Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's new book is being trumpeted as a blow to the Bush administration, and possibly the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain. But on another level, it seems to be a blow to the usefulness of having White House press briefings at all. While
McClellan has said he doesn't believe the Bush administration lied deliberately in pushing for the Iraq war, a selection from his book shows that McClellan is now directly contradicting an important past statement he made from the podium.
On page 6 of "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Corruption," McClellan concedes that the false "sixteen words" in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address concerning Iraq's supposed attempt to buy uranium from Niger "remained in the public mind one of the most potent bits of evidence in the administration's case for war," even after Colin Powell decided against using the evidence in his address to the UN.
Compare this evaluation of the Niger claim's power to McClellan's July 2003 assessment, as reported in the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
"That's just nonsense," said McClellan. He said the case for war against Iraq was "solid," even without the allegations of Iraq seeking to purchase uranium from Africa. "This statement, in and of itself, was not a reason we went to war."
From the podium, McClellan didn't merely deny that the "sixteen words" were a key element in the case for war, but instead claimed they weren't important at all. When did he come to a different conclusion about this issue? Did he leave the Bush administration "bubble" and realize that the Niger claim was critical? Or was he flat out dishonest in response to a direct question in the briefing room?
The theory of "Occam's razor" holds that, all things being equal, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Somebody should tell Scott McClellan's former White House colleagues. As they "puzzle" over why the former press secretary sounds "different" these days, they seem to be shooting right past the explanation that McClellan's latest writing is directly at odds with his past pronouncements from the podium. That's usually a pretty good way to sound different.