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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 03/18/2008

Iraq Truth-Telling, Part II

By Michael Dobbs

Howard Wolfson on Face the Nation, Feb. 17, 2008.

The Fact Checker: "To be very clear about this, [Hillary Clinton] is going to stick to this plan that she has devised of bringing one to two brigades out [of Iraq] a month, whatever the realities on the ground. Is that correct?"

Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson: "You are asking a question and I am giving you a one-word answer so we can be clear about this. The answer is yes."
--Clinton campaign teleconference, March 17, 2008.

Ever since she started running for president, Hillary Clinton has tried to preserve some wriggle room in promising to "end the Iraq war." At first, she was hesitant to provide any kind of timetable for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. Then she said that she would start withdrawing troops within 60 days of becoming president. Under pressure from her Democratic party rivals, she eventually started talking about withdrawing one to two brigades per month, bringing all combat troops out of the country by the end of 2009. But she usually accompanied such promises with qualifiers like "I hope" and "may withdraw."

Her communications director, Howard Wolfson, now seems to have closed off much of the remaining wriggle room in the Clinton withdrawal plan. During a teleconference called to discuss Clinton's Monday Iraq speech, I asked whether Clinton was committed to implementing the withdrawal plan, no matter what the circumstances on the ground or the advice of U.S. military commanders. After some waffling by his fellow campaign officials, Wolfson stepped in to give me a one-word response: "Yes."

The Facts

For months, reporters have allowed the main Democratic candidates to talk about their plans for ending the Iraq war and bringing U.S. troops home without pinning them down about how they will respond to a sudden upsurge of violence. There has been a surrealistic quality to the Iraq war withdrawal debate, as if everything is destined to go smoothly once a U.S. president has made up his (or her) mind, and messy Iraqi reality will not intervene.

Unfortunately, the best-case scenario does not usually apply in Iraq. That is why it was perfectly appropriate for British television reporters to challenge former Obama foreign policy adviser Samantha Power about how he would respond to an unraveling security situation in the country. She gave what seemed like a common-sense response: Obama will be guided by the circumstances on the ground and the advice of his military commanders, and will not be locked into a plan that he produced more than a year earlier while running for president.

Power's candor was evidently too much for the Obama camp, which promptly disowned her remarks.

Faced with similar needling questions to those posed to Samantha Power, Clinton spokesmen adopted the opposite tack to the former Obama adviser. They insist that their candidate, if elected, will proceed with her withdrawal plans, no matter what happens in Iraq. You can listen to audio of my exchange with the Clinton people here. Here is a transcript of the most relevant portion:

Dobbs: I just wanted to follow up on the criticism of Samantha Power for saying that Obama would not be locked into a plan that he had devised as a presidential candidate. Are you saying that Sen. Clinton will follow her plan of withdrawing 1-2 brigades a month from Iraq regardless of the situation on the ground and the advice from military commanders? And even if there is a new upsurge of violence in iraq, she will stick to that plan? Or is that just a best case scenario?

Clinton Foreign Policy Director Lee Feinstein: Sen Clinton has been very very clear about what her plan is. One of her points in giving this speech is that you can count on her to implement this plan. You know there are in the world contingencies, but it is a very different matter when you enter office not intending to implement the plans that you have put out on the campaign trail, which is what we seem to have learned on the basis of the comments of a former senior aide to Sen. Obama who said exactly that , that what sen. Obama had put out on the campaign trail is not what he intends to do as president...

Dobbs: You are saying that Sen. Clinton will implement her plan, whatever the realities on the ground. You have just used this term 'contingencies.' You are basically telling us that the plan might change, is that not correct?

Clinton Policy Director Neera Tanden: No we are not saying that. We are saying that Hillary has laid out her plan in detail....When she developed the plan on Iraq, she thought through she would actually implement those plans as president. She made a commitment, and that is what she will do as president.

Dobbs: To be very clear about this, she is going to stick to this plan that she has devised of bringing 1-2 brigades out a month, whatever the realities on the ground. Is that correct?

Feinstein: She has said that this is her plan. She has said what her goals are...

Dobbs: I am sorry. That is not answering my question.

Communications Director Howard Wolfson: You are asking a question and I am giving you a one-word answer so we can be clear about this. The answer is yes.

To my ear, Feinstein's use of the phrase "contingencies" implied that circumstances might arise in which it will be unrealistic to implement the Clinton withdrawal plan, as drafted on the campaign trail. But he assures me that this is not the case. He elaborated on his position in a subsequent e-mail message:

"I was clearly talking about Senator Obama and in that very exchange we unequivocally said no about whether Senator Clinton would deviate from her plan. Any other reading of this is patently ridiculous."

