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Secret Reports Dispute White House Optimism

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"If we have a military strategy, I can't identify it," Hadley said. "I don't know what's worse -- that they have one and won't tell us or that they don't have one."

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Rice had made it clear that her authority did not extend to Rumsfeld or the military, so Blackwill never forced the issue with her. Still, he wondered why the president never challenged the military. Why didn't he say to Gen. John P. Abizaid at the end of one of his secure video briefings, "John, let's have another of these on Thursday and what I really want from you is please explain to me, let's take an hour and a half, your military strategy for victory."

After Bush's reelection, Hadley replaced Rice as national security adviser. He made an assessment of the problems from the first term.

"I give us a B-minus for policy development," he told a colleague on Feb. 5, 2005, "and a D-minus for policy execution."

Rice, for her part, hired Philip D. Zelikow, an old friend, and sent him immediately to Iraq. She needed ground truth, a full, detailed report from someone she trusted. Zelikow had a license to go anywhere and ask any question.

On Feb. 10, 2005, two weeks after Rice became secretary of state, Zelikow presented her with a 15-page, single-spaced secret memo. "At this point Iraq remains a failed state shadowed by constant violence and undergoing revolutionary political change," Zelikow wrote.

The insurgency was "being contained militarily," but it was "quite active," leaving Iraqi civilians feeling "very insecure," Zelikow said.

U.S. officials seemed locked down in the fortified Green Zone. "Mobility of coalition officials is extremely limited, and productive government activity is constrained."

Zelikow criticized the Baghdad-centered effort, noting that "the war can certainly be lost in Baghdad, but the war can only be won in the cities and provinces outside Baghdad."

In sum, he said, the United States' effort suffered because it lacked an articulated, comprehensive, unified policy.

Lessons From Kissinger

A powerful, largely invisible influence on Bush's Iraq policy was former secretary of state Kissinger.

"Of the outside people that I talk to in this job," Vice President Cheney told me in the summer of 2005, "I probably talk to Henry Kissinger more than I talk to anybody else. He just comes by and, I guess at least once a month, Scooter [his then-chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby] and I sit down with him."


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