A July 21 New York Post editorial and a July 23 Washington Times editorial criticized Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) for, respectively, taking actions that "undermin[e] their [the U.S. troops'] mission" and "advertising U.S. willingness to abandon another ally" because of her request that the Pentagon brief Congress on "what current contingency plans exist for the future withdrawal of United States forces from Iraq." The editorials echoed a letter responding to Clinton's request sent by Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman, asserting that "[p]remature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda."
At a July 19 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Lugar said:
The future of that policy increasingly appears to depend on the Administration's report due in September. Regardless of what that report says, however, we must begin now to prepare for what comes next. It is likely that there will be changes in military missions and force levels as the year proceeds. If U.S. military leaders, diplomats, and, indeed, the 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. We need to lay the groundwork for alternatives, so that when the President and Congress move to a new plan, it can be implemented safely and rapidly.
We know the task of initiating even a partial military redeployment from Iraq will be an extremely complicated and dangerous undertaking. I am hopeful that [U.S.] Ambassador [to Iraq Ryan] Crocker will shed light not just on prevailing conditions in Iraq, but also on what is being done to prepare for a post-surge strategy. I appreciate the time he is making for us, and I look forward to our discussion.
Senator [John] Warner [R-VA] and I have tried to approach the current situation by asking "what should happen now, even if the President does not change course." As such, our amendment is not an attempt to bring final resolution to the disagreement between advocates of the surge and advocates of withdrawal. Rather, we are attempting to ensure that U.S. military and diplomatic policy is prepared for change when the Petraeus report arrives in September. We are hopeful that regardless of where Senators stand on surge versus withdrawal, they will find our amendment to be a constructive bipartisan attempt to prepare for whatever policy follows in the coming months.
With this goal in mind, our amendment mandates that the Administration immediately initiate planning for post-September contingencies, including a drawdown or re-deployment of forces. It requires those plans to be presented to Congress by October 16 of this year, and it states that the plans should be designed to be executable beginning not later than December 31. The surge must not be an excuse for failing to prepare for the next phase of our involvement in Iraq, whether that is withdrawal, redeployment, or some other option. We saw in 2003 after the initial invasion of Iraq, the disastrous results of failing to plan adequately for contingencies.
Nor did the editorials note that, in response to Edelman's reaction, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said on July 20: "I have long been a staunch advocate of Congressional oversight, first at the CIA and now at the Defense Department. ... I have said on several occasions in recent months that I believe that Congressional debate on Iraq has been constructive and appropriate." Despite Gates' statement, the Post editorial asserted that "it's hard to see why Gates would take issue with" Edelman's criticism of Clinton's request.
Clinton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote a May 22 letter to Gates requesting that the Pentagon provide such briefings to "the appropriate oversight committees in Congress -- including the Senate Armed Services Committee." On July 16, Clinton received a response from Edelman -- a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney -- that said: "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." Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines called Edelman's accusation "at once outrageous and dangerous," and in a second letter to Gates, Clinton renewed her "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." Additionally, Clinton and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) announced they would introduce legislation to "require a report and briefing from the Pentagon to Congress on contingency planning for withdrawal from Iraq."
From the July 21 New York Post editorial headlined "Comforting the Enemy":
Don't be misled by the outraged tone of Sen. Hillary Clinton's response to a top Pentagon aide who accused her of "reinforcing enemy propaganda" on Iraq. The Democratic presidential front-runner was handed a political opportunity - and is milking it for all it's worth.
The fact is, Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman was on the mark in his attack. Asked by Clinton about plans for withdrawing troops from Iraq, he wrote in reply:
"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."
It's difficult to argue with that - especially the part about "public discussion."
Indeed, as Edelman noted, "It is longstanding departmental policy that operational plans, including contingency plans, are not released outside of the department." (And with good reason - given the likelihood that such plans would quickly find their way to the front page of The New York Times.)
Contingency plans exist, he noted, but publicly talking about them "understandably unnerves the very Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risks." Moreover, "fear of a precipitate U.S. withdrawal also exacerbates sectarian trends in Iraqi politics as factions become more concerned with achieving short-term tactical advantages rather than reaching long-term agreements."
