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Clinton decision not to read NIE didn't affect her judgment, advisers say
David Edwards and Nick Juliano
Published: Wednesday March 12, 2008

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Military advisers touted Hillary Clinton's foreign policy expertise Wednesday as Barack Obama was trying to buff up his own judgment when it comes to world affairs. Clinton's campaign also dismissed the notion that her failure to read the 96-page National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq was a mistake.

The Clinton campaign gathered military officers and advisers on a conference call after Obama delivered his own foreign policy speech Wednesday touting his war opposition and sound judgment. Obama has previously criticized Clinton on the campaign trail for not reading the NIE.

Lee Feinstein, the campaign's national security director, said Clinton was briefed "in great detail about the NIE," from officials who contributed intelligence to it and wrote the final 96-page report.

"This notion that not having physically read it is different from getting a detailed briefing is a fallacy," Feinstein said during the conference call, in response to a question from RAW STORY. (Obama supporter and former presidential candidate John Kerry, who also did not read the NIE, has echoed that argument.)

Vice Admiral Joseph A. Sestak also criticized the NIE as missing some key pieces of the pre-invasion picture of Iraq, and said such problems wouldn't arise in a Clinton White House because it would be "her people" compiling the report.

"The NIE was flawed, and I think she's going to bring a whole new sense of accountability," he said.

Obama focused on his pre-invasion opposition to the war in Iraq during his speech in Chicago, where he was flanked by retired military commanders, and said his judgment went beyond simply giving a speech against the war in 2002. He went on to criticize Clinton for suggesting that he was not qualified to be commander in chief, while simultaneously saying John McCain was.

"This is exactly what’s wrong with the national security debate in Washington," Obama said. "After years of a divisive politics that uses national security as a wedge to drive us apart, how much longer do we have to wait to bring this country together to confront our common enemies? After years of being told that Democrats have to talk, act and vote like John McCain to pass some Commander-in-Chief test, how many times do we have to learn that tough talk is not a substitute for sound judgment?"

Former Air Force Gen. Merrill A. McPeak praised Obama's ability to stay cool under pressure, calling him "no shock Barack ... no drama Obama." McPeak said those qualities were what would be needed in the White House when that "3 a.m. phone call" came in, a reference to a recent Clinton ad.

Soon after Obama finished touting his credentials, Clinton's campaign convened former admirals and generals supporting her to rebut his arguments.

"Here's someone who actually can understand the process," said Sestak, who praised Clinton's decision last year to request a Pentagon briefing on its plans for a redeployment of troops from Iraq.

"Amateurs do tactics. Experts do logistics," Sestak said during a Clinton campaign conference call Wednesday.

Sestak and other participants in Wednesday's call said they were very impressed with the Former First lady, who privately discussed the situation in Afghanistan in detail with former generals after a press conference last week.

"She'll get into detail. ... She will engage in subordinates and go in and solve the problem," said Brig. Gen. John Watkins Jr.

Later in the call, Watkins tried to undercut Obama's war opposition, which came when he was not a member of the US Senate.

"I believe if he'd been there when the debate was taking place to go to war, he probably would've supported it as well," Watkins said.

This video is from, broadcast March 12, 2008.