- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 22, 2008

Stephen J. Hadley took on his biggest job in a long government career a few months after the Sept. 11 attacks.

With the Taliban ousted in Afghanistan, the White House shifted focus that winter of 2002 to Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Mr. Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser under Condoleezza Rice, began chairing secret meetings of the so-called “deputies” - the No. 2 and No. 3 people who managed the Pentagon, State Department, CIA and other agencies. His goal was to reach harmony on a list of policies that would be presented to President Bush on how to get rid of Baghdad’s dictator.

He never achieved complete harmony. But the ensuing meetings pointed out how Mr. Hadley, now the president’s national security director, did his job then and how he does it now.

Rather than drive a particular policy during these hours of interagency meetings, the disciplined, bookish Yale Law School graduate searched for consensus on Iraq, nuclear proliferation, detainee policy and a host of other position papers that flow up to Mr. Bush in a time of war. Sometimes, he got it; sometimes, he didn’t.

“Hadley’s main traits are gentlemanliness and cool thoughtfulness,” said Douglas Feith, who as undersecretary of defense for policy attended those lunch-time deputies’ meetings. “He’s a very cool and deliberative guy, seen often as a kind of moderator and referee in interagency meetings.”

“People sometimes on these very controversial issues would call him and be very heated and outraged about some procedure failure they thought had occurred. Someone did not do something as promised. Stephen would often react by saying, ‘Lets look into this. It may be a misunderstanding rather than a deliberate act of non-action.’ And he often was correct. He would work to soothe people’s irritations.”

A history of those deputies’ meetings shows Mr. Hadley’s pluses and minuses. He found himself refereeing major disputes between Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon on one side and the State Department and the CIA on the other.

In one standoff, State, in the person of Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage, and the CIA vigorously argued to cut off money and contact with Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (INC). As Mr. Feith recounts in his new book “War and Decision,” Mr. Hadley worked to keep the INC in the fold as a player in post-Saddam Iraq.

“Hadley got frustrated with the constant attacks from State and the CIA people on the Iraq National Congress,” Mr. Feith said in an interview. “Hadley took the position we should be working with all democratic opposition to Saddam Hussein.”

In the end, Mr. Hadley succeeded in keeping the INC in a major prewar conference. But State and CIA protests significantly delayed the session until December 2002, only a few months before the invasion. In the interim, Mr. Feith suspected it was State and the CIA who leaked a series of anti-Chalabi stories to reporters, including the erroneous tale that Mr. Rumsfeld had picked him to run Iraq.

Said Mr. Feith, “I believe that Hadley was always loyal to the president, which was of course not the case with everybody because people were leaking stories antagonistic to the president at senior levels.”

The 61-year-old Mr. Hadley is firmly rooted in the Republican national security establishment, dating back to a minor budget job in the Nixon Pentagon. He has shown no maverick tendencies, a trait that made him attractive to Mr. Bush eight years ago when the Texas governor formed a gaggle of foreign policy advisers.

“What Steve always did, he saw his job as, where is the common ground among competing perspectives on policy issues,” said Larry Di Rita, a senior aide to Mr. Rumsfeld. “He was good at sorting that out. Where is the policy common ground I can present to the president?”

Mr. Di Rita added, “I think he tries very hard to be seen more of a facilitator of Cabinet position views rather than pushing his own views. He is very self-effacing. He has a very healthy respect for government by Cabinet.”

In 1999, candidate Bush prepared to deliver a major speech on defense at The Citadel. Mr. Hadley urged him not to mention specific light vehicles that could replace the time-honored tank or risk a tide of criticism from battlefield experts, according to Bob Woodward’s book “State of Denial.” Mr. Woodward also reported that Mr. Hadley urged the president not to claim victory too soon in his 2004 re-election for fear of antagonizing Sen. John Kerry.

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