NSA Steve Hadley was spining like a top today.
There Is Nothing Civil About This War
Q Mr. Hadley, the report also says, the term “civil war” accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict. Is the President ready to embrace that term, as well?
MR. HADLEY: One of the things that is helpful — and this is on page two — is a statement that the intelligence community judges that the term “civil war” does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq. And we think that is right.
Q Does it mean that the President does accept that civil war accurately describes key elements — does he accept that?
MR. HADLEY: I think what the President does is he accepts the description of the key elements — that is that there’s a hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements. The facts are not in dispute, and they are what drove the policy. And the policy seeks to try and respond to those facts and come up with a strategy that will succeed. That’s what our task is and that’s what we’ve done.
Q Mr. Hadley, I want to go back to the term “civil war.” The administration has really gone out of its way not to use that term, “civil war,” in the same way that Don Rumsfeld wouldn’t call it a “guerilla war” when it was, or an “insurgency” when it was. Why do you go out of your way not to use that word? The President goes out of his way, as well. You say labels are difficult, but is it not important — certainly any military strategist will tell you it’s important to know what kind of fight you’re in. Can you call it a civil war, and why haven’t you?
MR. HADLEY: We know what kind of fight we’re in. We know the facts. That is described well in this NIE, and we have a strategy to deal with those facts and to try to succeed.
Q Is it a civil war?
MR. HADLEY: I will tell you what this NIE says.
Q I want to know why you avoid using that term.
MR. HADLEY: Because it’s not an adequate description of the situation we find ourselves, as the intelligence community says. Intelligence judges “the term civil war does not adequately capture the complexities of the conflict in Iraq.” And what we’re doing is saying, if you’re going to run policy, and if you’re going to explain it to the American people, we need to get across the complexities of the situation we face in Iraq, and what is our strategy to deal with that. And simple labels don’t do that. We’re going to try and force everybody to get into the facts.
Q Going back to the civil war, the use of that term, is it fair to say, or accurate to say that it is now beyond a civil war, because that would imply that you have the elements of a civil war and yet there is — there are additional factors?
MR. HADLEY: I think I can’t do better than the description of the facts on the ground that is in the NIE with which we agree, and that says this is a complex, difficult situation. And that’s what it is.
The spinning continues…
Because They Had No Plan American Soldiers Continue To Die
Q About the sea change in the character of the violence that the report describes, all senior administration officials, when they’re asked about the deterioration of security in Iraq, point back to the Samarra bombing as a key — as the sea change, if you will. And they point to this changing nature of the violence, now the Iraqi-on-Iraqi sort of violence, not an insurgency against U.S. forces so much. But correct me if I’m wrong — did not the administration intercept a letter from Zarqawi in 2005 that laid out his plans to foment this kind of sectarian violence? And if that’s the case, why did something like the Samarra bombing, that kind of tactic come as such a surprise to this administration?
MR. HADLEY: I don’t think it came as a surprise to us. This has been clear — Zarqawi’s strategy. It’s one of the reasons why, for the last three years, a major priority for our forces in Iraq has been to go after al Qaeda and to go after their leadership, and to frustrate the strategy. And that’s been a major focus of our activity on the ground, because we saw the danger it posed.
And in the short run the response was good. After about 24 hours, 48 hours, the Iraqi security forces stepped in and they were able to bring the violence down. And the Iraqi government did not splinter. So the security forces held together, the government held together. And that’s why we said at the time, Iraqis have looked into the abyss and they’ve stepped back.
But what we found was, while the initial response was good, we began to see the kind of mobilization in the Shia community and the beginnings of retaliation of Shia on Sunni, and Sunni on Shia. And that is talked about very clearly in the NIE.
Q And that wasn’t anticipated by the administration?
MR. HADLEY: We did, and we had two security plans, efforts — because, of course, as you know, most of this is focused in Baghdad; about 80 percent of sectarian violence is within 30 miles of Baghdad. And we took two bites at that apple in terms of Iraq security plans, phase one, phase two. And the truth is, as we’ve said very clearly, they did not work. And it did not bring down the violence.
Slim and None
Q Let me just direct you, then, back to what — the second graph here under key judgments. Could you clarify what your point was about — the paragraph that says, “Nevertheless, even if violence is diminished, Iraqi leaders will be hard-pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation” — because I heard you as sort of saying this sort of fits in with the general approach of the administration. This seems to be, with the “nevertheless,” even if the ISF is successful, there’s still a great chance that Iraqi leaders will be unable to achieve sustained political reconciliation.
