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8 Jun, 2008

Ex-White House Spokesman Exposes “Culture of Deception”

Originally Published: 8 June 2008

“I did a lot of Soul Searching,” is how former White House press secretary Scott McClellan described his state of mind when exposing the “marketing strategy” for “selling” the U.S. attack on Iraq, in his new book, “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception.”

McClellan joins a long list of cabinet secretaries, military personnel and other former senior officials in both the US and UK who in recent years have offered equally soul searching revelations that would, in better days, have brought down the Bush administration, much as it did the Nixon administration.

It takes a certain toughness to blow the whistle today, to stand up for the truth and defy the pressures of the spinmeisters as they seek to cover up faults, flip failures as successes and avoid all blame and accountability – all in the name of spreading freedom and democracy, of course.

But no matter what is revealed about the blatant lies used to sell the war in Iraq, it does not seem to do much good – at least not yet. It is McClellan who has come under fire, branded a turncoat and a traitor, his motivations and credibility questioned. Why didn’t he speak up much earlier? How much money is he making?

No indignation and outrage about the revelations themselves. The White House is not under pressure to react or comment. No rush to hold hearings, inquiries or investigations. Bush himself is reported to be merely “puzzled”. As he has done throughout his presidency, he gets away with murder, literally.

If this is the political side of the New World Order, more trouble is just around the corner, especially as much of the same spin is again being used to fire up the engines for an attack on Iran. Although McClellan says one of the main reasons for going public is the hope that mistakes would never be repeated, there is overwhelming evidence that they are – and the public is again swallowing the fiction.

McClellan’s book is of tremendous importance to public communicators, many of whom are willing participants in equally dubious decisions they know to be illegal, immoral and unethical They, too, keep quiet in order to protect their six-figure jobs. The message to them is clear: If they blow the whistle, they will pay a heavy price, perhaps even heavier than those upon whom they are blowing the whistle.

But there is also a huge warning to senior decision-making officials and executives in both the public and private sectors. Within their ranks and still unbeknownst to them, there are still a few people of conscience who are willing to take the heat, excoriation and criticism in the pursuit of truth. They just don’t know who and when.

Some of the comments McClellan made in his interviews to promote the book offer important indicators of what he must have gone through. This selection has been excerpted from a weblog public discussion forum in the Washington Post:

<> I got caught up in the permanent campaign culture just like so many others do all too often in today’s poisonous Washington environment. It has become the accepted way of doing things, and I believe excessively embraced.

<> Like many Americans, I had qualms about how quickly we were rushing to war in Iraq. In the post 9/11 environment, I gave the president and his national security team the benefit of the doubt. Upon reflection, I should not have.

<> I knew going in that some of my former colleagues would not like or agree with what I had to say. But I felt it was important to talk openly and honestly about what are serious issues and what we can learn from them going forward.

<> My lifelong friends have stood fully behind me, including one who served during the first Gulf War. He said we need to know the truth so that we do not repeat the mistakes in the future. Some former colleagues have emailed me words of support as well.

<> In retrospect, I would have handled some things differently. By sharing what I learned, I hope that maybe it will contribute in some small way to changing Washington for the better.

<> As someone who was raised in a family that believes strongly in public service, I felt it was important to speak up.

<> I was not involved in the policy-making on Iraq or in developing the overall marketing strategy for selling the war to the public. I did fill in for my predecessor at times, and even participated in some White House Iraq Group, or WHIG meetings. WHIG was set up as the marketing arm for selling the war to the public.

<> I came to realize that the driving motivation behind the president’s desire to remove Saddam Hussein and his regime was a sincere belief that Iraq could be the lynchpin for spreading democracy across the Middle East. In the book, I discuss a number of moments when he passionately talks about this idealistic and ambitious vision.

<> During his campaign for president, he asserted that we needed a strong but humble foreign policy. 9/11 clearly changed some thinking. I do believe the Iraq decision legitimately calls into question the judgment of the president and some of his advisers who were intent on toppling the Iraqi regime. My philosophy is based in a moral belief that we should not wage war unless it is absolutely necessary. It is clear to me today that the Iraq War was not.

<> What motivated me was a desire to understand the truth of how things went so far off track for this White House and what we can learn from it to improve governance in Washington. I joined Governor Bush’s team in Texas because of his record of bipartisan leadership, thinking he could do the same for Washington. Unfortunately, we embraced a permanent campaign philosophy and only exacerbated the destructive partisan warfare that preceded us.

<> This White House has been too secretive and too compartmentalized. Some decisions tend to be made in very small groups outside those meetings.

<> I believe the overall emphasis and focus of the national media was on the march to war –whether the president was winning the battle for public opinion — instead of on the necessity of war. I think the media has learned lessons from that experience and have taken some steps to not let it happen again.

<> I missed some early deadlines because I wanted to make sure I got it right from my perspective. I cannot think of a time when I have felt that I am seeing things more clearly than I am now. It is time for Washington to move beyond the spin, secrecy and political manipulation. That is how we can transcend the bitter partisan squabbling that permeates the discourse today.