Wednesday, May 28, 2008

McClellan Tells Us What We Already Knew

That odor wafting up around you today is the smell of a smoking gun.

For what has to be a great majority of Americans (based on Bush's 28 percent approval rating in a recent USA Today/Gallup poll), it has been assumed that the Bush administration was less than candid with the American people on a litany of issues, including the rationales for beginning the disastrous war in Iraq and the public identification of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame. (I wrote about the Plame issue on June 5, 2007, if you want a refresher course.)

For years, the administration has maintained the increasingly lame-sounding party line that on Iraq, the executive branch was simply relying on intelligence it was provided on Saddam Hussein's weapons programs that turned out to be incorrect, and as for Plame, the White House maintained simply that they knew nothing about the whole issue.

And then along came Scott McClellan.

McClellan was George W. Bush's second White House Press Secretary (also known as the American incarnation of Baghdad Bob), serving from July 2003 to April 2006. McClellan has a book coming out on Monday in which he does something few Bush administration officials have ever done: He breaks ranks and tells the truth about what went on in the Bush White House. Some excerpts have leaked out, and McClellan's frank language is startling. This isn't a kiss-and-tell gossip tome, but nothing short of claims of criminal behavior in the executive branch.

On Iraq, McClellan writes that Bush 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." He also says that Bush led a "political propaganda campaign" aimed at "manipulating sources of public opinion" and "downplaying the major reason for going to war. "

Regarding the Plame case, according to the article that broke the story about McClellan's new book, McClellan "suggests that two top aides held a secret West Wing meeting to get their story straight about the CIA leak case at a time when federal prosecutors were after them — and McClellan was continuing to defend them despite mounting evidence they had not given him all the facts." McClellan claims he did not know the true facts about the situation until two years later.

Of course, like any organized crime figure who breaks the code of silence, McClellan's former Bush administration's comrades have come out in force today to throw him under the bus and claim that his charges are without merit. You can't blame them. For a good six years or so, the Bush White House had a strategy of just denying things, no matter how obviously false the denials were, and the media and the American people were more than willing to lap up the lies.

But it's 2008 now, and the country has moved on from Bush. What McClellan is saying isn't news to most of us. It's not like the reaction to his book was, "Really? That stuff happened?" It's been more akin to, "Wow. We've known it all along, but I can't believe someone from the administration is actually admitting it."

But that shouldn't lessen the outrage we should feel as a country about what McClellan is saying. While he addresses other issues (including the administration's abject failure to deal with Hurricane Katrina, spending, he says, "most of the first week in a state of denial"), the Iraq and Plame charges jump out and beg for attention.

Essentially, the former White House Press Secretary has come out and admitted that the administration manipulated the facts to convince this country to go to war in Iraq, a blunder that has resulted in a calamitous chain of events, including the loss of more than 4,000 American military personnel, the wasting of nearly a trillion dollars at a time of economic uncertainty, the death of tens of thousands of Iraqis and the displacement of millions more, the rise of power and influence in the region of Iran, the loss of focus on the true enemies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the diminution of American influence and respect in the world.

And all of that carnage came not from the administration getting a bum steer on intelligence, but as part of a plot to engineer conditions for war. We always knew this, but now McClellan is saying it.

As for the Plame affair, Bush's historic and disgraceful pardon of Scooter Libby for lying in testimony about the leak doesn't change the fact that the administration used the identity of an undercover CIA agent to issue political payback to someone for writing a New York Times op-ed piece in which he truthfully told the American people that one of the administration's rationales for going to war with Iraq was completely false.

If, as McClellan suggests, White House figures (people like Elliott Abrams, Libby and Karl Rove, and, who knows?, maybe even the vice president himself) met to synchronize their testimony on the Plame leak, it is not just a scandal. The law has a neat little phrase for such actions: Obstruction of justice. That's a pretty serious charge. Not that anyone will be surprised that such a meeting might have taken place, but, again, to see it come from the pen of a Bush insider like McClellan just may be the smoking gun many have been waiting for.

McClellan's revelations only serve to verify what so many of us already knew, namely that this administration regularly and intentionally misled the public, acting without hesitation to do whatever it deemed necessary to further its extreme right-wing agenda, the war in Iraq and the outing of Plame being only two prominent examples.

As the country moves towards an election to pick Bush's successor, McClellan is demonstrating for the electorate how the last president went about his business. That is good news for Barack Obama, considering John McCain's clear record of supporting Bush. (A Congressional Quarterly voting study revealed that John McCain voted with Bush 95 percent of the time in 2007, and 89 percent of the time since Bush took office, and the alleged maverick McCain managed to vote with his fellow Republicans on 98 percent of his votes, 43 of 44, in 2007, up from a still-high 76 percent in 2006.)

It's somewhat comical to watch the Bush loyalists frantically trying to portray McClellan as a disloyal, disgruntled nut job, because what they can't get past is that the former press secretary's words ring true with a vast majority of Americans. The country doesn't trust Bush anymore. Which makes McClellan more credible than the administration could ever imagine.