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In the Crossfire

'Axis of evil' author turns his sights on Bush

David Frum's new book,
David Frum's new book, "The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush"

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former White House speechwriter David Frum has penned a controversial new book that offers a behind-the-scenes look at the Bush administration.

"The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush" also takes a look at the origin of the phrase, "axis of evil" which was coined by Frum. Did that term set the United States on a course for war?

Frum stepped into the "Crossfire" on Friday with hosts James Carville and Robert Novak to defend his words.

FRUM: Opinions are mixed. ... It's a candid book and people who don't like candor, people who don't want to hear it the way it is, they may object to that. But it's a generally respectful book and it's a supportive book by somebody who does believe that, in the end, George Bush did prove to be the right man.

CARVILLE: Bob, go ahead.

NOVAK: Mr. Frum, with all due respect, I don't think your book would be getting much attention if it weren't for one incident. And that was that you identified yourself as the principal author of the "axis of evil" line in his State of the Union speech last year, where he identified Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the "axis of evil." You originally said the "axis of hatred" and it was changed to "axis of evil."

And your wife, you say, e-mailed it to a few friends. I heard it was to several friends. We're not going to quibble on that. ... Was that an effort to publicize this book?

FRUM: No. When I went to the White House, I actually had a lot of doubts that this would be a successful administration. And I was not going to write about it if it were not a successful administration because I would not have been able to bear it. I was very emotionally worried about the state of the Republican Party in the 1990s. That's the thing that motivated me to take the job.

I don't know why they asked me. That's why I took it. And had it not worked, it would have been painful to me.

But you're absolutely right. My wife did write an e-mail to some friends ... and a number of journalists who object to the president's strong foreign policy made a very big deal of it. You were one of them, as a matter of fact. And so, in a way, I may owe it all to you.

NOVAK: Do you kind have trouble sleeping at night wondering whether your use of this rhetoric of linking North Korea with Iraq -- which there really isn't any such linkage -- has provoked a nuclear crisis in northeast Asia? That the North Korean government would have never abandoned its nuclear commitments if you hadn't put that line in the State of the Union speech?

Frum
Frum: "It's a funny story; it's not a self-aggrandizing one."

FRUM: Well Bob, you began setting it up by saying I deserve no credit at all. And now you're giving me way too much. Those words are the president's words. Speechwriters, as you know, make suggestions, just like economic advisers, just like military advisers. And when presidents read through the suggestions, [they] decide whether they like them or not and decide what they [use.]

The moment a president accepts a suggestion, those words become his words, not the writer's. And the writer can offer some insight and some background, but the words are the president's. And by the way, the president's policy and the president's words are exactly correct.

And I would have thought that you, as such a strong Republican, would be the first to support them [but] apparently not.

CARVILLE: David, how long did you work at the White House?

FRUM: Thirteen months.

CARVILLE: You worked [at the White House] for 13 months. This man didn't know you that well and they gave you a job as a speechwriter, a pretty prestigious position.

And then you come out and you write a book and you say all the stuff that went on. You make yourself look good, and you make a bunch of money. And somebody sits there and says, "You know, if I worked for the president of the United States, it would be a high honor, and I wouldn't tell anybody a damn thing about anything I wrote for him or anything like that." I mean, convince me that these people are wrong. ...

FRUM: Anything that I heard that was a confidence is respected. The president's decision-making freedom is respected. I don't tip his hands on anything that is a position that has not been made. It is a book that is a strongly supportive book, but it is a candid book.

And as to making myself look good, in fact, I think one of the things ... where it's different from most White House memoirs, is I have no interest in puffing myself up and making myself look more important. I tell, in fact, the truth about what it's like to be a midlevel aide at the White House. It's a funny story; it's not a self-aggrandizing one.

CARVILLE: Where do you draw the line between what you would do and what you wouldn't do? And how do you -- if you dare use the word -- profit off of your 13 months that you spent there?

FRUM: Well, the people who came out of the Clinton administration and wrote books about President Clinton, like Robert Reich and George Stephanopoulos, all came out and wrote books about how much they hated him.

CARVILLE: George Stephanopoulos did not write a book about how much he hated him.

FRUM: And this administration is rather different. Those of us who come out and are writing books about it write about how much we admire the president and why. And this is a book by somebody who does admire him. It's a candid book. It gives you a sense of who he is and how he thinks.

CARVILLE: But why does the White House hate it if you admire him so much? Why is everybody in the White House trashing your book if it's such a complimentary book to the president? It doesn't make sense to me.

FRUM: Invite them on the show and ask them. You know? ...

If you read at the end of the chapter called "Some of Our Discontent," you'll see a long discussion of my feelings. On the other hand, it's not a book about me and my feelings and I can't imagine that America would be interested in my hopes, dreams and aspirations and my job career.

I have written a book that tells what I saw, which was interesting. And if there are moments there where I said, "You know what? My talents could be better used elsewhere," that's one of the reasons I left to return to private life.


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