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.
Before the Bush White House, Mr. Hadley's last senior post was that of Defense Secretary Dick Cheney's chief adviser on European affairs. Then, as now, aides remember him as a workmanlike policy-maker who stuck firmly to talking points, whether in a one-on-one NATO meeting in Brussels or in briefing the press afterward.
He parked himself in the 1990s at the D.C. law firm of Shea & Gardner, delving into the complex world of commercial law and litigation. Then Mr. Bush won the 2000 Florida recount, and Mr. Hadley has been inside the White House ever since, making him one of only a handful of eight-year political appointees.
"He is even more low-key than was Rice as national security director," Mr. Feith said.
Mr. Hadley may be low-key, but on occasion his profile has burst forth in embarrassing miscues.
He took the blame for not properly screening Mr. Bush's 2003 State of the Union address. It referred to disputed intelligence on Iraq-Niger nuclear ties. He offered to resign, but the president kept him on.
In November 2006, as the Iraq debacle led to big Republican election losses, The New York Times published a secret Hadley memo to Mr. Bush that criticized Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Publicly, the White House had had nothing but praise for the Shi'ite leader
"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," Mr. Hadley wrote.
Mr. Hadley stubbornly stuck by the administration's troop levels in Iraq, even as a growing number of critics, including Sen. John McCain, as early as 2005 said war losses demanded more troops and a new strategy.
"Senator McCain is a strong supporter that we need to succeed in Iraq, that we need to defeat the terrorists in Iraq, and so does the president of the United States," Mr. Hadley said that year on CNN. "We have a strategy to do that that involves acting against the terrorists, but it also involves building the Iraqi security forces so they can be partner with us."
In late 2006, retired generals and think-tank analysts eventually convinced Mr. Hadley and the president that they were wrong. A new strategy known as the troop surge began in early 2007.
Mr. Hadley broke out of his low-profile mode to appear on "Meet the Press" that month and declare, "It's up to us and the Iraqis standing together to succeed. Because if we don´t, those who support us, those who support us in the war on terror will be discredited, the terrorists will be empowered, and our traditional allies are going to raise a question about whether we have staying power in the region to deal with things like Iran."
On occasion, Mr. Hadley is called on to deliver policy speeches, such as the one he delivered in May to representatives of the Proliferation Security Initiatives, a five-year-old pet project of the president's. Mr. Hadley conveyed Mr. Bush's tough talk on terrorists.
"Today, we also make clear that the United States will hold any state, terrorist group, or other non-state actor or individual fully accountable for supporting or enabling terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction," he said.