AP via Yahoo: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton hit back Friday at a Pentagon aide who charged that her questions about Iraq withdrawal planning have the effect of helping the enemy - calling the accusation a spurious dodge of a serious issue.
Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner for president, had asked the Pentagon to detail how it is planning for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq. She first raised the issue in May, pointing out that whenever troops leave, it will be no simple task to transport the people, equipment, and vehicles out of Iraq, possibly through hostile territory.
Eric Edelman, the Defense Department's undersecretary for policy, offered a sharply-worded response, saying such discussions boost the enemy.
"Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. 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," Edelman wrote. His tough language in a letter obtained Thursday was surprising in part because it came in correspondence with a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which has oversight of the Pentagon.
Clinton responded Friday in a letter to Edelman's boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, asking if he agreed with Edelman's charge.
Copy of Clinton's letter to Gates below the fold.
From an email:
July 19, 2007
The Honorable Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
The United States Department of Defense
Washington, D.C. 20301
Dear Mr. Secretary:
On May 22, 2007, I wrote to you to request that you provide the appropriate oversight committees in Congress - including the Senate Armed Services Committee - with briefings on what current contingency plans exist for the future withdrawal of United States forces from Iraq. Alternatively, if no such plans exist, I asked for an explanation for the decision not to engage in such planning.
I am in receipt of a letter from Eric Edelman, the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy who wrote that he was responding on your behalf. Under Secretary Edelman's response did not address the issues raised in my letter and instead made spurious arguments to avoid addressing contingency planning for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
As I noted in my original letter, "the seeds of many problems that continue to plague our troops and mission in Iraq were planted in the failure to adequately plan for the conflict and properly equip our men and women in uniform. Congress must be sure that we are prepared to withdraw our forces without any unnecessary danger."
Rather than offer to brief the congressional oversight committees on this critical issue, Under Secretary Edelman - writing on your behalf - instead claims that congressional oversight emboldens our enemies. Under Secretary Edelman has his priorities backward. Open and honest debate and congressional oversight strengthens our nation and supports our military. His suggestion to the contrary is outrageous and dangerous. Indeed, you acknowledged the importance of Congress in our Iraq policy at a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee in March, when you stated, "I believe that the debate here on the Hill and the issues that have been raised have been helpful in bringing pressure to bear on the Maliki government and on the Iraqis in knowing that there is a very real limit to American patience in this entire enterprise."
Redeploying out of Iraq will be difficult and requires careful planning. I continue to call on the Bush Administration to immediately provide a redeployment strategy that will keep our brave men and women safe as they leave Iraq - instead of adhering to a political strategy to attack those who rightfully question their competence and preparedness after years of mistakes and misjudgments.
Other members of this Administration have not engaged in political attacks when the prospect of withdrawal planning has been raised. At the June 7 Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, I asked General Lute "what level of planning has taken place" and "whether the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs have been briefed about the level of planning." I also asked General Lute to determine "what kind of timeline would exist if a decision for either military or political reasons were taken to begin withdrawal" and if he considered this kind of planning to be part of his responsibilities.
General Lute replied, "Thank you Senator. I do think such an adaptation, if the conditions on the ground call for it, will be part of this position."
I renew my request for a briefing, classified if necessary, on current plans for the future withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq or an explanation for the decision not to engage in such planning. I also renew my concern that our troops will be placed in unnecessary danger if the Bush Administration fails to plan for the withdrawal of U.S. Forces. Finally, I request that you describe whether Under Secretary Edelman's letter accurately characterizes your views as Secretary of Defense.
I would appreciate the courtesy of a prompt response directly from you. Thank you for your consideration.
Hillary Rodham Clinton