Pro-McClellan Fatuities

You all have been reading about Scott McClellan, the former White House Press Secretary, whose lengthy (341 pages), shocking work represents in this writer’s mind an array of false and self-serving charges. He accuses the Bush Administration of a rhetorical strategy which utilizes, sometimes unconsciously, selective evidence to support going to war in Iraq while misleading the nation regarding its full intentions.

I cannot personally add anything new to the countercharges against McClelland, but I do wish to unmask one major false dilemma he presents and then point readers to a particularly good source which may be lost in the myriad of voices which has entered into the discussion.

First the false dilemma:

Washington Post book reviewer Jonathan Yardley, among innumerable others, has discussed the now oft-repeated claim by Scott McClellan that the central flaw in the decision to go to war against Iraq was the allegedly unanswered seminal question of whether President Bush believed, as Tim Russert asked in February 2004, that “…the war in Iraq is a war of choice or a war of necessity?”

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I challenge anyone who believes this inquiry to be the Rosetta Stone of great unmasking questions to answer the following: when is a war of necessity not a war of choice? When the existence of the United States is indisputably at risk? Were WWI and the Korean War wars in which our existence was indisputably at risk?

George Bush rightly or wrongly believed that Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction programs, previous use of such weapons– even if temporarily dormant — and wholesale killing posed an unacceptable risk to the United States, given what he thought it would take to replace Saddam.

Thus, the critical question should be: is the risk of war acceptable, given what it would take to eliminate a provocation, not whether a war is one of necessity or choice.

The second point of this article, as promised above, is to alert readers to a critically important opinion piece in The Washington Post on Scott McClellan by his deputy press secretary from October 2003 to March 2006, Trent D. Duffy, titled “Will the Real Scott Please Stand Up?”

This article taps personal discussions between McClellan and Duffy, asking questions that reference matters that go to the heart of his (McClellan’s) credibility.

Some of the more trenchant inquiries, not previously posed, are as follows:

Was it the truth or a lie when you told me, during a series of personal discussions in your West Wing office in late 2005 and early 2006 (at the apex of what you now call your period of “disillusionment” and “dismay”), that you were happy in your job and proud to serve President Bush and that you had no intention of leaving soon? What about in April 2006, when rumors swirled about a change at the podium, and you again told me you wanted to stay?…

Was it the truth or a lie when, after countless briefings, you complained that the White House press corps was too tough, unfair, over the top and didn’t get it?…

Your recent assertion that you were becoming “disillusioned” and “dismayed” in the 10 months before your April 2006 departure is amazing. It does provide you with a neat excuse for suggesting that you left the White House on principle. But I’m having trouble believing it, as is most everyone who worked closely with you at the White House and in the press corps during this time. Yes, I know you were troubled over the Valerie Plame case, but you told me repeatedly you were gleeful about your job…


The press was easy on us? How many times did you race up the ramp from the briefing room to your office after a raucous media cross-examination to complain how the press was unfair, naive, too tough and way too ‘liberal.’ Would any in the White House press corps agree they were softies?…

Duffy is also incredulous at McClellan’s recent claims that he is unsure for whom he’d vote this year, possible choosing Barack Obama despite his (McClellan’s) long Republican history. Duffy asks, “All that aside, the revelations that you are ‘intrigued by Senator Obama’s message’ and that you don’t know if you are a Republican anymore make me wonder if you ever had any convictions.”

Indeed. Watching McClellan trying to reconcile the irreconcilable while making unsubstantiated charges against a president whose one strength is his sincerity leads one to almost feel sorry for the ex-press secretary.

The conducting of the war was tragically flawed, but this observer has seen no evidence that the motives for the war were.

Richard E. Vatz is professor of political rhetoric at Towson University

Richard E. Vatz, Ph.D.Towson Distinguished ProfessorProfessor, Political Rhetoric; University Senate; Towson UniversityAssociate Psychology Editor, USA Today Magazine

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