So there you have it: Clinton will implement her withdrawal plan as announced, no matter what happens in Iraq and no matter what advice she gets from her military commanders. Iraq may explode, but no deviations from the campaign withdrawal platform are permitted.

You can read ABC News' take on this back-and-forth here and a Huffington Post report here.

The Pinocchio Test

The Clinton position on Iraq still contains a little wriggle room. She has said that she will keep some "residual" forces in Iraq after December 2009 to deal with the threat from al-Qaeda, even though the bulk of U.S. forces will be withdrawn by then. Without being able to predict the future, it is impossible to know whether she will carry through on her promises. But let me know what you think.

(About our rating scale.)

By Michael Dobbs  | March 18, 2008; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Candidate Watch, Iraq, Verdict Pending  
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Next: What did he hear--and when did he hear it?


Credibility is not the Clinton's strong suit.

Hillary's current claims to the invalid results to the Michigan primaries shows what kind of person she is. A dishonest cheater.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 18, 2008 7:46 AM | Report abuse

I think you pinned her people down perfectly. Unless she corrects the record she is basically running as Cindy Sheehan now. While that may appeal to a narrow anti-war segment, irrational withdrawal won't go over well with most Americans.

Go John SIDNEY McCain!!!

Posted by: JakeD | March 18, 2008 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Most rational people will probably see that what the now-banished Samantha Powers said was right on the money: we all want out of Iraq, but we have to be careful how we go about it. To say that you will rip the forces out with no regard to the reality on the ground is to be irresponsible. Obama has been consistent on this: Hillary just dug herself into a hole.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 18, 2008 9:04 AM | Report abuse

Hillary Clinton's credibility quotient on this issue (given her support and vote for the war) is severely lacking.

Posted by: meldupree | March 18, 2008 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Forex marketsForex: USA dollar collapse [URL=]Forex: USA dollar collapse[/URL]

Posted by: vova | March 18, 2008 10:30 AM | Report abuse

As Dana Milbank remarked on Countdown, Clinton intends to stick to her plan regardless of events, just as we have seen with Bush.

Posted by: datpc | March 18, 2008 10:51 AM | Report abuse

So far, Hillary Clinton has showed one thing consistently, which is she wants the job of the White House badly. To get there, she is willing to do anything, including crying, slandering, making empty promises, contradicting what she has said before, changing her stories anytime she wants...

Posted by: Independent | March 18, 2008 12:21 PM | Report abuse

She's trying to be too cute by half on this, and it's deliberate. Wolfson and others try to slam Obama over Power's assessment that he has a plan, but it might have to change based on real conditions. Apparently they think irresponsibility is the best course.

Even I, as an Obama supporter, don't believe what Wolfson said here. I believe Hillary will assess the situation and respond as she feels is best for our security. What she and her campaign are trying to do is make a ham-handed attempt to pretend that they're principled and clear about withdrawal, and Obama isn't.

Hillary is anything but principled on this issue. I'm glad that Wolfson committed Clinton to what is obviously a ridiculously naive position. She can't just walk that back and pretend she's the most competent person in this race.

Posted by: Sean F | March 18, 2008 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Bob Graham had it right. He was chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2002. Graham read the NIE and voted against the Iraq authorization. Graham has said that this vote was the Commander- in -Chief test. If so, both Clinton and McCain flunked. And Graham has not endorsed Obama or Clinton.

Clinton could have read the NIE but did not. She voted for the war. Obam went out of his way to speak out against it. Obama is the only viable candidate who has passed the Commander- in- Chief test.

And did you hear or read his speech on race today? he hit a grand slam. We really need Obama to be our next Prez- for so many reasons.

Maybe Bob Graham should be Obama's VP. He would carry Florida.

Posted by: Doug M | March 18, 2008 1:15 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Hillary. What, you think there's going to be some Obama type kumbaya handholding in Iraq and we say, oh, ok, we can leave now.

Bumch of idiots.


Posted by: ralphdaugherty | March 18, 2008 1:28 PM | Report abuse


If true, this would mean that if the withdrawal schedule endangers at a certain point the life of US soldiers and
civilist, as well as other friends in IRAQ,
she will proceed anyway !!!!!


Posted by: caminito | March 18, 2008 1:30 PM | Report abuse


When I posted my comment 1.30 pm, I was able to read yours 1.00 pm

If as you say this was an "intentional" gaffe by Wolfson, it was an extremely stupid one. A disauthorization by Hillary
after she will be attacked by McCain and Obama will be useless, as it would be seen
only as formal.

