Hadley memo asks the rights questions

Posted: Dec 01, 2006 10:48 AM
Hadley memo asks the rights questions

That great political philosopher Harry Truman said, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."

Well, the foreign policy corollary to Truman's adage would be, "If you expect to find an ally you can count on, get a clue."

Nations have permanent interests, but not permanent alliances.

So while the United States works with other countries to advance our interests, we also should continuously ask ourselves whether our allies still share our goals.

The idea is to build alliances to deal with specific problems as they come up.

This brings us to the recent "secret" memo from National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

The five-page document was leaked to The New York Times. Maybe Patrick Fitzgerald can launch a two-year, multimillion-dollar investigation to get to the bottom of that leak.

In the meantime, the "news" in the memo seems to be that the Bush administration isn't sure it can trust the Iraqi leadership.

"Do we and Prime Minister Maliki share the same vision for Iraq? If so, is he able to curb those who seek Shia hegemony or the reassertion of Sunni power? The answers to these questions are key in determining whether we have the right strategy in Iraq," the memo said.

Well, that's on the money. We can't trust that Maliki shares our goals; we have to verify that Maliki shares our goals.

If our attempts to verify make Maliki unhappy, that's all to the good.

Let him work ever harder to prove he's accomplishing what he says he wants to accomplish, and the job will get done sooner.

Hadley's memo adds that the United States should help the Iraqi prime minister whenever we can.

This too makes perfect sense — as long as we've first determined that Maliki is working toward the same goal that we are: a stable, prosperous Iraq.

On a more practical level, Hadley writes that we should "continue to target al Qaeda and insurgent strongholds in Baghdad to demonstrate the Shia do not need the JAM [the Arabic name for the Mahdi Army] to protect their families — and that we are a reliable partner."

That final thought is really the key: to the memo, to the war in Iraq, and to the greater fight against international terrorism.

Our allies, whether in Iraq or Britain, Japan or Kuwait, must know they can count on the United States to be a reliable partner. They could be forgiven for wondering.

For more than a year, congressional Democrats have insisted it's time to pull out of Iraq entirely.

Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania made that case last year.

More recently, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, soon to chair the powerful Armed Services Committee, said that, "We cannot save the Iraqis from themselves," and that it's time for a "phased redeployment."

And at a recent White House reception, incoming Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia had one message for President Bush: He wants the troops (including Webb's son, a Marine serving there) out of Iraq.

Those comments are all part of our internal political debate. But they're also being broadcast around the world on CNN International.

Assuming the Shia in Iraq have been watching, they have good reason to doubt we'll be there for them.

That level of doubt has prevented us so far from bringing in some countries that ought to be natural allies in the War on Terror.

India, for example.

It's much closer to the Middle East then the United States, and has a traditional rivalry with Muslim Pakistan.

Plus, India's growing economy will need plenty of oil from the Persian Gulf in the coming decades — regional instability isn't in its best interest.

Yet we don't hear much about India's contributions to the War on Terror. That needs to change if we want to win.

On the other side of the ledger, countries that should be cowering seem instead to be getting cocky.

Just a year and a half ago, President Bush insisted that Syria withdraw from Lebanon, and Bashar Assad did so. He seemed to believe he might be the next regional dictator removed by American arms.

Instead, Lebanon's Cedar Revolution seems to have been put into the closet.

Last week, anti-Syrian political leader Pierre Gemayel was assassinated, a sign that Syria may be about to reassert its authority in Lebanon.

It's not likely Syria will ever pay any price, though.

Another leak to The New York Times (more work for Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald?) indicates that the Iraq Study Group, charged with finding a new American approach to Iraq, will recommend direct talks with Iran and Syria.

There may well be a perception, in Iraq and in Lebanon, that it's more dangerous to be allied with the United States than to oppose it. No wonder other potential allies are sitting on the sidelines, awaiting our next move.

The United States needs all the support it can get. That includes an Iraq that is an ally in the War on Terror, rather than an adversary.

Hadley's memo shows we're asking the right question: How do we get there? It's up to us to come up with the right answer. The future depends on it.