Monday, April 30, 2007
Stephen Hadley Still Seeking "War Czar" the job "Stephan Hadley would do, if Stephen Hadley had the time." Bueller? Bueller?
SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
WASHINGTON, April 29 — Stephen J. Hadley would be the first to tell you he does not have star power. But Mr. Hadley, the bespectacled, gray-haired, exceedingly precise Washington lawyer who is President Bush’s national security adviser, is in the market for someone who does — with the hope of saving Iraq.
Mr. Hadley is interviewing candidates, including military generals, for a new high-profile job that people in Washington are calling the war czar. The official (Mr. Hadley, ever cautious, prefers “implementation and execution manager”) would brief Mr. Bush every morning on Iraq and Afghanistan, then prod cabinet secretaries into carrying out White House orders.
It is the kind of task — a little bit of internal diplomacy and a lot of head-knocking, fortified by direct access to the president — that would ordinarily fall to Mr. Hadley himself. After all, he oversaw the review that produced Mr. Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq. But his responsibilities encompass issues around the globe, and he has concluded that he needs someone “up close to the president” to work “full time, 24/7” to put the policy into effect. He hopes to fill the job soon.
“What we need,” he said in a recent interview, “is someone with a lot of stature within the government who can make things happen.”
Even so, the idea that the national security adviser is subcontracting responsibility for the nation’s most pressing foreign policy crisis — and must recruit someone of stature to get the attention of the cabinet — is provoking criticism of Mr. Hadley himself, and how he has navigated the delicate internal politics of a White House famous for its feuding.
“Steve Hadley is an intelligent, capable guy, but I don’t think this reflects very well on him,” said David J. Rothkopf, author of “Running the World,” a book about the National Security Council. “I wouldn’t even call it a Hail Mary pass. It’s kind of a desperation move.”
Mr. Rothkopf sees the new position as “a tactic to separate the national security adviser from Iraq” — a way to save Mr. Hadley’s reputation. Ivo Daalder, a former Clinton administration official who is co-writing a book on national security advisers, said the proposal “raises profound questions” about Mr. Hadley’s “ability to put heads together and make sure that the president’s wishes are in fact his commands.”
At 60, Mr. Hadley has been around Washington long enough to know pretty much everyone in town. He arrived in 1972 to work at the Pentagon (after attending law school at Yale with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York) and has served Republicans since Richard Nixon. His relationships with Vice President Dick Cheney and Donald H. Rumsfeld, the former secretary of defense, date from the Ford administration.
He is regarded as a sharp negotiator, more of a pragmatic conservative than a neoconservative. Despite his mild-mannered appearance, he has shown flashes of toughness on those rare occasions when the White House curtain is pulled back. By one account, which he does not deny, Mr. Hadley pressed for the ouster of Mr. Rumsfeld early in Mr. Bush’s second term. He delivered a stinging assessment of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in a confidential memo to the president last year.
Today, after serving as deputy to Condoleezza Rice when she was national security adviser, and then replacing her when she became secretary of state, Mr. Hadley is one of Mr. Bush’s closest advisers. He is the first person the president sees in the Oval Office each morning and a constant, sober presence on international trips. Yet he is so relentlessly low-profile that it is difficult to get a fix on his views. Even his admirers have a hard time assessing his performance.
“I’m a big fan of Steve Hadley,” said Kurt Campbell, founder of the Center for New American Security, an independent research organization in Washington. “Whether he’s in the right job, and whether it’s too difficult, I’m not really sure.”
In a city filled with people who crave the spotlight, Mr. Hadley is an aberration. Every once in a while, Dan Bartlett, the chief White House communications strategist, prods him into appearing on a Sunday morning news program, if only, Mr. Bartlett says, because he comes across as so “even-handed and credible.” Friends lament that no one sees the warm, witty Mr. Hadley that they know.
“He seems like a functionary when I watch him on television — he’s very controlled,” said Amy Dickinson, author of the syndicated Ask Amy advice column, who knows Mr. Hadley from church. “But he’s somebody who I think of in other contexts as being very warm, very funny.”
