It usually takes a span of time for public figures to provide us with “now you tell me” revelations. It was the better part of 30 years before Robert McNamara, a principal architect of the war in Vietnam, expressed remorse about his judgment in those bad, old days.

That’s what makes Scott McClellan’s coming forward now so remarkable. McClellan was White House press secretary from May 2003 to April 2006. Day after day after day, McClellan was the guy who stood behind the podium at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and told reporters what Bush, Cheney and their gang wanted us to think about what they were doing to our country and the world.

It turns out McClellan is none too proud of the water he carried. “I fell far short of the public servant I wanted to be,” he writes in his new book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception.

Among other things, McClellan writes that his boss was determined to go to war in Iraq in 2002 and “signed off on a strategy for selling the war that was less than candid and honest.” Bush, McClellan says, “managed the crisis in a way that guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option.”

McClellan sums up his feelings this way: “What I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was unnecessary.”

Let’s replay this: “the Iraq war was unnecessary.”

It’s not that McClellan is telling us anything we don’t already know. By now the record is replete with first-hand accounts of how the Bush Administration drove us into an unprovoked war. Read, for example, the Downing Street Memo, the 2002 document in which a British envoy wrote, after meeting with his American counterparts, that it was clear we were going to war and that “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

The Bush Administration calls McClellan “disgruntled,” and, in its best high school rhetoric, adds, “We are puzzled. It is sad. This is not the Scott we knew.”

What is really sad is that McClellan didn’t come forward 18 months ago. If his book had been published then, congressional Democrats — and, perhaps, even a few Republicans — would have been compelled to move forward with impeachment proceedings.

It’s not for nothing that McClellan, while calling the Iraq war “unnecessary,” is also careful to say, “I do not believe [Bush] or his White House deliberately or consciously sought to deceive the American people.” That’s a fig leaf intended to deflect attention from the looming realization that by most recognized standards, the Iraq war qualifies as a war crime — and its architects as war criminals.

With the inauguration of a new president, it is possible the United States will be confronted with the awkward spectacle of having an ex-president whose movements will be circumscribed by the threat of arrest in otherwise friendly countries. Last year, Donald Rumsfeld was forced to flee France where he was supposed to give a speech when it looked as though a movement was afoot to charge him with crimes against humanity for authorizing torture — a charge, by the way, that recent revelations indicate could also be leveled at President Bush.

By saying that he and his boss didn’t actually lie to us about the war, McClellan would have us believe that the catastrophe that’s followed was simply an error in judgment, that nobody’s perfect and that people make mistakes. There’s no crime in that.

But as anyone who so much as watches the Daily Show knows, this doesn’t begin to account for the voluminous record of misstatements, blatant contradictions and, as the subtitle of McClellan’s book suggests, deceit broadcast by Bush, Inc.

On the morning last week that Scott McClellan’s book was making headlines, George Bush was speaking at the Air Force Academy. Bush told the cadets they would be fighting to secure peace “for millions across the world,” and that Congress “had better make sure you have all the resources you need.” He said nothing about Congress — or the people — holding the president to account for sending the cadets unnecessarily into harm’s way. That time has yet to come.

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