Scott McClellan's new memoir on his White House days is harsh.
The decision to invade Iraq "goes to an important question that critics have raised about the president: Is Bush intellectually incurious or, as some assert, actually stupid?" the former White House press secretary writes. "Bush is plenty smart enough to be president. But as I've noted his leadership style is based more on instinct than deep intellectual debate."
In 1999, at a hotel suite "somewhere in the Midwest," McClellan recalls the Bush mind when dealing with rumors that the then-Texas governor had used cocaine.
Writes McClellan: "'The media won't let go of these ridiculous cocaine rumors,' I heard Bush say. 'You know, the truth is I honestly don't remember whether I tried it or not. We had some pretty wild parties back in the day, and I just don't remember.'
"I remember thinking to myself, How can that be? How can someone simply not remember whether or not they used an illegal substance like cocaine? It didn't make a lot of sense."
And yet, McClellan concludes, "I think he meant what he said in that conversation about cocaine. It's the first time when I felt I was witnessing Bush convincing himself to believe something that probably was not true, and that, deep down, he knew was not true. And his reason for doing so is fairly obvious — political convenience…"
Bush "has a way of falling back on the hazy memory to protect himself from potential political embarrassment. In other words, being evasive is not the same as lying in Bush's mind...It would not be the last time Bush mishandled potential controversy. But the cases to come would involve the public trust, and the failure to deal with them early, directly and head-on would lead to far greater suspicion and far more destructive partisan warfare."