WASHINGTON - The Pentagon told Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary
Rodham Clinton that her questions about how the US plans to eventually withdraw
from Iraq boosts enemy propaganda.
In a stinging rebuke to a member
of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman
responded to questions Clinton raised in May in which she urged the Pentagon to
start planning now for the withdrawal of American forces.
Democratic Presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton,
D-N.Y., speaks before a meeting of the National Association of Counties at
the Richmond convention Center in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, July 17, 2007.
A copy of Edelman's response, dated July 16, was obtained Thursday by The
"Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq
reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in
Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia,"
He added that "such talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies
we are asking to assume enormous personal risks."
Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines called Edelman's answer "at once outrageous
and dangerous," and said the senator would respond to his boss, Defense
Secretary Robert Gates.
Clinton has privately and publicly pushed Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman
Peter Pace two months ago to begin drafting the plans for what she said will be
a complicated withdrawal of troops, trucks and equipment.
"If we're not planning for it, it will be difficult to execute it in a safe
and efficacious way," she said then.
The strong wording of the response is unusual, particularly for a missive to
a member of the Senate committee with oversight of the Defense Department and
Clinton aides said the letter ignored important military matters and focuses
instead on political payback.
"Redeploying out of Iraq with the same combination of arrogance and
incompetence with which the Bush administration deployed our young men and women
into Iraq is completely unacceptable, and our troops deserve far better," said
Reines, who said military leaders should offer a withdrawal plan rather than "a
political plan to attack those who question them."
As she runs for president, the New York senator has ratcheted up her
criticism of the Bush administration's war effort, answering critics of her 2002
vote to authorize the Iraq invasion by saying she would end the war if elected
If she wins, Clinton may find herself overseeing such a withdrawal policy,
but she is hardly alone in raising the issue.
Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana warned Thursday at a hearing that if
US military leaders and Congress "are not prepared for these contingencies, they
may be executed poorly, especially in an atmosphere in which public demands for
troop withdrawals could compel action on a political timetable."
Edelman's letter does offer a passing indication the Pentagon might, in fact,
be planning how to withdraw, saying: "We are always evaluating and planning for
possible contingencies. As you know, it is long-standing departmental policy
that operational plans, including contingency plans, are not released outside of
Edelman is the Undersecretary of defense for policy. He is also a former US
ambassador and one-time aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. During the 2004
campaign, Cheney told Iowa voters that electing the Democratic ticket of John
Kerry and John Edwards would risk another terrorist attack.
Kerry jumped to Clinton's defense, deriding what he called smear tactics by
"They will say anything, do anything, and twist any truth to avoid
accountability," said the Massachusetts senator.