A Walter Reed reaction, or just a coincidence of timing?

Bush moves to replace his assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

Published February 23, 2007 2:36PM (EST)

At a press briefing Wednesday, William Winkenwerder, the assistant defense secretary for health affairs, declared that problems in outpatient care at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center "deserve immediate attention, and they are getting immediate attention." It seems that Winkenwerder may have deserved some immediate attention, too: As Reuters reports, the White House announced Thursday that he will be replaced.

Pentagon spokesman Byran Whitman said: "This announcement has no bearing on current events whatsoever." That may well be true, but the question is really the other way around: Did current events have any bearing on the announcement of Winkenwerder's departure? The Pentagon says no, that he has been planning to step down for several months now. And maybe that's true, too. But if it is, how are we to understand the forward-looking words Winkenwerder was saying about Walter Reed just three days ago? "The trust has clearly taken a hit here," he said. "I think it's our job to repair that trust, to re-earn that trust, and that's what we intend to do."

Maybe he still intends to do that. He just won't be doing it as an assistant secretary of defense.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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