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Ex-Press Aide Writes That Bush Misled U.S. on Iraq
"A more self-confident executive would be willing to acknowledge failure, to trust people's ability to forgive those who seek redemption for mistakes and show a readiness to change," he writes.
In another section, McClellan describes Bush as able to convince himself of his own spin and relates a phone call he overheard Bush having during the 2000 campaign, in which he said he could not remember whether he had used cocaine. "I remember thinking to myself, 'How can that be?' " he writes.
The former aide describes Bush as a willing participant in treating his presidency as a permanent political campaign, run in large part by his top political adviser, Rove.
"The president had promised himself that he would accomplish what his father had failed to do by winning a second term in office," he writes. "And that meant operating continually in campaign mode: never explaining, never apologizing, never retreating. Unfortunately, that strategy also had less justifiable repercussions: never reflecting, never reconsidering, never compromising. Especially not where Iraq was concerned."
McClellan has some kind words for Bush, calling him "a man of personal charm, wit and enormous political skill." He writes that the president "did not consciously set out to engage in these destructive practices. But like others before him, he chose to play the Washington game the way he found it, rather than changing the culture as he vowed to do at the outset of his campaign for the presidency."
McClellan charges that the campaign-style focus affected Bush's entire presidency. The ill-fated Air Force One flyover of New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina struck the city, was conceived of by Rove, who was "thinking about the political perceptions" but ended up making Bush look "out of touch," he writes.
He says the White House's reaction to Katrina was more than just a public relations disaster, calling it "a failure of imagination and initiative" and the result of an administration that "let events control us." He adds: "It was a costly blunder."
McClellan admits to letting himself be deceived about the unmasking of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, which resulted in his relentless pounding by the White House press corps over the activities of Rove and of Cheney aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby in the matter.
"I could feel something fall out of me into the abyss as each reporter took a turn whacking me," he writes of the withering criticism he received as the story played out. "It was my reputation crumbling away, bit by bit." He also suggests that Rove and Libby may have worked behind closed doors to coordinate their stories about the Plame leak. Late last year, McClellan's publisher released an excerpt of the book that suggested Bush had knowledge of the leak, something that won McClellan no friends in the administration.
As McClellan departed the White House, he said: "Change can be helpful, and this is a good time and good position to help bring about change. I am ready to move on."
He choked up as he told Bush on the South Lawn, "I have given it my all, sir, and I have given you my all."
Bush responded at the time: "He handled his assignments with class, integrity. He really represents the best of his family, our state and our country. It's going to be hard to replace Scott."
Staff writer Michael Abramowitz contributed to this report.