Edelman ratchets up PR war

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Guess whom Eric Edelman – the undersecretary of defense who publicly attacked Sen. Hillary Clinton in response to her reasonable and responsible questions about how we would accomplish a withdrawal from Iraq – used to work for.

You’ve had 10 seconds. Here’s the clue. He’s Cheney’s man.

If you can’t win the real war, try the PR war. If Iraq can’t meet the goals we’ve set for political reform, if the greater terrorist threat is from Pakistan and not Iraq, if we’re no safer today than we were when this team took over, and if your top aide would be residing in a federal pen were it not for the fact that this president has the freedom that comes from nothing left to lose, why wouldn’t you try to change the subject by launching a broadside at the woman who may be the next president of the United States?

And quite a broadside it was. Hillary Clinton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee – the committee charged with oversight of the Department of Defense – raised the question, two months ago, of whether we were any better prepared for leaving Iraq than entering it. And she isn’t the only one who has raised that concern.

Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican widely respected on both sides for his knowledge on defense issues, raised the very same concern. At a recent hearing, he called for planning for the withdrawal of troops and equipment, noting that if military leaders and Congress “are not prepared for these contingencies, they may be executed poorly, especially in an atmosphere in which public demands for troop withdrawals could compel action on a political timetable.”

But Edelman didn’t accuse the senior Republican of giving comfort to the enemy. He wouldn’t dare play politics with someone who is, technically at least, a member of his own team. He reserved that for the woman Republicans fear most.

In his much-delayed and curiously timed response (it took him two months to come up with this?) to Sen. Clinton’s questions, he wrote: “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 risks.”

Reinforcing enemy propaganda? Unnerving the allies who say they don’t care if we stay or go, the representatives who take vacation rather than trying to work together, who have failed to meet every single benchmark for political change that we have too patiently set for them?

It isn’t “enemy propaganda” that we aren’t winning this war, have no strategy for doing so, and will continue to lose the lives of brave Americans and throw money down the toilet in the administration’s increasingly lonely effort to save face. It’s the judgment of respected military and diplomatic experts, and a majority of the Congress and the country – even if it isn’t a large enough one to stop a Republican Senate filibuster and force a vote.

Are we all the enemy in the Edelman-Cheney book? Is the lesson of Vietnam really that we should have stayed longer rather than leaving sooner? What planet does this man live on?

The answer, of course, is that he lives on the same planet as Dick Cheney, who continues to claim Iraqi connections to 9/11 that have been proved false by everyone, who continues to believe in weapons of mass destruction that weren’t there, and who is so unpopular right now that it’s no joke to say that his approval ratings – in the teens at best – mean that he’s basically down to immediate family, including the likes of his former aide, Eric Edelman.

Don’t forget that it was Dick Cheney who, in the last campaign, warned of a terrorist attack if he and George Bush weren’t re-elected. Too bad he didn’t warn us what would happen if they were.

Susan Estrich is a syndicated columnist and author.

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