Clinton’s Letter to the Pentagon…


It being summer and all, we realize that a lot of people are basically phoning it in at work, but when it comes to the press, doing half a job can be worse than not doing anything at all. Take the furor that has arisen in the blogosphere and the mainstream media over Defense Undersecretary Eric Edelman’s pathetic response to Senator Hillary Clinton’s request for information about whether the Pentagon has drawn up withdrawal plans for Iraq. In his letter to her, he wrote that her question about the existence of any withdrawal plan “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…such talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risks.”

The Pentagon draws up contingency plans for just about any situation that might arise, and given the fact that at some point—be it six months or six years—the American military will pull at least some troops out of Iraq, one would hope that someone over at Hell’s Bottom has thought through the logistics. But staring such logistical realities in the face is apparently verboten in the Bush administration, much like putting together plans for what might happen when the shooting stopped after the invasion in 2003.

While the story seems to be getting more play in the blogosphere than anywhere else, several mainstream outlets joined in grossly misreporting what Clinton said in her May 23 letter to the Pentagon, falsely accusing her of demanding that the Pentagon draw up plans for withdrawal.

The New York Post, for example, reports that Clinton is “demanding the U.S. military whip up plans for withdrawal from Iraq,” while the Associated Press maintains that Clinton “urged the Pentagon to start planning now for the withdrawal of American forces.” ABC News’ Jake Tapper also has a piece up on the network’s Web site headlined “Clinton Demands Pentagon Plan for Withdrawal.” Over at the New York Times’s “The Caucus” blog, Kate Phillips says that “The letter from Defense Undersecretary Eric Edelman was in response to Senator Clinton’s request in May for the Defense Department to draw up proposals to get the troops out of the battlefields.”

Only problem is none of this is true. In fact, it’s not even close to what Clinton said in her letter, which makes me wonder if any of the reporters actually bothered to read the letter in question.

Just for fun, let’s see what Clinton really said.

I write 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 U.S. forces from Iraq. Alternatively, if no such plans exist, please provide an explanation for the decision not to engage in such planning….

In light of growing violence and insecurity in Iraq, the continued lack of political progress by Prime Minister al-Maliki, the Iraqi Defense Ministry’s level of contingency planning, and the will of the American Congress to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, it is imperative that the Department of Defense prepare plans for the phased redeployment of U.S. forces. As you well know, any military operation requires contingency planning so that the military and our troops are prepared if the current plan is unsuccessful. It would be irresponsible not to engage in similar planning in Iraq.

There you have it. A “case for,” absolutely. A “request to see,” indeed. But if you see any “demands” in there, please let me know. Or better yet, e-mail the reporters who are getting the story wrong, and gently urge them to read the letter they’re writing about. Really, it’s not that long—they might actually learn something.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.