Don't you think that this is a cause, much more as the ex-abrupts of other adviser
fired before, to FIRE WOLFSON IMMEDIATELY ??


Posted by: caminito | March 18, 2008 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Mrs. Clinton seems destined to wage a war of her own on the intelligence of the American voter. Hillary seems to try to be all things to all of us - simultaneously. She seems to be guided by some poll-driven, focus-group tested set of ambigous responses to nearly every question posed. She is, indeed, too clever - by half.

She is playing checkers in a chess match. The game will be won by Obama who sees the whole board - not by Hillary who sees one piece and one move at a time. She makes statements --trying to win a pawn...Obama's got her in check....soon to be checkmate.

Posted by: GandalftheGrey | March 18, 2008 3:01 PM | Report abuse

I personnaly believe she intends to keep her word. I am sure that after she becomes President she will withdraw troops every month. And the penalty for not doing so? None. So as a political statement it is easy to say it.

Posted by: XPres | March 18, 2008 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Clearly, if one believes the US ought to end the greatest strategic disaster in our history and begin an intelligent and effective national security policy immediately, one is best served voting for Hillary Clinton.

Posted by: zukermand | March 18, 2008 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Mr Obama seems destined to wage a war of hhis own on the intelligence of the American voter. Barack seems to try to be all things to all of us - simultaneously. He seems to be guided by some poll-driven, focus-group tested set of ambigous responses to nearly every question posed. He is, indeed, too clever - by half.

He is playing checkers in a chess match. The game will be won by Clinton who sees the whole board - not by Barack who sees one piece and one move at a time. He makes statements --trying to win a pawn...Clinton's got him in check....soon to be checkmate.

Posted by: zukermand | March 18, 2008 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Does this person "zukermand" knows what plagiarism is ?.....Literally copying another person comments to communicate his feelings and opinion...He or she ought to be ashamed of him or herself.See comments
Posted by: GandalftheGrey | March 18, 2008 03:01 PM and that
Posted by: zukermand | March 18, 2008 06:07 PM

Posted by: Femi | March 18, 2008 6:47 PM | Report abuse

I believe Clinton does not believe this. No commander-in-chief would start removing troops absent some careful analysis of the situation on the ground which has recently deteriorated. A more nuanced plan was articulated by Obama, "I will be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in." My guess is we will be there somewhat longer than either Democrat is saying. I am a Democrat who wished this were not the case, but I don't see a scenario for immediate withdrawl.

Posted by: Elinor.Miller | March 18, 2008 8:12 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, right, Wolfson. I'll see it when I believe it.

Let's hear Hillary say, with her own mouth, what Wolfson says is her intentions, if she wants to be so perfectly clear. Look at all the shenanigans she and Bill have pulled already. They're in it for the money and glory and will say and do anything. Impeachment Bill needs to zip up and learn what the meaning of "is" is, without inhaleing, and Hillary needs to cough up her tax returns, if she's not hiding something.

Folks, wasn't 8 years of that disfunctional family enough already?

Bush drove us into a ditch by flushing $12 billion a month down an Iraqi toilet, for 5 years, trespassing, making enemies, shock and awe style, because Iraq had invisible WMD, and OIL. Bush lied, thousands died. With that kind of money, there should be solar cells on every roof in America and an electric car in every garage, and then we could be selling them to the world for a profit. That's something we could be proud of, and there'd be no need to steal oil. Too bad Bully Bush didn't have a vision like that. There needs to be major change to stop the bleeding.

Obama is a welcome relief, very inspirational with some uncommon common sense, and not another warmonger. I can't wait to vote for Obama!

Posted by: Sam | March 18, 2008 11:52 PM | Report abuse

Per their M.O., the Clinton campaign is determined to appear to provide a winning contrast to Obama, but here they look stupid. Voters aren't mindlessly admiring of set positions on a chaotic reality.

Fact Checker did an excellent job of parsing their position. Instead of Pinocchios, I'd give them four dunce caps. I hate the occupation as much as the next Dem, but their certitude is so pointless as to be obvious pandering to the anti-occupation sentiment.

Posted by: jhbyer | March 19, 2008 1:35 AM | Report abuse

I am discouraged to find any candidate for President being unwilling to remain flexible enough to deal with changing conditions that may warrant other actions. As a retired military veteran, I have always felt that Senator Clinton's plan to end the war was too rigid and driven more by the need to satisfy political opinion than to protect the troops during any such withdrawal. The part of Senator Obama's plan that I most favor over Senator Clinton's is his emphasis on taking every precaution to protect our troops during their withdrawal. HRC has ben saying that she would immediately call a meeting of her Joint Chiefs to present her with a plan for withdrawing troops from Iraq as soon as she is elected; but it now seems that this meeting would be a waste of time, as she already has her plan without the advice of the Joint Chiefs. As a military veteran, this disturbs me and I have to question whether Hillary is the best equipped to be Commander-in-Chief as she has ben presenting herself.

