Was the now-notorious Hadley Memo a White House ploy that
backfired or another Bush-league blunder? Either way, it leaves the United
States with diminished clout and prestige while the Iraq fiasco worsens daily.
Leaked by what the New York Times described as “an administration official,”
the memorandum written by National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley was so
insulting to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki that Maliki canceled the
first session of a two-day meeting with President Bush in Jordan. Nothing like
this has happened to an American chief executive since Soviet Premier Nikita S.
Khrushchev refused to meet with President Eisenhower after the U-2 incident in
the Hadley Memo had to say about the Iraqi leader just before the Amman summit:
“The reality on the streets suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what’s going
on, misrepresenting his intentions or that his capabilities are not yet
sufficient.” Two days after the leak, Bush described Maliki as “the right guy
While it was entertaining to watch administration
spin-masters try to reconcile these two statements, a retired diplomat wise to
the ways of White House deliberations, told this reporter that he found the
Hadley document “strange indeed.” Why so? Because memos destined for
presidential eyes usually are limited to lists of policy options available to
chief executives. An example was Defense Secretary Donald E. Rumsfeld’s
reverse-course statement that appeared four days after the Hadley Memo.
Forthright opinions, much less derogatory statements about foreign leaders, are
avoided when it comes to top-level diplomatic politics subject to leakage.
This raises the question of White House intentions in the
Hadley affair. Was the leak (1) intentional or (2) inadvertent? The evidence
suggests that the first (conspiracy) option trumps the second (incompetence)
option. Absent was the usual administration denunciation of leaks supposedly
injurious to national security. The United States had been increasingly unhappy
about Maliki’s unwillingness or inability to clamp controls on Shiite
insurgents whose backing was essential to his hold on power. So in the cocoon
of unreality that encloses the Bush White House, there was a desire to put
pressure on the Iraqi prime minister to crack down on the violence in his
country. That the Bush inner circle was responsible for the violence in the
first place was something that could not be entertained in the confines of the
What the White House did not expect was Maliki’s tough
reaction. Mid-level allies are not supposed to shun so august a figure as the
president of the United States. As Mr. Bush was winging his way to Amman and
his press secretary, Tony Snow, was arranging photo ops on landing, Air Force
One received the upsetting news that there would be no meeting that evening.
Only the next day would the Iraqi prime minister have time to meet with the
American president. And when that meeting took place, Bush was lavishly
supportive of Maliki, almost as if the Hadley Memo had never happened. Another
nail thus penetrated the coffin of White House credibility.
But give the Bush administration credit. If the Hadley Memo
was indeed a ploy to pressure Maliki rather than a more normal list of policy
options, the conspiracy theory is sustained. But if the reaction is assessed,
namely that Maliki could not let such insults go without a strong response,
then the incompetence theory prevails in the second phase of this strange
episode. So out of its pratfalls, the administration emerges both
conspiratorial and incompetent, a pair of attributes that just kind of happened
The world is left to determine whether Bush either is
ignorant of what’s going on, misrepresenting his intentions or his capabilities
are not yet sufficient. Ask Prime Minister Maliki.