Forget about the New York Times lead (“…a memorandum prepared for cabinet-level officials…”). It’s addressed to the president, not to a collective. Stephen Hadley says “you have asked General Casey…” and “send your personal representative to Baghdad…”
I rather think it was written to be leaked. I can’t believe that the president’s national-security adviser would write something so long, so rambling, and so mediocre to George W. Bush. I mean, I’d die of embarrassment before I let any such thing go into the Oval Office with my name on it.
I also think it’s a group effort, because with one exception — the sensible suggestion that, at long last, we expand the program that embeds U.S. military personnel in Iraqi military and police units — there’s hardly a serious thought in the whole document. Just look at the first sentence: “We returned from Iraq convinced we need to determine if Prime Minister Maliki is both willing and able to rise above the sectarian agendas…”
Give me a break. The whole purpose of the trip was to determine that — wasn’t it? Now you’re telling me you needed to fly to Baghdad to find out…what you need to find out? It’s preposterous. And in fact it isn’t true. Hadley continues, describing Maliki as “a leader who wanted to be strong but was having difficulty figuring out how to do so.” In short, a dolt. Nobody who fits that description could possibly be “willing and able to rise above…” Or have I missed something here?
Not really. Hadley talks about Maliki’s “reassuring words.” What words? We just heard that the man can’t figure out much of anything. And indeed, he hasn’t done much of anything: Sunnis don’t get services, Shiites are protected, but crack military units are egged on against Sunni targets, etc. etc. In short, “consolidate Shia power in Baghdad.”
Now there’s a shocking conclusion for you. The Shiites are 60 percent of the population, they won a big electoral victory, and they’re trying to consolidate their power. Who could have imagined that? Good grief, you’d think they were Democrats or something.
Now for the action program: We want Maliki to “build an Iraq for all Iraqis and increase his capabilities.” Hadley has a little to-do list, starting with the easy ones (health services and bank services in Sunni neighborhoods) and leading up to the real toughies. The second easiest is to get Maliki to give up on a political strategy with Mokhtada, and “bring justice” to his violent followers (something I would have thought belonged in the “real toughies.” But hey, Hadley was just in Baghdad).
The real toughies? Expand the Iraqi army, and activate the embed program.
Things for us to do are quite interesting. They include “Continue to pressure Iran and Syria…in part by hitting back at Iranian proxies in Iraq and by Secretary Rice holding an Iraq-plus-neighbors meeting in the region in early December,” and “get Saudi Arabia…(to use) its influence to move Sunni populations in Iraq out of violence into politics, to cut off any (sic) public or private funding…to the insurgents or death squads…”
Sometimes I think Hadley missed his calling. He could have been a great standup comedian, because he delivers these gag lines with a totally straight face. One can well imagine Khamenei and Ahmadinejad groaning in agony from the pressure of sitting around a table with Condi. And one can easily foresee the devastating effect of Saudi calls to the Iraqi faithful to stop fighting. As for the “funding,” well, it’s apparently continued apace lo these many years, and not only to the death squads in Iraq, but to potential recruits, ahem, in these very United States.
Above all, the Hadley memo gets a failing grade because there is no suggestion whatsoever that we should be doing anything really mean to the Syrians, Iranians, and Saudis, all of whom are up to their necks in jihadism in Iraq. And the failure to address this — the ongoing failure of strategic vision that has plagued this administration’s thinking since well before the beginning of Operation Iraq Freedom — is of a piece with their failure to “understand” Maliki.
Here’s a guy in Baghdad who comes from the Shiite underground, a terrorist organization. He knows — in spades — the ability of Iranian intelligence agents to assassinate anyone deemed an enemy. He sees — in detail — that the Iranians are all over his country, killing his people, killing Americans and Brits. His very life depends on his ability to navigate the tricky waters of the vast Middle East war. He knows the Americans put him in office, and so he’s got to find a way to make them happy, but he also knows the Iranians can remove him from the world of the living. He’s got to make them happy too. They want an Islamic Republic, which is counter to the wishes of the Iraqi Shiite leaders, and probably to his own desires. What to do?
The question of what Maliki actually wants — his intentions, as Hadley puts it in his written-for-publication memo to the president — is utterly irrelevant to his policy decisions. Those are driven by survival instincts, not trivial matters like “an Iraq for all Iraqis.” If he thought we were going to win the Middle East war, he’d be our best friend in the region. But he has no reason to believe that. Quite the contrary, in fact. And the Hadley memo can only confirm that belief. There’s not one word, not the slightest clue, that we are even thinking about how to win that war. It’s all about little stratagems inside one battlefield, the one called Iraq.
Anyway, if you’re Maliki, things don’t look all that bad for the moment. Hadley even wants to “engage Sistani to reassure and seek his support for a new nonsectarian political movement.” Good luck with that one!
Machiavelli would be in tears.
— Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. He is resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.