Posted by: diksagev | March 19, 2008 2:52 AM | Report abuse

Hillary's attacking Obama's adviser for saying something imminently reasonable. We've seen enough with Bush what happens when you refuse to adjust your plans to facts on the ground. I don't want another inflexible, stubborn idealogue in the White House or anywhere near that red phone. Hillary's really painted herself into a corner in an attempt to score short-term political points.

Posted by: John | March 19, 2008 9:28 AM | Report abuse

She's spinning a realistic position into lack of commitment. She has just proved that she is not ready to be Commander in Chief on Day One.

Posted by: right on, John | March 19, 2008 12:46 PM | Report abuse

How hard is it to see that Senator Clinton is a hypocrite? Here's the latest. When she was ahead in delegates - before Iowa etc, she agreed to disallow Fla. and Michigan since they had not played by the rules. Now that she is losing, the rules don't matter. She is extraordinarily "concerned" that voters will be left out of the process. All three hundred and some delegates, not to mention.

Let's see how concerned she would be if the DNC split the delegates right down the middle. I'll bet she drops the "concern" like a hot potato.

Has no one seen this?

Also, all of a sudden she's saying we should be "careful and responsible" about getting out of Iraq. Is she just stealing it from Obama, or what?

If she gets the nomination, I will vote for McCain - first, because I don't want her in the White House at all, with Bill playing with all his little girls, etc...but also, it would be a good chance to screw the Repubs once and for all. McCain is over his head with all the problems we face. He doesn't stand a chance.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 19, 2008 8:52 PM | Report abuse

