Hadley: The NIE supports a surge (even if it doesn't say so)

The national security advisor tries to harmonize the president's plan with the intelligence community's conclusions.

Published February 2, 2007 8:49PM (EST)

For the last couple of weeks now, the White House has been trying to shore up support for the idea of sending more troops to Iraq by arguing that the president's plan is really not so different from the proposals the Iraq Study Group made. With the release today of "key judgments" from the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, administration officials have a different challenge: Explain how the plan to escalate the war actually meshes with the conclusions of the intelligence community.

National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley gave it the old college try this morning, arguing at a White House press briefing that the NIE is "not at war with" the president's plan for Iraq but rather "explains why" that new strategy is required. To that end, Hadley noted that one of the NIE's key judgments predicts dire consequences if the U.S. were to withdraw its troops rapidly from Iraq. Fair enough. But as a reporter noted, the key judgments say nothing at all about the idea of sending more troops. How does that support the president's plan? Hadley said the key judgments talk about "control of security situations, they talk about strengthening Iraqi security forces, which we're trying to do, and [is] supported by coalition forces. So I think the intelligence community recognizes that for this to succeed, it is going to require those two things -- more effective Iraqi security forces and coalition support."

Reporter: But it doesn't talk about level, the number of forces.

Hadley: No, the president has talked about the number in the speeches that he's given.

We're not sure how that supports the notion that the key judgments are in harmony with the president's plan. But let's get back to the briefing.

Reporter: Mr. Hadley, the report also says [that] the term "civil war" accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict. Is the president ready to embrace that term, as well?

Hadley: One of the things that is helpful -- and this is on Page 2 -- is a statement that the intelligence community judges that the term "civil war" does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq. And we think that is right. And one of the things that's good about the NIE is it describes the complexity. Iraq right now is a number of different conflicts, and it talks in that paragraph about Shia-on-Shia violence, al-Qaida and Sunni insurgent attacks on coalition forces, criminally motivated violence. I would add one more, and I don't think the analysts would object, and that is efforts by al-Qaida not just to attack coalition forces, but to attack Shia civilians in order to provoke them to attack Sunnis and to encourage the sectarian violence that we've seen. So I think the thing I would say is, we would agree with the description in that paragraph of the realities on the ground. Now, you get to the issue of labels. Labels are difficult ..."

Reporter: Does ... the president ... accept that "civil war" accurately describes key elements -- does he accept that?

Hadley: I think what the president does is he accepts the description of the key elements -- that is, that there's a hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements. The facts are not in dispute, and they are what drove the policy. And the policy seeks to try and respond to those facts and come up with a strategy that will succeed. That's what our task is and that's what we've done ...

Reporter: Mr. Hadley, I want to go back to the term "civil war." The administration has really gone out of its way not to use that term, "civil war," in the same way that Don Rumsfeld wouldn't call it a "guerrilla war" when it was, or an "insurgency" when it was. Why do you go out of your way not to use that word? The president goes out of his way, as well. You say labels are difficult, but is it not important -- certainly any military strategist will tell you it's important to know what kind of fight you're in. Can you call it a civil war, and why haven't you?

Hadley: We know what kind of fight we're in. We know the facts. That is described well in this NIE, and we have a strategy to deal with those facts and to try to succeed.

Reporter: Is it a civil war?

Hadley: I will tell you what this NIE says.

Reporter: I want to know why you avoid using that term.

Hadley: Because it's not an adequate description of the situation we find ourselves [in], as the intelligence community says. [The key judgments say] "the term civil war does not adequately capture the complexities of the conflict in Iraq." And what we're doing is saying, if you're going to run policy, and if you're going to explain it to the American people, we need to get across the complexities of the situation we face in Iraq, and what is our strategy to deal with that. And simple labels don't do that. We're going to try and force everybody to get into the facts.

The White House is going to "try and force everybody to get into the facts" on Iraq? It's Friday afternoon; we'll let you write your own punch line for that one.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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