overthrowing Saddam to create a domino wave of democracy spreading through the Middle East. But instead of presenting that vision to the American people Bush and his people chose instead to use Weapons of Mass Destruction as an excuse for war. Since there were no WMD, the later change to the democracy issue looked like a bait and switch, which McClellan claims, could have been avoided had Bush been more honest about his motives from the beginning.

While McClellan claims Bush wanted to work through the United Nations, there isn't a single mention in this book of the UN arms inspectors under Hans Blix, who wanted to keep working, but were stopped by the American invasion of Iraq. Obviously had they been given that chance, the proven lack of WMD would have made going to war much harder.

McClellan goes into great detail on the Plame affair, in which he twice told the Washington press corps that specific top officials had assured him they not leaked the name of the CIA agent. He describes how both the Vice President's chief of staff Scooter Libby and Bush's top aid Karl Rove out and out lied to him. McClellan is at his strongest here, and his story is very credible. What he leaves unclear is how much Dick Cheney or George Bush were behind the illegal exposure of an agent. But there are slight hints (very slight) that both, especially Cheney, were somehow involved.

What isn't in this book is any description of the Bush administration's war on civil liberties. Abu Ghraib is mentioned (and deplored) only once in passing, and the word "Guantanamo" is conspicuous by its absence. It's hard to believe the White House Press Secretary didn't have to deal with these issues during a five year tenure, and while McClellan comes across as a decent person with strong ethics, this omission is curious.

But this is probably as critical an insider's view of the Bush White House and its abuses as we are ever going to get.

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