MR. HADLEY: I agree. I read it the same way you do. And I was doing a bit of a play on words, which probably I shouldn’t have done. It makes it clear — and that’s why I wanted to emphasize it for completeness. Even if we get the violence down, the NIE says that the forces are going to be hard pressed to come forward with the reconciliation. We agree with that, but we think there is no alternative but to press them hard to do that reconciliation.
And Maliki agrees. And if you look at the program that the Iraqis are starting to talk about, they’re talking about the need for a revision to the de-Baathification law, an oil law, constitutional amendments to address some of the issues that remain unresolved from the constitution.
Q But if you read this paragraph straight, it seems to me what’s being suggested is the odds are against success.
MR. HADLEY: It’s going to be hard, and the President made it very clear it’s going to be hard, and there’s no assurance for success. The case the President has made is, he’s looked at all the alternatives, and the alternatives have little, if any, prospect for success, whether it’s slow failure as I talked about, or fast failure. The President believes his strategy has a prospect for success. It’s going to be hard. The NIE says that; the President has said that.
Iran Not Such A Threat
Q The report says that outside actors, including Iran, are not likely to be a major driver of violence. Given that, is it possible the President has been overstating the danger posed by Iran in Iraq?
MR. HADLEY: I think it’s important, actually, to take a look at that language. It’s on page three of the key judgments. And it says, as Steve says, that “Iraq’s neighbors influence and are influenced by events within Iraq, but the involvement of those outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability, in light of the sectarian character of this.”
I would point your attention to the sentence that follows — “Nonetheless, Iranian lethal support for select groups of Iraqi Shia militants clearly intensifies the conflict in Iraq. Syria continues to provide safe haven for expatriate Iraqi Baathists, and to take less than adequate measures to stop the flow of foreign jihadists in Iraq.”
Q Do you think the threat from Iran is more grave than the report reflects?
MR. HADLEY: No. I think the report — if you read it in toto, and particularly if you read what I’m sure is in the back elaborating the things I’ve been saying, is a pretty good judgment. And the other thing is to say we’re very much concerned, first and foremost from force protection, the Iraqis have also been talking increasingly about the unconstructive role that Iran has been playing. So it’s not just us.
What Happens When You Squander Your Credibility
Q Steve, in 2002 and 2003, in the run-up to the Iraq war, the administration made statements that were obviously not borne by facts subsequently. And it later came out that caveats from the intelligence community, caveats from Energy Department analysts, those were left out of public statements of Vice President Cheney, the President, others in the administration. Now when it comes to Iran, you’ve been saying for months that Iran is a key driver of violence in Iraq. You’ve said there is evidence tying Iran to attacks in Iraq. You’ve said that you’d make that evidence public. That supposed to be made public on the 31st.
MR. HADLEY: Right.
Q It wasn’t.
MR. HADLEY: That’s correct.
Q When will that be, that briefing?
MR. HADLEY: When this process gets done, the briefing will be — will come out. I don’t think there’s a timetable on this point since it’s slipped a couple times. We want to get the work done so that we can get people a firm date and that we won’t have to change.
Q Even though it was already scheduled and officials in Baghdad gave a date, they gave a time, and in some cases, they gave a place?
MR. HADLEY: Correct.
Q And now it’s been pushed back. Can we conclude anything from that other than people looked at the intelligence that was set to offered and said, this is not good enough?
MR. HADLEY: No, I wouldn’t —
Q Does that mean there was a willingness to overstate it?
MR. HADLEY: The truth is, quite frankly, we thought the briefing overstated. And we sent it back to get it narrowed and focused on the facts. And that’s not a criticism of anybody. It was, in some sense, an attempt to do and address some of the issues in the NIE in a briefing on intelligence of Iranian activity in Iraq. And we thought, hey, why are we doing this? Let’s get the NIE out, the coordinated intelligence judgment of the intelligence community. And then with that as context, get a briefing that is focused on and one that we’re confident everyone can stand behind.
The Gloved Hand Of Darth Cheney
Q Mr. Hadley, given the track record on weapons of mass destruction, and recent events that have alleged that intelligence has been cherry-picked and pulled selectively, how can the public be assured that intelligence is driving the policy and not the other way around, that it’s being tailored to what the President and the Vice President want the policy to be?
MR. HADLEY: By putting out things like this, the coordinated judgment of the intelligence community, so you can see the intelligence on which the policy was based.
Q How can we be assured that this wasn’t written for that purpose?
MR. HADLEY: Well, you can talk to the intelligence community. This came from the NIC — the National Intelligence Council. And it came out of that process. It was not a result of a policy process. It was a result of the intelligence process. And there was no effort to put a policy spin on that by the White House. This is a thing we got roughly a day or two before you.