Best Defense

How much did Ambassador Chris Hill lie to the Washington Post? A lot, I think

Best of Best Defense: Number 20 in our list of the most viewed posts of 2015. This post ran originally on March 31.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks to Gen. Ray Odierno (C) and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill (L) at the American Embassy in Baghdad, on July 3, 2010. AFP PHOTO / ALI AL-SAADI (Photo credit should read ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks to Gen. Ray Odierno (C) and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill (L) at the American Embassy in Baghdad, on July 3, 2010. AFP PHOTO / ALI AL-SAADI (Photo credit should read ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Best of Best Defense: Number 20 in our list of the most viewed posts of 2015. This post ran originally on March 31.

In Emma Sky’s new book, I was interested to see a passage that relates to something I reported here in the Best Defense many years ago.

In September 2009 I wrote that relations between Gen. Raymond Odierno and the American ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, were chilly and deteriorating. Hill flatly denied it, telling the Washington Post ’s Al Kamen that “the idea of bad relations between him and Odierno is ‘truly nonsense and 180 degrees off,’ and that ‘there is not a shred of truth to this.’” He went on to assert that he hung out with Odierno socially, smoking cigars and talking college football. In other words: What could Tom Ricks have been thinking?

Now Sky reports in her book that relations between Odierno and Hill were so bad that Odierno met with Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, to discuss the problem. “General O complained [to her] that Hill did not engage with with Iraqis, or with others in the diplomatic community — his only focus appeared to be monitoring the activities of the U.S. military. It was frightening how a person could so poison a place.” (My italics.)

But wait, there’s more! The following year, when Odierno argued against backing Maliki to lead Iraq, Hill slapped him down. Sky quotes a “visibly upset” Odierno as saying that Hill “told me that Iraq is not ready for democracy, that Iraq needs a Shia strongman. And Maliki is our man.”

When Hill was replaced by Jim Jeffrey as ambassador, Sky adds, “Overnight the atmosphere improved and the feuding between the military and the embassy ceased. But it was too late. The damage had been done. By coming out in support of Maliki, the U.S. had lost its ability to broker an agreement among Iraq’s leaders.”

My conclusion: Amb. Hill appears to have been lying through his lying teeth when he told the Post that all was well between him and Odierno.

My questions: How much of the blame for the current situation in Iraq derived from this horrible relationship between Hill and Odierno, which paralleled the relationship a few years earlier between Paul Bremer and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez? And just how sloppy can our government be in these adventures?

Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images

 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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