Saturday, July 21, 2007

A test for Gates, revisited

By Creature

On Thursday we learned that former Cheney aide, and always neocon, Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman called the junior Senator from New York, Hillary Clinton, a traitor because she had the gall to question the Pentagon about contingency withdrawal plans with respect to Iraq. On Friday the Senator responded to the treason charge by writing to Edelman's boss, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, asking if he agreed with the "outrageous and dangerous" statement made by his underling.

In my post about this Pentagon vs. Hillary battle from Thursday--a battle which benefits Hillary and her presidential aspirations immensely--I questioned on which side of the conservative/neoconservative fence Robert Gates would come down on.

Will Robert Gates stand up to the vice president? Will daddy Bush's boy stand up to baby Bush's boy? Will old-school conservatism stand up to neo-conservatism? The outcome here will shed much light on who holds sway in today's White House.

By late Friday, we had our answer. Well, sort of.

In a written statement, posted by Greg Sargent on TMP's Election Central, Robert Gates had this to say:

"I have long been a staunch advocate of Congressional oversight, first at the CIA and now at the Defense Department. 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."

Sargent, I think correctly, characterizes this statement as Gates "distancing himself in a big way from Edelman."

However, almost simultaneously with Sargent's post, David Shuster, reporting for Hardball, breaks through the usual talking-head chatter with a statement from a spokesperson for Robert Gates that says the Secretary of Defense "was almost certainly aware and had read Edelman's letter to Mrs. Clinton before it was delivered."

Shuster also acknowledges the Gates statement quoted above, but it is clear from the spokeperson's statement that Gates had, as Shuster puts it, "signed-off on" the Edelman letter before it was issued.

It seems Robert Gates is trying to have it both ways. On the one hand he believes that "congressional debate on Iraq has been constructive and appropriate." And on the other, quoting from the Edelman letter, he believes that a "premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda..."

Which will it be, Mr. Secretary of Defense, are you with the Constitution and the checks and balances, not to mention free speech, it embraces, or are you with the vice president?

The country, and our democracy, waits for your decision.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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