Clinton responded with a public display of mock outrage, insisting Defense Secretary Robert Gates declare whether he agrees with Edelman's letter. Taken as a whole, it's hard to see why Gates would take issue with it.
The focus in Washington should be on helping the troops - not on undermining their mission. President Bush made that clear yesterday when he called on Congress to "rise above partisanship, stand behind our troops . . . and give them everything they need to succeed" by passing the defense funding bill before summer recess.
"Failure in Iraq would send an unmistakable signal to America's enemies that our country can be bullied into retreat," he rightly noted. "America's involvement in Iraq does not have to end this way."
Words Clinton & Co. should heed.
From the July 23 Washington Times editorial headlined "The genocide-ocrats?":
Although the Senate's refusal on Wednesday to permit the Democratic leadership to attach a surrender timeline to the defense authorization is welcome news, congressional Democrats remain convinced that opposing the war is a politically popular position, and they plan to milk defeatism for all it's worth. That's why Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Kerry decided to pick a fight with the Bush administration over a senior Pentagon official's commonsense warning that "premature and public discussion" about withdrawing from Iraq would raise fears that Washington will abandon that country and would exacerbate sectarian tensions there.
The failure of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's latest attempt to damage the war effort gives our soldiers and diplomats in essence a two-month reprieve until Gen. David Petraeus delivers his much-awaited report on the situation. But we shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking that things will change dramatically one way or the other in the next few months: While passage of an oil-revenue-allocation compromise law by the Iraqi Parliament would be a most welcome development, it will do little to affect the military situation in the short run. To defeat al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations operating in Iraq will require a counterinsurgency campaign lasting years into the future. The fact is that the United States has a national security interest in defeating the Islamist terror organizations based in Iraq and it will continue to exist irrespective of what the Iraqi government is doing to fine-tune de-Ba'athification policies, share oil revenues or promote national reconciliation -- desirable as all of these things are.
One of the more heartening developments has been the willingness of persons not associated with the Bush administration or the Republican Party to speak candidly about the disastrous humanitarian consequences of prematurely withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. Last week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged American policy-makers to exercise "great caution" in considering any rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces. "It is not my place to inject myself into this discussion talking place between the American people, government and Congress," Mr. Ban said. "But I'd like to tell you that a great caution should be taken for the sake of the Iraqi people...Any abrupt withdrawal or decision may lead to a further deterioration."
Here's what Joost Hilterman, an analyst with the liberal-leaning International Crisis Group, said about the same subject: "I hated the Iraq war, [but] a hasty withdrawal would be dangerous for Iraq, for the region and for U.S. interests." After Sen. John McCain warned a few months ago that a U.S. pullout from Iraq would lead to genocide, Newsweek correspondents Christopher Dickey and John Barry wrote: "He could well be right. In the Middle East, aid workers, regional leaders, Iraqi officials and ordinary civilians agree that if Americans leave quickly, Iraq's disastrous condition could be made much worse. They warn of a massive flood of refugees heading for the borders, of massacres as Sunnis and Shi'ites cross paths, of a proxy war funded by Iran and Saudi Arabia within Iraq itself."
Yet Mrs. Clinton is apparently so invested in defeat that she has been trying to browbeat the Defense Department into publicly discussing contingency plans for withdrawing from Iraq. After she sent a letter on the subject to DoD, Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman responded by warning bluntly that premature discussion of withdrawal "reinforces enemy propaganda" that the United States will abandon our allies in Iraq -- as we previously did in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Kerry responded by introducing legislation requiring a Pentagon briefing on an Iraq pullout -- in other words advertising U.S. willingness to abandon another ally. For the record, here's the way Osama bin Laden characterized Mrs. Clinton's husband's ignominious withdrawal from Somalia in an October 2001 interview with CNN: "America exited dragging its tails in failure, defeat, and ruin, caring for nothing. America left faster than anyone expected." Now, Mrs. Clinton is apparently hoping to stage a repeat performance in Iraq.