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Context of 'July 31-August 1, 2007: Cheney Suggests Clinton Asked for Operational Plans for Iraqi Withdrawal'

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Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) says he is “gravely concerned” to learn that President Bush “received a warning in August about the threat of hijackers,” referring to a CBS News report revealing that Bush had been warned about a possible hijacking over a month before the 9/11 attacks (see August 6, 2001). Daschle calls on the White House to provide the classified briefing to Congressional investigators. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) says, using the language of Watergate investigators, “I think what we have to do now is find out what the president, what the White House knew about the events leading up to 9/11, when they knew it, and, most importantly, what was done about it at the time.” White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write that, as objectionable as the White House finds these statements, “the Democrat who most aroused the ire of the White House and Republicans was New York’s Democratic senator, Hillary Clinton.” Clinton takes the floor of the Senate and says, “We learn today something we might have learned at least eight months ago: that President Bush had been informed last year, before September 11, of a possible al-Qaeda plot to hijack a US airliner.” She displays a New York Post headline that reads, “BUSH KNEW” (see May 15, 2002) and “9/11 BOMBSHELL.” “The president knew what?” Clinton asks. McClellan will write that he and his White House colleagues are “incensed” at Clinton’s rhetoric: “To us, such grandstanding appeared to be a return to the ugly partisan warfare that had come to define Washington and its culture during the 1990s. Politics as war, the innuendo of scandal, and the egregious implication that the president had deliberately neglected the country’s safety—it was all in service of the November election results. All the familiar elements were there. The story and the partisan accusations that followed provided great controversy for the media to cover.” (In this passage, McClellan fails to note that White House political guru Karl Rove had, months before, advised Bush and Republican candidates to use the war to attack Democrats in the November 2002 elections—see January 2002). McClellan will complain that Clinton “had not even bothered to call [the White House] to find out more about the facts behind the headlines before delivering her speech,” and will note: “To us, the disingenuous way the leaders rushed to create a damning story line about the president and his administration crossed a line. Republicans objected vehemently and aggressively in a counteroffensive led by the White House,” with Vice President Dick Cheney calling the Democrats’ questions “incendiary” (see May 16, 2002) and Bush declaring, “Had we any inkling, whatsoever, that terrorists were about to attack our country, we would have moved heaven and earth to protect America.” Bush adds: “And I’m confident that President Clinton would have done the same thing (see September 7, 2003). Any president would have.” McClellan will call Bush’s statement “a gesture toward the rapidly vanishing spirit of bipartisanship.” He will write that Democrats did not, by themselves, break the bipartisanship that had supposedly reigned before CBS broke the news of the August 6 briefing: “Democrats were responding in part to perceived efforts by Republicans seeking political advantage from the president’s aggressive efforts to wage war against Islamist terrorists,” and will note that in 1998, Republicans accused President Clinton of “wagging the dog”—launching military strikes against Iraq to distract the nation from the Monica Lewinsky scandal (see December 16-19, 1998). [McClellan, 2008, pp. 117-118]

Entity Tags: Hillary Clinton, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Tom Daschle, Scott McClellan, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Gephardt, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Eric Edelman.Eric Edelman. [Source: BBC]Seven weeks after Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates calling for Congressional briefings on Pentagon plans to withdraw troops from Iraq or explanations as to why those plans do not exist (see May 23, 2007), Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman responds to Clinton in a letter of his own. After giving a brief overview of the current military and political situation in Iraq, Edelman says: “Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of US 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.” [US Department of Defense, 7/16/2007 pdf file] Some observers are surprised by Edelman’s language as Clinton is not only a senator, but a member of the Armed Services Committee. The New York Times’s Kate Phillips terms the letter “a stunning rocket.” [New York Times, 7/19/2007] The letter also directly contradicts Gates, who said earlier that the Senate debate on withdrawing from Iraq was “helpful in bringing pressure” on the Iraqi government to work towards peace and unity (see March 30, 2007).
'Impugning the Patriotism of Any of Us Who Raise Questions' - Clinton fires back four days later, accusing Edelman of dodging her questions. Instead, she says, Edelman “made spurious arguments to avoid addressing contingency planning.… Undersecretary Edelman has his priorities backward.” [USA Today, 7/20/2007] Edelman, Clinton says, is “impugning the patriotism of any of us who raise serious questions.” [Army Times, 8/6/2007] Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines says, “We sent a serious letter to the secretary of defense, and unacceptably got a political response back.” Clinton again asks for a briefing on end-of-war planning, classified if necessary. Edelman does imply that the Pentagon is formulating such plans in his letter, but says that the Pentagon will not divulge any such planned operations. [USA Today, 7/20/2007]
Democrats Defend Clinton - Fellow Democratic senator John Kerry joins in criticizing Edelman’s response. “This administration reminds us every day that they will say anything, do anything, and twist any truth to avoid accountability,” Kerry says in a statement. [US Senate, 7/19/2007] Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, calls Edelman “one of the more ideological holdovers” in the Defense Department from President Bush’s first term in office. Edelman, who replaced Douglas Feith in the Pentagon, is a former national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. [Think Progress, 7/22/2007]
Conservatives Weigh In - On the other side, conservative blogger and Fox News pundit Michelle Malkin asks rhetorically, “Wasn’t this a case of Hillary putting on her little imaginary four stars on her sleeve and playing armchair general?” [Media Matters, 7/23/2007] But an Army Times writer, Air Force veteran Robert Dorr, calls Edelman’s letter “disrespectful” and writes: “No matter what you think of the war or of Clinton, Edelman’s response was unusually harsh. Senators hold their jobs because people voted for them. Appointees such as Edelman, who weren’t elected by anyone (and in the case of Edelman, received a recess appointment and wasn’t confirmed by the Senate), should be responsive to lawmakers’ concerns.” [Army Times, 8/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Eric Edelman, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Douglas Feith, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Kate Phillips, Robert M. Gates, Philippe Reines, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Michelle Malkin, Robert Dorr

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Vice President Dick Cheney reignites the controversy over a request by Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) that the Pentagon begin planning for withdrawal from Iraq (see May 23, 2007). On July 16, Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman sent Clinton a response that accused her of reinforcing “enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies” (see July 16-20, 2007). Edelman contradicted the stance of his boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who recently said that Congressional debates on withdrawal were useful and positive (see March 30, 2007). But on July 31, Cheney tells CNN talk show host Larry King that Edelman, his former foreign policy adviser, had written Clinton a “good letter.” Cheney implies that Clinton had asked for operational plans from the Pentagon, a suggestion that Clinton dismisses in a letter to Cheney. “Your comments, agreeing with Under Secretary Edelman, not Secretary Gates, have left me wondering about the true position of the administration,” Clinton writes, adding she will write to President George Bush to ask he “set the record straight” about the administration’s position regarding Congressional oversight of the war. It is unclear whether Bush ever replies to Clinton’s letter. [Washington Post, 8/1/2007]

Entity Tags: Hillary Clinton, Eric Edelman, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert M. Gates, US Department of Defense, Larry King

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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