Where's the Leak?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, December 4, 2006; 1:54 PM

Who's leaking -- and why?

Knowing that would go a long way toward resolving the bigger question captivating Washington: Is President Bush genuinely prepared to change course in Iraq?

Over the weekend, the New York Times disclosed a leaked memo from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in which he privately considered a host of options for Iraq even as he was mocking them publicly. Just a few days earlier, the Times disclosed a memo from national security adviser Steven Hadley raising serious concerns about the Iraqi government even as he was publicly praising it.

Is this the post-election crumbling of the Bush White House's vaunted message discipline? If so, the leaks could simply be embarrassments for a president who has no intention of reversing himself on Iraq.

Alternately, these could be "authorized" leaks -- part of a clever White House PR campaign to give the impression that the president has long been considering significant alternatives, thereby laying the groundwork for the contention that a Bush U-turn on Iraq would be no such thing.

There are, of course, many other plausible explanations.

But regardless of the reasons for the leaks, these memos widen the administration's credibility gap. They provide further evidence that what Bush and his aides tell each other bears little relation to what they tell the people they represent.

The Rumsfeld Memo

Michael R. Gordon and David S. Cloud wrote in the Sunday New York Times: "Two days before he resigned as defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld submitted a classified memo to the White House that acknowledged that the Bush administration's strategy in Iraq was not working and called for a major course correction."

Among Rumsfeld's ideas: "To limit the political fallout from shifting course, he suggested the administration consider a campaign to lower public expectations."

And here's a bit of an understatement: "The memo's discussion of possible troop reduction options offers a counterpoint to Mr. Rumsfeld's frequent public suggestions that discussions about force levels are driven by requests from American military commanders."

Here's the text of the memo. Writes Rumsfeld: "The situation in Iraq has been evolving, and U.S. forces have adjusted, over time, from major combat operations to counterterrorism, to counterinsurgency, to dealing with death squads and sectarian violence. In my view it is time for a major adjustment."

Gordon, incidentally, was even less forthcoming about how he obtained the Rumsfeld memo than he was last week, after he obtained the Hadley memo. Regarding the provenance of the Hadley memo, Gordon wrote: "An administration official made a copy of the document available to a New York Times reporter seeking information on the administration's policy review." Regarding the provenance of the Rumsfeld memo, Gordon wrote absolutely nothing.

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