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Jewish World Review
June 3, 2008
/ 30 Iyar 5768
Tale of two books
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.
I don't generally make a habit of disagreeing with Peggy Noonan. She is
after all, one of the most thoughtful, accomplished and influential
wordsmiths of our time. She is also a much-admired friend and
In an essay published last week in the Wall Street Journal last weekend,
however, Peggy offered what amounted to a defense of Scott McClellan's
new memoir of his years in the George W. Bush administration, What
Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of
Deception. To be fair, it wasn't much of a defense; she took the former
press secretary to task for writing a cliché-ridden, "lumpy, uneven
and... embarrassing" tome.
Still, Ms. Noonan welcomed McClellan's book as a contribution to a
needed "debate on the issues" he addressed - notably, the grounds for
the United States going to war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. As
everyone knows by now, the one-time Bush press flak came, in the course
of writing this book (evidently with considerable help, read "spinning,"
from the left-wing publisher of George Soros' screeds, Public Affairs),
to view the invasion of Iraq as "a serious strategic blunder" arising
from a decision that was itself "a fateful misstep."
Peggy Noonan declared that she "believes" McClellan and urged that more
people "who work or worked within the Bush White House will address the
book's themes and interpretations." She adds: "What's needed now? More
memoirs, more data, more information, more testimony. More serious
books, like Doug Feith's. More 'this is what I saw' and 'this is what
is true.' Feed history."
I confess I have not read Scott McClellan's book. In fact, I could not
even get a copy at my local Barnes and Nobles, as they were sold out and
hopelessly back-ordered. So this is not a book review, just an
observation, based on the wall-to-wall reporting on the contents of What
Happened and the post-publication public statements of its author: With
all due respect, I think Peggy Noonan is wrong. The world does not need
more such books.
Neither history nor the public's current need for accurate information
about its leaders and their conduct are advanced by more
self-aggrandizing, -justifying and -serving memoirs characterized by an
almost total lack of discipline.
A man who was not present at the wartime councils that led up to the invasion of
Iraq is entitled to his views - irrespective of how they differ from those he held
at the time. It is, however, altogether another matter to regard McClellan's
current depiction of the subject of the Iraq war as somehow illuminating of what
went on "inside the Bush White House," let alone as dispositive concerning whether
the President deliberately misled the American people on the timing and content of
his decision to launch the invasion.
The irony is that, even as she erred in this respect, Ms. Noonan
recognized what really is needed: "more serious books, like Doug
Feith's." Readers of this column will recall that Mr. Feith, the former
Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and another friend and colleague,
has written War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War
on Terrorism. It is the definitive account of the considerations and
deliberations that led to the liberation of Iraq and other actions taken
in the wake of and in response to the September 11 attacks. An
objective reader will see the case for war was thoughtfully arrived at
and persuasively made, not "a fatal misstep" or "strategic blunder."
The difference between the two ostensibly "insider" accounts could not
be more stark. Where McClellan was not a participant in the
decision-making he finds so objectionable, Feith was. Where McClellan
fails to document any of his pronouncements, Feith documents all of his
- including, notably, via a website devoted to making declassified
papers and other decision-related materials readily accessible to
historians and interested citizens
Of course, the most profound contrast between the two books is in how
they have been received. McClellan's has dominated the airwaves and
print outlets for days. Feith's has received considerable critical
acclaim and pick-up in the alternative media - which recognizes the
book's value in countering the "Bush lied, people died" and other urban
legends, but nowhere near the mainstream media coverage. In fact, the
New York Times and Washington Post have refused to review it.
It is not as though Mr. Feith has been uncritical of the Bush
administration. War and Decision lets the chips fall where they may,
including with respect to errors made by the author himself.
Interestingly, the day before the McClellan book-selling bandwagon got
underway, Ms. Noonan's Journal published an op.ed. article adapting part
of the Feith book under the headline "How Bush Sold the War." It took to
task the President and his handlers - which, ironically, included at the
time Scott McClellan - for failing in the aftermath of Saddam's
overthrow consistently to justify that act on vital national security
grounds, rather than exclusively as a contribution to
There is one other noteworthy contrast in this tale of two books. Fox
News Sunday host Chris Wallace suggested during last weekend's show that
Scott McClellan might want to counter criticisms of his cashing in on
his memoirs by donating the proceeds of the book sales to a charity for
veterans of the war that has, evidently, caused him such anguish. No
such encouragement was needed by Doug Feith; he made that commitment
from the get-go.
On this Peggy Noonan and I agree. We certainly need more serious books
like Doug Feith's War and Decision.
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JWR contributor Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. heads the Center for Security Policy. Comments by clicking here.
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