WASHINGTON — President Bush's new national security advisor has made a career out of being the perfect right-hand man to a series of powerful Washington conservatives.
Now the self-effacing Stephen J. Hadley, often described as one of the nicest guys in Washington, is doing one of toughest jobs in the U.S. government.
Like John R. Bolton, Hadley is a Yale-trained lawyer known for his tremendous energy and hawkish credentials, and as a conservative loyalist with close ties to Vice President Dick Cheney. But unlike Bolton, whose nomination as U.N. ambassador prompted bitter opposition from officials who had worked with him inside the Bush administration, no one in Washington seems to have a nasty word to say about Hadley -- even off the record.
Some even ask: Is Hadley too nice?
The national security advisor's job -- which Hadley took in January, succeeding Condoleezza Rice -- is to make sure the president gets the best possible information, intelligence and analysis on which to base decisions and then ensure they are carried out. Previous national security advisors sometimes have had to bring feuding, turf-grabbing or end-running Cabinet officials into line.
As the administration grapples with the challenges posed by the Iraqi insurgency, tensions with Iran and North Korea, as well as a legacy of failed intelligence, the need for a national security advisor to make sure all views are heard is acute.
But administration critics worry that Hadley could be too deferential to his former bosses -- Rice, now secretary of State, and Cheney -- to keep them from dominating all decision-making.
Hadley, 58, is one of the eight "Vulcans," the self-named team of conservatives, including Cheney and Rice, who advised Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign and have influenced U.S. foreign policy since. Hadley's ties with administration hawks date to 1972, when he arrived in Washington as a young naval officer and worked in the Pentagon with Paul D. Wolfowitz, now director of the World Bank.
Is it possible for a person to hold key positions in Washington's toughest bureaucracies for 33 years and have no enemies?
"It's true. I don't believe he's made an enemy," said Leslie H. Gelb, a former State Department and Defense Department official and president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Gelb, who has worked under Democrats and Republicans, has known Hadley since the mid-1970s and said that he had never heard him raise his voice, even in the heat of Cold War arguments.
"He's intellectually forceful without being rhetorically forceful," Gelb said. After listening to what others have to say, Hadley returns to his points, Gelb added. "He's a guy who conveys flexibility without being flexible."
Former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft, for whom Hadley worked in the George H.W. Bush administration, said: "Steve Hadley is one of the world's nicest guys." Scowcroft, who has sometimes been critical of the current president's foreign policy, describes Hadley as smart, a gentleman, "a devotee of the vice president" and "integrity personified."
Mitchell B. Reiss, the former State Department director of policy planning, says Hadley is "a very, very decent guy. Not that he tries to please everyone. Steve has very firm convictions, but he expresses them in a way that doesn't insult those who disagree with him."
Two of Hadley's aides said they had never seen him lose his temper -- or even raise his voice.
"I do not know anybody who does not like Steve Hadley," said Nixon Center President Dmitri K. Simes, a Republican who has been highly critical of the Bush administration's neoconservative policies. "He's very competent. He has his own opinions, but he always was prepared to be fair to the opinions of others."
W. Clark McFadden II said his friend and former tennis partner -- Hadley's tennis game became a casualty of his job -- was so nice that "you tend to go out of your way not to impose on him. People recognize what a load he's carrying, and refrain."
Inside and outside the White House, Hadley has made a point of keeping a low profile.
Until recently, some White House staffers did not even know who he was. Neither did the security team at the tiny airport in Waco, Texas, which last year made Hadley, then deputy national security advisor, take off his shoes for inspection before allowing him to board the plane for the commercial flight home from Bush's ranch.
Hadley is described as deeply religious but in a quiet way.
A few years ago, Hadley became friends with Amy Dickinson -- who now has a syndicated advice column, "Ask Amy" -- when they were both in confirmation classes at the Episcopal church he attended in Washington's Georgetown neighborhood. In contrast to some other Washington power players who were also active in the church, Dickinson said, she had no idea how important Hadley was until she read about his appointment in the newspaper.