While reading the text of the leaked Stephen Hadley memo, I couldn't help feeling the mainstream media has once again ignored the real story. All of the television news I saw, and most (but not all) of the print reporting focused on the perceived slur of Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. The offending phrase (repeated ad nauseum) was:
"... the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action."
The offending paragraph was near the beginning of the document, which leads me to believe television news "reporters" were just looking for a "gotcha" statement, and ran with the first one they came across. But the rest of the document is stunning, and deserves more attention that it has received.
I say "stunning" quite literally, as when I read the full memo, it absolutely floored me.
This is, after all, a secret memo from the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States. The job of the National Security Advisor is to read all intelligence on a subject, cull what needs culling, and present the result to the President for his use in making policy. This is supposed to be unvarnished truth (as the intelligence community sees it) and never meant for public viewing.
Yet this memo is an earth-shattering indictment of the Bush administration's complete and utter cluelessness about Iraq. The suggestions contained within it read like a Karl Rove election playbook, which is to say it is absolutely divorced from reality. For some reason, the media almost completely ignored this aspect of the story.
The full memo can be seen on the New York Times' web site (link may not work, subscription may be required), and probably elsewhere by now. It is worth reading if you'd like a preview of how badly the Bush team is about to bungle the exit strategy from Iraq.
The memo has several lists of bullet points, the first being "Steps Maliki Could Take" and the second "What We Could Do To Help Maliki." The lists are much too long to refute point-by-point, so I merely draw your attention here to the worst of a bad lot.
The steps for Maliki to take are listed "in order of escalating difficulty." Number two on this list (the second-easiest, in other words) is: "Bring his [Maliki's] political strategy with Moktada al-Sadr to closure and bring to justice any JAM [Jaish al-Mahdi is the Arabic name for the Mahdi Army] actors that do not eschew violence."
Maliki, it is widely reported, came into office using Sadr's influence among his faithful as his political base. So Hadley would like Maliki to, in essence, dump his political backers and somehow magically create a new following for himself. It goes on to suggest that Maliki not only abandon his base, but also to "shake up his cabinet by appointing nonsectarian, capable technocrats in key" ministries, and also "announce an overhaul of his own personal staff so that it 'reflects the face of Iraq.'"
These are supposed to be serious proposals, remember, not knee-slapping comedy.
So our prescription for Maliki to win the hearts and minds of his people is for him to completely abandon the people who voted for him, and also his cabinet, and even his personal staff. This would leave him in a very lonely position indeed. Which makes me wonder if rumors of the U.S. considering allowing a coup to happen have more credibility than they've been given. Later in the memo, this conclusion is somewhat reluctantly stated, complete with our preferred method for the coup: "Pushing Maliki to take these steps without augmenting his capabilities could force him to failure -- if the Parliament removes him from office with a majority vote..."
It goes on to offer Maliki more helpful advice: "... it may take strong assurances from the United States ultimately to convince him to expand his circle of advisors or take action against the interests of his own Shia coalition..." Building delusion upon delusion, Hadley seems to think that forcing Maliki to become an even-more-obvious puppet to America's whims by doing what we tell him to do (which would also be political suicide for Maliki) is going to increase his popularity in Iraq. Most of Iraq already sees him as an American puppet, and this would only serve to convince everyone in Iraq who hasn't already made up their mind.
Ah, but Hadley's wisdom has already seen the answer to this problem. This paragraph is worth quoting in its entirety:
"If it is Maliki's assessment that he does not have the capability -- politically or militarily -- to take the steps outlined above, we will need to work with him to augment his capabilities. We could do so in two ways. First, we could help him form a new political base among moderate politicians from Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and other communities. Ideally, this base would constitute a new parliamentary bloc that would free Maliki from his current narrow reliance on Shia actors. (This bloc would not require a new election, but would rather involve a realignment of political actors within the Parliament). In its creation, Maliki would need to be willing to risk alienating some of his Shia political base and may need to get the approval of Ayatollah Sistani for actions that could split the Shia politically. Second, we need to provide Maliki with additional forces of some kind."
Got that? Maliki is going to desert his base, and form a new political alliance with all of the moderates in Parliament from all three factions (assumably right before they all sit around a campfire, hold hands, and sing "Kumbaya"). Oh, and we'll help him convince Sistani to go along with this grand scheme to divide the Shiites and make them powerless, since we have so much leverage over him. Remember, Sistani has yet to once even talk to any American about anything -- he just refuses to see whoever tries. I love that coda, too: "additional forces of some kind." If we all clap our hands loudly enough, Tinkerbell is going to wave her magic wand and three or four brigades of troops will appear!
The third list of bullet points outlines steps we should take to help this process along. These are just as ridiculous as the previous suggestions, and can be summed up as: America will "use our own political capital" in Iraq to help form this moderate bloc by giving them "monetary support" in order to "help build a nonsectarian national movement."
Republicans can't even win elections in this country, and yet here they are proposing an unbelievable amount of meddling with Iraq's political system (again, which would be seen by Iraqis as setting up our own puppet regime), which they actually think has a snowball's chance in hell of working. Someone needs to grab Stephen Hadley and scream at him "anyone who takes American money is not going to be a viable politician in Iraq!" until he understands this basic fact.
But it's no joke that the National Security Advisor is so divorced from the reality of Iraq that he is proposing such things as part of what he sees as a viable, workable plan to create a nonsectarian Iraqi government. This is sheer folly, and absolute delusion, and yet it is presented to the President as the sum total of our intelligence on the ground in Iraq? And the media doesn't even bother to point it out?
Early on in the memo, without apparently realizing it, Hadley has written the most hilariously ironic thing ever written by any member of the Bush administration, bar none (pot, meet kettle...): "The information he receives is undoubtedly skewed by his small circle of Dawa advisors, coloring his actions and interpretation of reality." Just change "Dawa" to "neo-con" and the sentence would fit perfectly -- for President Bush.
[I wrote this because events are happening so fast politically that it just couldn't wait until next Wednesday's column. One other story not getting enough attention is the apology the United States of America just made to a lawyer in Oregon. Washingtonpost.com has both the article and the text of the apology, both well worth reading.]