WASHINGTON -- National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley visited Capitol Hill just before Congress adjourned June 29 for the Fourth of July. Meetings with a half-dozen senior Republican senators were clearly intended to extinguish fires set by Sen. Richard Lugar's unexpected break from President Bush's Iraq policy. They failed.
Hadley called his expedition a "scouting trip," leading one senator to ask what he was seeking. It was not advice on how to escape from Iraq. Instead, Hadley appeared interested in how previous supporters had drifted from Bush's course. In the process, he planted seeds of concern. Some senators were left with the impression that the White House still does not recognize the scope of the Iraq dilemma. Worse yet, they see the president running out the clock until April, when a depleted U.S. military will be blamed for the fiasco.
The tone set by Hadley signaled the White House did not understand that Lugar, in his fateful Senate speech the night of June 25, was sending a distress signal to Bush that a change in policy can be instituted only by the president and that it is imperative that he act now. Hadley was told it is not too late to go back to last December's Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group's neglected 79 recommendations. But the White House still seems unaware of the building tide, typified by the defection last Thursday of six-term Republican Sen. Pete Domenici (who was not among the graybeards scouted by Hadley).
The White House no more expected Domenici to jump overboard than it did Lugar. The shock of Lugar was the reason Hadley quickly scheduled sessions with senior Republican senators such as Lugar and Chuck Hagel, the top two GOP members on the Foreign Relations Committee, and John Warner, former Armed Services chairman. "The president has sent me up here on a scouting mission," said Hadley to begin these meetings.
Always deferential, Hadley took copious notes. But he did more than listen. Based on what Hadley said, one senator concluded "they just do not recognize the depth of the difficulty they are in." That difficulty entails running out of troops in nine months. Hadley increased latent fears of the U.S. military being made the fall guy -- a concern shared by many retired and some active senior officers, including a current infantry division commander.