Richard Haass's Career as a Policy Wonk and His Memoir of Two Iraq Wars

By Bob Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 4, 2009

Richard Haass hasn't written the kind of memoir in which his family figures much, but his wife does make a couple of brief, dramatic appearances.

One came in November 1990, when Haass, then a National Security Council staffer whose portfolio included the Middle East, tried to squeeze in a wedding in the midst of the crisis that led to the Persian Gulf War.

He barely made it to the rehearsal dinner. The day after the wedding he was on a plane for Paris -- without his new bride -- to join his boss, national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, and the first President Bush on a trip to Europe and the Persian Gulf.

Husband and wife have conflicting memories of this.

Haass recalls inviting Susan Mercandetti along for what admittedly would have been a work-hampered Paris honeymoon and being turned down. Mercandetti, then a TV news producer, now an editor at Random House, says she got no such invitation.

Reading her husband's version in a draft of "War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars," she says, "I scratched in big letters, 'LIAR!' "

Flash-forward a dozen years to 2002. A second George Bush was in the White House, Haass was working for Colin Powell at the State Department, and Iraq was suddenly back at the center of American foreign policy.

Unhappy with the administration's commitment to a war he thought ill-advised, Haass couldn't make his views heard. He had started to have thoughts about leaving, and his wife's opinion, stated with characteristic bluntness, helped crystallize them.

She started calling him an "enabler."

"It was fairly regular," Haass recalls, laughing: " 'You and your friend Colin, you know what you two are?' "

He didn't find it funny at the time, however.

"I was just stating what he knew inside," Mercandetti says. "The first time I said it, I saw the look on his face and I knew that he knew what he had to do."

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