Clinton Demands Pentagon Plan for Withdrawal

Pentagon rebukes Clinton's request, which she says is "outrageous."

July 19, 2007 — -- Another contentious issue is emerging in the Iraq battle between the White House and Congress as senators from both parties are beginning to openly question whether the Pentagon has undertaken sufficiently serious planning for a U.S. withdrawal of troops, whenever that is to happen.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has since May requested a briefing from Pentagon officials as to whether they have undertaken any serious planning for a future withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

On Thursday she received a response from the Pentagon that she told ABC News was "outrageous and offensive."

The letter from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman did not mince words. "Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies," he wrote.

"I deeply resent the administration's continuing effort to impugn the patriotism of those of us who are asking hard questions," Clinton told ABC News.

Clinton said she heard from a former Pentagon official "that there was intense pressure from the vice president's office and other places that the kind of detailed planning that's necessary to take our troops out safely was just not a priority."

The letter from Edelman, she said, gave the impression "that it's none of my business as to whether or not the Pentagon is doing what needs to be done to secure the safety of our troops."

A spokeswoman for the vice president said in response to Clinton's charge, "We want to see an Iraq that can sustain government and defend itself. This is in our national security interest."

Clinton was not the only official expressing concern. At a hearing Thursday, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged the Bush administration to prepare for an exit from Iraq, saying that Pentagon officials and others in the government "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."

Lugar and the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., seem to share Clinton's concern, having introduced legislation that would require the president to plan for a withdrawal of U.S. troops and report on those plans to Congress by October.

Clinton said the briefing she requested can be closed-door and classified.

"There are so many questions about how we would withdraw troops," she said. "The only way out -- unless we were able to go North into Turkey, which we were not able to do when the preemptive invasion began -- means we would have to go through some very dangerous territory along roads."

Clinton said she worries "that we will compound the danger to our troops if we don't plan carefully. And there's no reason to have any confidence in the planning of this administration. They have consistently demonstrated a level of incompetence that I find deeply troubling."

Asked in May about plans for troop withdrawal, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace said, "We have published no orders directing the planning for the overall withdrawal of forces. We do have ongoing replacements of forces, and we do change the size of the force over time so that that system is available to either plus up or draw down, but we have published no orders saying come up with a complete plan for total drawdown."

ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf and Jon Garcia contributed to this report.