General McClellan's War

Evidently there is a media frenzy underway on “What Happened” — here is some useful background and perspective:

You can tell the Democratic presidential race is all but over. Cable television has returned to 24/7 coverage of whether President Bush lied us into war in Iraq. The latest peg is the Texan-bites-Bush story of former White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s memoir.

By now you know the news, if that’s the word for it: Mr. McClellan dutifully supported the war as presidential spokesman from 2003-2006, but he has since “become genuinely convinced” it was wrong. He has also had a revelation that the Administration used “propaganda” to sell the war, though this means he himself was chief propaganda minister for three years during which he expressed no similar qualms. Mr. McClellan settles various personal scores, and in particular seems bitter about former deputy chief of staff Karl Rove. White House aides can defend themselves, and we’ll let others speculate about Mr. McClellan’s motives for turning on his friends.

We’d merely note that the book’s publisher is PublicAffairs, an imprint founded by left-wing editor Peter Osnos and which has published six books by George Soros. PublicAffairs is owned by Perseus Books, which is owned by Perseus LLC, a merchant bank whose board includes Democrats Richard Holbrooke and Jim Johnson, who is now doing Barack Obama’s vice presidential vetting. One of Perseus’s investment funds, Perseus-Soros Biopharmaceutical, is co-managed with Mr. Soros.

Mr. Osnos, who is “editor-at-large” at PublicAffairs, told liberal blogger Rachel Sklar that he “worked very closely” with Mr. McClellan and his editor, Lisa Kaufman. Readers can guess what advice Mr. Osnos gave them about how to make headlines and sell a book six months before a presidential election in which Iraq will be a major issue.

And make no mistake, Iraq is the reason this book is getting so much political attention. Mr. Obama has staked out a position for immediate troop withdrawal that looks increasingly untenable amid the success of the “surge” and improving security in Baghdad and Basra. John McCain was a key supporter of the surge, so Democrats now want to change the subject and claim the war was a mistake in the first place and sold under false pretenses. Mr. McClellan’s confessions fit neatly into this political narrative.

The problem is that Mr. McClellan presents no major new detail to support his conclusions about Iraq, or even about the Administration’s deliberations about how to sell the war. This may be because he was the deputy press secretary for domestic issues during the run-up to war and thus rarely attended war strategy sessions. His talking points are merely the well-trod claims that the Administration oversold the evidence about WMD and al Qaeda.

Three independent investigations have looked into these claims, and all of them concluded that political actors did not skew intelligence to sell the war. These include the Senate Intelligence Committee report of 2004, the Robb-Silberman report of 2005, and Britain’s Butler report. They explain that U.S. – and all Western – intelligence was mistaken but not distorted. Saddam Hussein himself told U.S. interrogators that he kept the fact that he lacked WMD even from many of his own generals.

As for the “propaganda” claim, any U.S. President has no choice but to make his case for going to war. It is an obligation of democracy. In Iraq, the long march to the 2003 invasion included months of debate at the U.N. and in Congress. Far from rushing to war, Mr. Bush heeded Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Prime Minister Tony Blair and sought U.N. approval. That required longer debate and a heavy reliance on WMD claims because the U.N.’s Iraq resolutions were mainly concerned with WMD after the first Gulf War. That too was a mistake, but it wasn’t a lie.

RTWT.