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Edelman’s Edict

Eric Edelman is back in the news, tussling with Hillary Clinton and the Senate Armed Services Committee on which she sits. The Undersecretary of Defense responded to a letter from Clinton to his boss, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, which asked the following:

“Given the express will of the Congress to implement a phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq and the importance of proper contingency planning to achieve that goal, 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.”

Edelman replied, to the Senate committee that in theory oversees the Pentagon as a body representative of the American people, with the following contemptuous declaration:

“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. [S]uch talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risks.”

In other words: No, I’m not giving you that information. And your very request for it helps the Enemy.

Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines called Edelman’s claim “outrageous and dangerous.” The senator responded Friday with a letter to Gates, asking if he agreed with the charge. It is possible that he does not; Gates indeed stated last April that debate in Congress over a timetable for U.S. withdrawal “probably has had a positive impact — at least I hope it has in terms of communicating to the Iraqis that this is not an open-ended commitment.” Gates is not a neocon ideologue.

Edelman on the other hand was on Dick Cheney’s staff, that headquarters of darkness, working under “Scooter” Libby between February 2001 to June 2003. He was Principal Deputy Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs. In an interesting shakeup of the traditional Department of Defense structure in the fall of 2005, he was inserted into the command structure in the number four spot. Earlier there had been a civilian Secretary of Defense, followed by a Deputy Secretary of Defense, and then an active-service officer in the third spot. But Cheney quietly inserted right under the Deputy Secretary of Defense his minions Stephen Cambone, Eric Edelman and Kenneth Krieg. (Cambone had been a member of the Office of Special Plans formed in 2002 to build the case for war on Iraq, formed by Paul Wolfowitz, headed by William Luti and answering to Douglas Feith. One army general told the Army Times, “”If I had one round left in my revolver, I would take out Stephen Cambone.” There’s no love lost between these chickenhawk neocons and the military establishment.) The point was apparently to add layers of neocon authority between the top brass (which is unenthusiastic about more war) and Donald Rumsfeld, then still Secretary of Defense and key Cheney ally.

The bureaucratic change elevated the post of Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, which had earlier been held by Feith. (You remember, he’s the guy Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, once called “the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth.” I repeat: There’s no love lost between these chickenhawk neocons and the military establishment.) Edelman acquired and continues to hold that crucial post.

In the interim, between working in Cheney’s office and moving to the Defense Department, Edelman spent two years as the U.S. ambassador to Turkey. Appointed soon after the U.S. invasion of Iraq (which the Turkish parliament had opposed, rejecting U.S. demands for cooperation in that crime), Edelman alienated the Turkish public and press. “Edelman is probably the least-liked and trusted American ambassador in Turkish history,” wrote one Turkish columnist. “Considering the range of his activities, his statements which violate the decorum of democracy, and his interest in Turkey’s internal affairs, Eric Edelman acts more like a colonial governor than an ambassador. . . . If we want to address the reasons for anti-Americanism, Edelman must be issue one. As long as Edelman stays in Turkey, the chill wind disturbing bilateral relations will last.”

This is the Pentagon official who undiplomatically tells Hillary she’s helping the enemy by inquiring about contingency plans for a withdrawal from Iraq. You’d think such plans must exist, contingent upon a range of scenarios. What if, following the planned bombing of Iran, the military concludes and suggests to civilian officials that it should urgently withdraw from Iraq because of the sudden intensification of hatred for the U.S. presence in the Shiite south, the collapse of any political support for the occupation and the utter unfeasibility of maintaining it? Certainly fine minds in the Pentagon are thinking about this, losing sleep about it. Surely officers are writing up papers on the issue. A senator on the Armed Services Committee with some small sense of responsibility or even intellectual curiosity is entitled to ask about these contingency plans. Edelman’s disparaging response to the inquiry is an extraordinary expression of chickenhawk arrogance.

“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,” he says. So the U.S. should have stayed in Vietnam, fighting “enemies”? Ronald Reagan ought to have kept U.S. forces in Lebanon after the disastrous intervention in the civil war in 1983? Clinton should have kept U.S. forces in Somalia after the arrogant effort to shape the country’s future provoked the “Black Hawk Down” incident in 1993?

But so typical of those in Cheney’s neocon inner circle. We fight evil, they tell the legislative branch, although almost to a man they avoided military service. It’s not your business how we do it! they say. We don’t have to tell you what we’re doing, what we’re thinking, what our plans are. Because we’re defending you from terror, and if you question us, if you bother us, you’re aiding the enemy!

“Outrageous and dangerous,” says Hillary. Well, I hope Edelman has gotten her dander up. The outrage needs to grow. It’s already there at the base, where the people are crying out for impeachment. There must be more before the timid fence-sitting opportunists in the political class, maybe with some support from the military leadership, help drive this regime from power. If not, I fear, the neocons will get their way, Iran will fall victim to U.S. terror and “public discussion” become far more difficult.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu