Sorry, Michael Bloomberg fans: Hillary Clinton is actually running for President, and is the subject of a couple of interesting stories this week…
So, a first ever double gutbuster clipjoint!
First, the always wonderful William Arkin of the Washington Post. As I’ve previously noted, my son the former Navy lieutenant frequently calls my attention to his blog on military affairs, Early Warning.
William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security
Hillary Clinton and the Terrorists
Fred Hiatt’s column in today’s Post helps explain why Sen. Hillary Clinton will probably be the next president of the United States.
If Hiatt is right — and I think he is — Sen. Clinton believes that “winning” in Iraq, or at least succeeding in the U.S. goal of achieving a basic level of governance and stability, is in the national interest. And that goal may demand keeping U.S. forces in Iraq for the foreseeable future.
It is pretty clear that what Clinton has in mind isn’t the Bush administration’s war. She doesn’t close the door on the withdrawal of most combat troops. But she is nuanced and careful and seems to realize that public opinion is not always the best guide to policy, which is why she would probably make a good president.
The interesting question is whether it will make any difference for the United States in the long term if the Iraq enterprise fails. I think the answer is no.
Hiatt highlights the difference between the message Clinton wants to convey to potential voters and her actual view regarding Iraq. Clinton is against the war, and surely against the Bush administration’s war. But as Hiatt writes of a recent speech she gave in Iowa on Iraq: “Toward the end, Clinton noted that it would be ‘a great worry for our country’ if Iraq ‘becomes a breeding ground for exporting terrorists, as it appears it already is.'”
Hiatt goes on to point out that Clinton supports keeping special operations forces in Iraq for “narrow and targeted operations,” and that she supports a continued U.S. military and economic commitment to train Iraqi forces and keep the country afloat. This is the so called Baker-Hamilton “consensus” from the Iraq Study Group. Hiatt then goes on to question the consistency of Clinton’s view, arguing that military counterterrorism efforts in Pakistan, Gaza and Lebanon have been unsuccessful.
I suppose Sen. Clinton would argue that all the instruments of national policy are needed to make an effective counterterrorism strategy. She could also argue, as she’ll undoubtedly have to do a lot more of after September’s report demands more U.S. commitment, that all she is saying is that we not close the door because the stakes are so large.
It is all predicated on the Bush administration’s 9/11 view of terrorism: that terrorists were able to flourish because they had a sanctuary in which to gather — Afghanistan. Thus Iraq must not become another “sanctuary” that allows terrorists to flourish and plot against the United States and the West.
But this view is simplistic. Terrorism gathers and flourishes not just because terrorists have a sanctuary but because those who take up arms are fueled by continued and seemingly unregulated U.S. military action in the region. Clinton probably can’t make this point; the blogosphere will bellow that she is a member of the “Blame America First” crowd and never let go.
I’m hoping, however, that somewhere in the back of her mind, she makes the connection that terrorism is not only about empty spaces but also about anger: anger toward those who have power and how they wield it. Maybe the American public may not be quite ready to hear this. But part of what a good president does is articulate a worldview, however unpopular, and then argue and cajole and persuade the public to go along with it.
A note regarding my Friday posting, “Listening to the Generals?”: So many readers have posted comments and sent e-mail asking about the bold statement in my piece about current general officers thinking “the war is lost” that further explanation is in order.
I wrote that “the brass is avoiding the president and the war in Iraq — and doing so in the passive-aggressive way that has come to characterize our current civilian-military relations.” This characterization of the Pentagon leadership’s passive aggressive ways goes back at least to Somalia in the first Bush administration and the introduction of “peacekeeping.” It was meant as a more nuanced explanation of their views on Iraq. Of course not many generals (read: Army and Marine Corps generals) actually serving in Iraq believe the war is lost. How could they and continue to command and fight? That’s why they should always be listened to, respectfully, but not be in charge.
By William M. Arkin | July 16, 2007; 7:10 AM ET
war stories: Military analysis.
The Pentagon Insults Hillary Clinton. Big mistake.
