Greg Sargent at the TPM Café just posted an important entry on Vice President Dick Cheney’s contribution to the contretemps between the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Eric Edelman, and Sen. Hillary Clinton regarding the Pentagon’s contingency planning for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq. Sargent’s account – including Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ efforts to calm the dispute – offers a good summary of the current state of play. Briefly, in an appearance Tuesday on Larry King, Cheney characterized Edelman’s original response to Clinton, in which, among other things, he (Edelman, that is) warned that “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,” as a “good letter,” thus implicitly contradicting the position taken by Gates, Edelman’s nominal superior.
Edelman, who replaced Douglas Feith in 2005, is a career foreign service officer with neo-conservative views, albeit not as radical as those of his ultra-Likudist predecessor. Although he has worked for Democratic appointees, most recently former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Edelman’s ties to Cheney are of long standing. As noted in his RightWeb profile Edelman first worked at the Pentagon under Cheney in 1990. After the first Gulf War, he became part of the Policy office overseen by then-Defense Undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz that developed the 1992 draft Defense Planning Guidance (DPG) that became the basis of George W. Bush’s controversial 2002 National Security Strategy. Cheney obviously thought highly enough of his work (and ideological tendencies) to name Edelman as his principal deputy national security adviser under Scooter Libby in 2001 and worked with Libby in the run-up to the Iraq invasion after which he was named ambassador to Turkey (on the strong recommendation, according to one knowledgeable source, of Richard Perle, who has long-standing interests in Turkey). My understanding is that both Cheney and Perle played a role in persuading Rumsfeld to take on Edelman at the Pentagon after Feith announced his departure.
With Gates’ replacement of Rumsfeld last December and Gordon England as deputy secretary, Edelman is the highest-ranking neo-conservative at the Pentagon and clearly the most loyal to Cheney (whose chief of staff, David Addington, may well have drafted the letter to Clinton, as Edelman is not known as particularly confrontational.) The fact that Cheney praised the letter, which had been all but repudiated by Gates, tends to confirm the notion that Edelman, like John Bolton at the State Department under Colin Powell, is doing the vice president’s bidding. (That notion is furthered by the fact that Edelman’s office co-ordinates closely with Devon Gaffney Cross’ London-based Policy Forum on International Security Affairs, a neo-conservative outfit that quietly conducts public diplomacy for the Pentagon’s policy shop and various like-minded Washington-based think tanks, apparently outside Karen Hughes’ purview at the State Department.)
Cheney’s endorsement of Edelman’s letter thus raises the question of who speaks for Bush – Gates or Edelman-Cheney — on the questions raised by Clinton, questions that she now, according to Sargent, plans to address directly to the White House.
All this is taking place in the wake of the still-unconfirmed reports by Robert Dreyfuss and Steve Clemons that Cheney’s senior Middle East adviser and Feith/Perle fellow-traveler David Wurmser will be leaving the vice president’s office for the private sector in August. While his wife, Meyrav Wurmser, the head of the Hudson’s Institute Middle East program, has hinted that David has been planning to leave for some time, his actual departure within 90 days of the appearance of the June 1 New York Times article that named him as the Cheney official who was quietly shopping attack-Iran scenarios to various Washington think tanks last spring suggests that it may not be altogether voluntary. If not, one wonders whether Gates is seeking Edelman’s removal, as the New York Times recently suggested was an appropriate response to the Clinton letter.
As much as he would like to, Gates, who has clearly eclipsed Rice as the leader of the realist faction within the administration, will probably not make such a move, particularly now that Cheney has spoken out publicly in Edelman’s defense. Several weeks ago, I heard from a source who has known Gates for many years and has spoken with him not infrequently of late that, for all Gates’ success in purging Rumsfeld’s minions in the top military brass, he still feels very much on the outside of the White House “bunker” whose occupants view him as one of “Daddy’s boys.” I’ve heard from other sources that Rice, whose general views are similar to Gates’, has, since her signal victory over the hawks on North Korea policy, reverted to a more-passive role, to the defense secretary’s great disappointment. Perhaps they can work things out during their time together in the Middle East this week, far away from Washington.