Gates Steps In to Defuse Clinton-Pentagon Dispute

By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 21, 2007

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates sought to defuse a row between a top Pentagon aide and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday over her request for details of plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

In May, the New York Democrat sought information about the Pentagon's plans for pulling troops out of the war zone. In response to her inquiry, Undersecretary Eric S. Edelman dispatched a letter accusing her of reinforcing "enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies" by discussing a timetable, an answer that Clinton deplored yesterday as "an unacceptable and outrageous political attack."

Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, capitalized on the contretemps all day, announcing that she will introduce legislation with Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) that would require the military to plan for a troop withdrawal from Iraq and issuing a letter to Gates demanding further answers about the military's exit strategy. Though Clinton voted for the war and has never apologized for her vote, she has sharpened her criticism of its execution while playing catch-up on the issue with Democratic rivals, particularly Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), who opposed the invasion from the start.

In a statement, Gates said that he had not seen Clinton's original letter, but he added that he welcomes congressional involvement.

"I have long been a staunch advocate of Congressional oversight, first at the CIA and now at the Defense Department," Gates said. "I have said on several occasions in recent months that I believe that Congressional debate on Iraq has been constructive and appropriate. I had not seen Senator Clinton's reply to Ambassador Edelman's letter until today. I am looking into the issues she raised and will respond to them early next week."

"Redeploying out of Iraq will be difficult and requires careful planning," Clinton said. "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."


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