Mike Hayden’s Visit to the Woodshed

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Poor Mike Hayden. As luck would have it, the CIA director’s weekly briefing to the president took place this morning. One imagines Bush was holding the front page of the Washington Post and scowling when Hayden walked (sheepishly?) into the Oval Office. You see, according to Bob Woodward, when Hayden spoke to the Iraq Study Group last November he, ah, ever-so-slightly contradicted his boss about the state America’s war to bring peace and democracy to Iraq. On the same day that Bush had told the ISG about his vision for victory in Iraq and the progress being made by the Maliki government, his CIA director told them, essentially, the opposite:

Hayden said “the inability of the government to govern seems irreversible,” adding that he could not “point to any milestone or checkpoint where we can turn this thing around,” according to written records of his briefing and the recollections of six participants.

“The government is unable to govern,” Hayden concluded. “We have spent a lot of energy and treasure creating a government that is balanced, and it cannot function.”

I guess Hayden had some explaining to do this morning.

Sure enough, when NBC’s David Gregory asked Bush about the Woodward story at today’s press conference, the President briefly got that sour-mouth look he gets when he’s peeved. Here’s part of the exchange:

Q Mr. President, you’ve said many times this war at this stage is about the Iraqi government creating a self-sustaining, stable government. Last November, your own CIA Director, according to The Washington Post, told you about that government: “The inability of the government to govern seems irreversible. He could not point to any milestone or checkpoint where we can turn this thing around.” And he said, in talking about the government, that it’s balanced, but it cannot function.


Q When you heard that, since that point, you think of how many hundreds of soldiers have been killed, how much money has been spent. Why shouldn’t people conclude that you are either stubborn, in denial, but certainly not realistic about the strategy that you’ve pursued since then?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, it’s interesting, it turns out Mike Hayden — I think you’re quoting Mike Hayden there — was in this morning to give me his weekly briefing, and I asked him about that newspaper article from which you quote. His answer was — his comments to the Iraq Study Group were a little more nuanced than the quotation you read.

Oh, now we understand. It’s a “nuance” thing.