'compliant, supine media' traits properly ascribed to even The Post vis-a-vis the War Crimes in Iraq. Linda Heard's concise rendition should be passed around your investigative reporters/editors/staff.
How to Destroy a Country and Get Off Scot-Free by Linda Heard,
Someone once told me if you're going to tell a lie make it a whopper based on the premise the more outrageous the lie the more likely it is to be believed. At the time, I wrote off his advice as hogwash but as we see from the Iraq debacle, he was right. Five years later, the deceit continues undiminished and nobody has been held to account. Britain's Gordon Brown yesterday promised to hold an enquiry into the "mistakes" made in Iraq. Sounds good, but don't hold your breath. All previous inquiries have been labeled "whitewashes". They can't afford the truth to come out else they might get a one-way ticket to The Hague.Ambassador David Satterfield, and adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is doing the rounds of talk shows lauding America's victories over Al-Qaeda in Iraq. On one occasion the host interjected to mention the unpalatable fact that Al-Qaeda members only flocked to Iraq once the Americans were in place leaving Satterfield momentarily nonplussed.It's obvious that Satterfield is so saturated in the party line he forgot the Pentagon's recently published study that found with certainty that Saddam Hussein had absolutely no links to Al-Qaeda. And lest we forget Saddam didn't have WMD either, which means not only was the war immoral the prewar sanctions on that country that contributed to the deaths of over half-a-million Iraqi children were too. Think about it for a moment. The warmongers invaded, crushed and occupied a country that was no threat to anyone. They stood by as it was looted, exacerbated sectarianism, flattened entire towns, tortured untold numbers of innocents, brought in gum-chewing, tattooed foreign mercenaries and paid crony companies billions of dollars for mythical reconstruction projects.They then pretended to hand over sovereignty to that country while at the same time constructing permanent bases and the biggest US Embassy in history resembling a small town. They said they had no interest in Iraq's oil, yet they are putting immense pressure on the Iraqi government (sic) to sign into law a bill that permits foreign (read American) oil companies to lock up decades-long deals. Let's be frank. Iraq wasn't a blunder, it was a crime. So how did they manage to get away with implanting their long-conceived plot to do away with Israel's No. 1 foe, ensure their competitors couldn't get their hands on Iraq's resources and entrench their military might in the region? Future historians will no doubt be scratching their heads over this one. You had to live through it to believe it.
First, they cleverly used the politics of fear to sway public opinion. As noted in the Project for the New American Century's document "Rebuilding America's Defenses", the warmonger signatories - who later became senior members of the Bush administration - needed "a new Pearl Harbor". On Sept. 1l 2001 they got it. Americans and their allies were in shock. Almost every country in the world was sympathetic and willing to do anything to help. And, boy, did they capitalize on that empathy even managing to persuade Russia to stay silent as they made deals with Caspian states to allow US bases.
Step one was a country where a giant bogeyman was supposed to be hiding out in a cave presumably equipped with a dialysis machine and a production studio and whose black-turbaned government forced women to wear a burqa and disallowed nail polish. But then Defense Minister Donald Rumsfeld was disappointed because there weren't enough targets for his bombs. It was no fun bombing a country into the Stone Age when it was already there.
Step two was the insidious demonizing of Muslims, thousands of whom were arrested and held for months without charge or access to lawyers. In that climate of fear, it was relatively simple to persuade the American people that Saddam Hussein was conniving with the people who brought down the World Trade Center. US officials warned of mushroom clouds; Prime Minister Tony Blair said British interests could be attacked within 45 minutes of Saddam giving the order. Then Secretary of State Colin Powell allowed himself to be used as their fall guy. He spouted the most unbelievable scripted codswallop the UN had ever heard...yet, bullied and bribed nation after nation pretended to believe him as IAEA chief Mohammed El-Baradei and UN weapons inspector Hans Blix did little to discredit the hoax.
Step three entailed replacing Osama in people's minds with Saddam, who overnight morphed into a hydra-headed monster whose idea of a pleasant weekend was gassing and torturing his own people.
Step four was 'Shock and Awe' which illuminated the Baghdad skyline on March 19, 2003. As their bombs and missiles rained down on crowded market places scattering limbs, they told us those bombs and missiles were Saddam's even though the Independent's Middle East correspondent inconveniently dug up their Made in the USA shards.
As the months went on, we began to wonder what happened to the WMD. They told us it was only a matter of time before it would be unearthed from under the sands or discovered in a tunnel under one of Saddam's palaces. They even suggested it may have been shipped off to a neighboring country for safekeeping!!
Step five was an orchestrated administration campaign to inject us with mass amnesia. Never mind about the weapons, they said. We are here to liberate the poor Iraqi people from their evil dictator and deliver freedom and democracy. Look, look, they said. The Iraqis have purple fingers! With up to one million dead, Iraqis are lucky they have any fingers at all.
To be fair, they couldn't have done it without the aid of a compliant, supine media, which embedded its reporters with US battalions and agreed not to show captured US soldiers, flag-draped coffins, military funerals or scenes of blood-soaked Iraqi civilians. Independent reporters who neglected to abide by the script were discredited, refused access to information and even shelled.
I still recall a live report from David Chater of Sky News, who saw the barrel of a US tank slowly turn toward the Palestine hotel - known to be a journalist's hang-out - before firing its shell killing three reporters. The Baghdad offices of Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya were also hit.
With so much information on tap I'm flabbergasted that so many people still believe the Iraq fairytale. I wish they'd get in touch with me. I've got a few pyramids and a sphinx going cheap. Sad, isn't it!

Posted by: alpeia | March 20, 2008 8:00 AM | Report abuse

i love watching the dems rip each other apart. I'm guessing that every night ol' John Mccain muddles up a few Leblon Caipirinhas with his buddies and laughs endlessly at the tailspin that is the democratic party!

Posted by: km | March 24, 2008 4:15 PM | Report abuse

i love watching the dems rip each other apart. I'm guessing that every night ol' John Mccain muddles up a few Leblon Caipirinhas with his buddies and laughs endlessly at the tailspin that is the democratic party!

Posted by: ks | March 24, 2008 4:15 PM | Report abuse

First, zukermand, an obvious Clinton supporter, could care less about the ethics of plagiarism now that his candidate has thrown that stone from her very glass house.

Second, where is the vetting of John McCain on his "plan" for Iraq? Granted, his "100 year" statement was perhaps the most accurate to date (having served in both Germany and Japan, that's not overly far-fetched) but beyond bombing Iran and permanent presence.

From his Iraq position statement: The United States must also bolster its regional military posture to make clear to Iran our determination to protect our forces in Iraq and to deter Iranian intervention in that country.

What does that mean? This was issued after the surge ("escalation") is there another escalation of forces coming here?

And this: A substantial employment program can begin to give hope and opportunity to Iraqi citizens.

"Compared to April 2007, this index (SHRM/Rutgers LINE) dropped 10.7 points for manufacturing and 12.6 points for the service sector in April 2008, indicating that far fewer new hires will be made in April [in the US].

How does John McCain justify employment programs in Iraq when the US jobs rate is in decline? How does he plan to do that and how much will this cost the US?

Please fact check this.

Posted by: KS in TX | March 25, 2008 2:11 PM | Report abuse

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