By: E&P Staff
Stephen Hadley, President Bush’s national security adviser, met reporters today at the White House and in a key exchange, attempted to counter claims in the newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that suggested Iraq was, in many ways, in a civil war. He raised a rebuttal to this notion by a top Iraqi leader.
There was one problem: He badly misstated the man’s title.
It was such a flub that it received a rare footnoted correction in the official White House transcript, just released.
Hadley referred to Abd al Madhi as the Iraqi “”Prime Minister.”” The transcript includes a rare “”sic”” after this mention, and an asterisk. At the bottom of the page one finds: * Deputy President.
Here is the exchange, which is interesting even beyond the flub.
Q Mr. Hadley, the report also says, the term “”civil war”” accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict. Is the President ready to embrace that term, as well?
MR. HADLEY: One of the things that is helpful — and this is on page two — 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 Qaeda 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 Qaeda 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. And of course, everyone is looking at the label of “”civil war.”” Let me read to you what Iraqis say. As we’ve talked about before, Iraqis do not describe it as a civil war.
And it’s very interesting — in a recent interview, the Iraqi Prime Minister* [sic], Abd al Madhi, had the following statement, which I thought was an interesting, different perspective on this issue. He said first, “”I don’t think we are in a civil war. We are in a war on civilians. That’s what Abu Musab al Zarqawi was trying to do.That’s what the insurgents are trying to do. Otherwise, what is the meaning of a car bomb in a university or market? You’re against a society, against civilians. Or when Sunni militias attack, some Shia militias attack in retaliation. They are not attacking as one army against another, but they are attacking civilians from the other community. That’s why I say,”and this is Abd al Madhi’s comment, “”we are in a war against civilians, not a civil war.””
And finally he says, “”Secondly, the government is still powerful, still feared by the population. Whenever it issues a curfew it is respected all over Iraq. No country in a civil war respects the decision of a government. We have to go and decrease the sectarian violence; we have to go and protect people from car bombs and from insurgent acts that target civilians and institutions.””
So what I would say — let me just say, the description in the NIE of the situation on the ground and the variety of these challenges is real. And we agree with that.The issue of the level — the issue of the label is one we’re going to go back and forth on. What the President’s job is, in view of that situation on the ground, to develop a policy and a strategy that has the prospect of success. That’s what the policy challenge is, and that’s what we think we’ve done.
Q 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 “”guerilla 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?
MR. 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.
Q Is it a civil war?
MR. HADLEY: I will tell you what this NIE says.
Q I want to know why you avoid using that term.
MR. HADLEY: Because it’s not an adequate description of the situation we find ourselves, as the intelligence community says. Intelligence judges “”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.