And strait-laced. One story around the White House — Mr. Hadley calls it “one of the great urban myths” — is that he wore penny loafers to cut brush with the president on his Texas ranch. Last year, during Mr. Bush’s surprise trip to Baghdad, Mr. Hadley’s concession to comfort on the overnight flight was to change out of his business suit into gray flannel pants.
“We got him to at least take his jacket off,” Mr. Bartlett said.
On Capitol Hill, Mr. Hadley has become sort of a fix-it man for the Bush White House. When Republicans like Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina revolted over the legislation creating military commissions to try terrorism suspects, Mr. Hadley was sent to Capitol Hill to straighten out the mess.
“He is a cross between a law school professor, an accountant and — ” Mr. Graham said, pausing for a few seconds before adding, “Jon Stewart.” Mr. Hadley, upon hearing this, did not bat an eye at being compared to the host of the Comedy Central news show but complained about the accountant reference. “An accountant?” he asked. “I’m not that great with numbers.”
But to the public, Mr. Hadley is nearly invisible. He has transformed a position once inhabited by some of the most vivid personalities in foreign affairs — among them Henry A. Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Ms. Rice — into one that many Americans do not know exists.
“No one is ever going to talk about the Hadley era in U.S. national security,” Mr. Rothkopf said. “He is definitely this administration’s man in the gray flannel suit.”
Mr. Brzezinski said: “He’s straightforward, nice, to the point. But there’s a kind of bureaucratic regularity to him.”
That is precisely the way Mr. Hadley wants it. Some, like Mr. Kissinger and Mr. Brzezinski, have taken an expansive approach to the job, using it as a platform to advance their own ideas. Mr. Hadley, like Ms. Rice before him, sees himself as “an honest broker,” he said, “somebody who is not pushing a particular policy view.” When the big egos of the White House — the vice president, secretary of state or defense chief — disagree, he says, he presents opposing views, and Mr. Bush decides.
The White House was rife with such disputes when Mr. Hadley took his job at the beginning of the second term, and former colleagues say he quickly set about bridging the gaps — and pushing himself into the background.
“He made a very deliberate decision to let Rice be the face of foreign policy,” said Michael Green, a former top Asia specialist at the National Security Council. He also tried to smooth relations with Mr. Rumsfeld by bringing Pentagon officials onto the security council staff. But when the defense secretary fired off lengthy memos, dubbed snowflakes, to the council, Mr. Hadley firmly fired snowflakes back.
Still, questions about whether he had the backbone for the job persisted.
“A lot of people wonder, how will Hadley stand up to Cheney or Rumsfeld or Rice,” Mr. Hadley said last year, in a rare interview in which he talked about himself. “The answer is: you don’t have to. They are 600-pound gorillas, but I work for the 1,500-pound gorilla.”
That was before the 1,500 pound gorilla — Mr. Bush — fired Mr. Rumsfeld after the November midterm elections. In his book “State of Denial,” the journalist Bob Woodward writes that Mr. Hadley argued for Mr. Rumsfeld’s ouster much earlier. Mr. Hadley showed a rare flash of anger when asked about it. But, asked if it was true, he did not deny it.
“One of the things I try not to do,” he said stiffly, “is talk publicly about my advice to the president.”
With Mr. Rumsfeld gone and Mr. Bush taking a more assertive role in managing the war, people inside and outside the White House say the balance of power has shifted, and Mr. Hadley has emerged as more of a force. As Fred Kagan, a military historian who is considered the co-author of the troop buildup strategy, said, “I get the sense of a guy who is trying to do his job at a very difficult time and is actually being allowed to do it for the first time.”
That is one reason the war czar proposal has left some in Washington scratching their heads. At a recent press conference, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates described it this way: “This is what Steve Hadley would do if Steve Hadley had the time.”
But Mr. Daalder, who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, was mystified. “If Hadley doesn’t have time for this,” he asked, “what does he have time for? Our policy toward Nicaragua?”