It seems that National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley has now become a key White House point men for deflecting blame for the president's dishonest road to war. Fair enough, it's a logical role for the head of the NSC.
But Hadley turns out to be a perfect illustration of the doublespeak the administration is now peddling.
As I've noted several times, the White House has hung a lot of its credibility on a slippery distinction. The two major investigations of the WMD debacle found little if any evidence of the White House's pressuring analysts to alter their analytic judgments and estimates of Iraqi WMD capacity. What no commission has yet been allowed to examine is how the White House used those analyses.
Which brings us back to Steve Hadley.
Twice during the lead-up to war, Hadley pushed the CIA to sign off on the president using the Niger uranium claims in speeches dramatizing the danger Saddam Hussein posed to the United States. In December 2002 he failed. In January 2003 he succeeded.
The essential facts aren't even in dispute.
In the summer of 2003 Hadley stepped forward with a choreographed apology to the president for allowing the claim into the 2003 State of the Union address. According to Hadley, by January 2003 he had forgotten the two memos he had received from the CIA asking that the Niger claim be removed from the president's speech and the personal call for George Tenet asking the charge to be removed. "The high standards the president set were not met," said Hadley.
This little charade never completely cleared up why, having allegedly forgotten the episode from October, Hadley and his staff again argued with the CIA's Alan Foley in an attempt to get the claim into a speech.
But the basic point is clear.
You have the CIA's analysis: that the Niger claim was unsubstantiated and not credible. Then there was what Hadley and the White House wanted to do with it: have the president level the charge in a high profile speech with no indication the president's intel advisors doubted it was true.
I think this pretty nicely captures the distinction between pressuring analysts to change their judgments and what the president does with the intelligence. And Hadley's your guy if you want to ask the question. Yes, this is only one episode in the long story of obfuscation and misdirection. But it seems to capture the essential point with great clarity. Why did Hadley twice fight to get the CIA to sign off on the president's making a claim that they didn't think was true? Someone should ask him.