By Fred Kaplan
Posted Friday, July 20, 2007, at 6:05 PM ET
The extraordinary exchange of letters between Sen. Hillary Clinton and the undersecretary of defense for policy may turn out to be a signal event in the congressional debate over the Iraq war—and possibly in the 2008 presidential election.
The undersecretary’s letter to Clinton embodies the administration’s contempt for Congress, Democrats, anyone named Clinton, and—implicitly, in its tone—anyone who falls in these categories and is also a woman. It is the sort of letter that could arouse resentment among lots of senators, even Republicans—and among lots of female voters, especially those who are all too familiar with the condescension of powerful men.
For those of you who haven’t been following in the blogs, here’s the back story. On May 22, Clinton sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, requesting a briefing—for the relevant oversight committees, if not for her personally—about contingency plans for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq.
On July 16—eight weeks later—she 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.”
A couple basic facts need to be highlighted here.
First, Clinton’s original letter to Gates was not at all extraordinary. Members of key congressional committees—on armed services, intelligence, or the defense subcommittees of the budget and appropriations panels—make such requests all the time, and they are generally honored. (Clinton is a member of the Senate armed services committee.) In the range of sensitive material that officials routinely present to these committees, contingency planning for an Iraqi troop withdrawal is fairly low-grade.
Second, these contingency plans do exist. In February 2006, U.S. Army generals in Iraq started asking military archivists to dig up official records from the 1970s involving troop withdrawals from Vietnam. The generals were interested in procedures for disposing and transferring military property, the precise sequence of demobilization—the basic logistics of pulling out. The intention was explicit: They knew they would, at some point, be staging a withdrawal from Iraq. Once it began, it could spin out of control, so they needed an advance plan for an orderly exit. (I wrote about this request in an article for the Atlantic a year ago.)
Clinton was expressing the same concern as the generals. “Congress must be sure,” she wrote in her May letter to Gates, “that we are prepared to withdraw our forces without any unnecessary danger.” She mentioned nothing about withdrawing now or even soon: She asked only whether the military now has a blueprint for when the time to leave comes. There’s nothing heretical or traitorous about this line of inquiry, either. Even President Bush acknowledges that U.S. troops will leave Iraq at some point.
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. In her 2000 Senate campaign, a turning point came toward the end of the candidates’ debate in Buffalo, when her Republican opponent, Long Island Rep. Rick Lazio, charged her podium and pestered her to sign a pledge to take no soft money.
Maureen Dowd wrote (purchase required) for the next day’s New York Times about a woman in the audience who switched to Hillary at that moment because Lazio “suddenly conjured up the image of her husband, waving a credit card receipt in her face, yelling at her that she had overcharged, his eyes bulging, his veins popping, screaming at her to return everything to the store.”
Dowd may have slightly overdramatized, but the woman in Buffalo was not alone. Polls the following week showed a huge spike in support for Clinton among suburban women, who until the debate had been divided or slightly leaning toward Lazio.
Eric 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.
Who is this Edelman? He’s had a long career in the diplomatic corps, going back to the Reagan years and continuing through the presidencies of the first Bush and Clinton. He’s been ambassador to Turkey and Finland, deputy chief of mission to the Czech Republic, special assistant to secretaries of state. None of these posts has required him to deal much with pesky senators. Professionally cultivated indifference may have ratcheted upward to hostility during the first two and a half years of George W. Bush’s first term, when he served as Vice President Dick Cheney’s deputy assistant for national security. Like so much else poisonous about this administration, then, the clash can be traced back to Cheney.
It’s still many, many months to the primaries, and I still consider Hillary Clinton a long shot due to (pick one) her gender, husband, history, home state.
But she’s one smart senator (thank god this country seems to have a few).
Is Michael Bloomberg’s purported plan to swoop in at the last minute viable? On the one hand, all the usual suspects bleating all the usual slogans all of the time will undoubtedly cause voter fatigue, and a highly qualified fresh face might startle the electorate out of its likely boredom.
Meanwhile, though, Sen. Clinton is making cogent news every week (every day?); thinking people, especially women as indicated by Kaplan’s insights above, may already be making up their minds.
Think it over, Mike!
It’s it for now. Thanks,