Saturday, January 10, 2009

Book Review: What Happened, by Scott McClellan

TitleWhat Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception
AuthorScott McClellan
Tagsbush administraton, press secretary, iraq war, valerie plame wilson

The Bush administration will be studied heavily by future historians. Whatever is written by those who were part of it will be valuable. Even if they lie or obfuscate, it will tell much about them. McClellan comes across as being quite honest, and more, quite likable. According to him, and he seems believable, he was unaware of some of the lies, and did his best to represent a President he started out believing in, only to have his belief undermined by, well, what happened.

McClellan grew up in a political family. His mother was a mayor of Austin and held several other elected positions. McClellan ran at least one of her campaigns, and came to the attention of George W. Bush during his tenure as governor of Texas. As governor, Bush worked in a bipartisan way with Democrats, and did things McClellan strongly believed in. So when he became part of the Presidential campaign and then of the Bush administration, he was part of something he was proud of. But then mistakes were made.

McClellan was like many Americans. When the push for the Iraq war started, he was a bit doubtful of the reasons, but was persuaded that the President and his advisers knew through intelligence that Hussein was a genuine threat. So he became part of the selling of the war. McClellan now believes that Bush's main motivation for the war was his sincere belief in the benefits of democracy, and that a free Iraq would start a domino effect of democracy in the Middle East.

When the story about the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson broke, McClellan was press secretary. Both Karl Rove and Scooter Libby told him that they had not been involved in the leak of her name, and he did not find out otherwise for almost two years. By then a number of things had begun to disillusion him.

McClellan does some interesting analysis. He blames part of government dysfunction on the permanent campaign, where governing and campaigning become so intertwined they can't be sparated from eacdh other. He recommends the book The Permanent Campaign and Its Future edited by Ornstein and Mann to anyone looking to understand the current Washington atmosphere. At the end of the book, McClellan makes recommendations for how to end the permanent campaing and get back to governing.

Very useful book, which adds to the picture of the Bush White House built up by other books such as Barton Gellman's Angler (on the Dick Cheney vice presidency). Recommended.
PublicationPublicAffairs (2008), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 368 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN1586485563 / 9781586485566

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