On July 16—eight weeks later—[Senator Clinton] received a reply from the undersecretary of defense for policy, Eric Edelman, saying that he was writing on behalf of Secretary Gates. After a page of boilerplate, Edelman got to the point:
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. … Such talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risk in order to achieve compromises of national reconciliation. …
I assure you, however, that as with other plans, 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 related outside of the department.
I appreciate your interest in our mission in Iraq, and would be happy to answer any further questions.
In effect, Edelman was telling her three things. First, you're practically a traitor for even asking these questions. Second, maybe we do have contingency plans for withdrawal, but we're not going to tell you about them. Third, run along now, little lady, I've got work to do.
Today, Clinton wrote a second letter to Gates, informing him that this underling Edelman—"writing on your behalf"—seems to believe "that congressional oversight emboldens our enemies." Calling his letter "outrageous and dangerous," Clinton wondered whether it "accurately characterizes your views as secretary of defense." She then renewed her request for the briefing, "classified if necessary," and added, as a kicker, "I would appreciate the courtesy of a prompt response directly from you." ...
As a discrete episode, this spat may soon fade away. Gates, who may well have no more than a dim awareness of Edelman's letter (or of Clinton's initial request), will probably eat the proverbial humble pie by sending over someone with a classified briefing—or maybe even delivering it himself.
But as a political symbol, the incident may have greater endurance. Senators put up with a lot of evasion and deceit from the executive branch, but one thing they will not tolerate is being explicitly left out of the loop. In his letter to Clinton, Edelman not only said she had no business in the loop, he all but accused of her treason for asking to be let in. If senators feel the slightest tug of solidarity (and they tend to, on matters of senatorial privilege), they may rally around their trampled colleague. The sense of insult may spill over into their feelings about the war in general and perhaps strengthen, if just slightly, the ranks of the opposed.
As for the broader electorate, women have famously mixed feelings about Hillary Clinton, but many of them tend to drop their caveats when they sense that her womanhood is under attack....Edelman wasn't yelling at Clinton, but he was patronizing her ("I appreciate your interest in our mission in Iraq. …"), shooing her away from serious men's business—and that may, in its own way, decisively rankle...
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Slate Magazine:By Fred Kaplan