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August 18, 2011
Notes from the Pentagon

Al Qaeda obviously can’t take a joke. Television comedian David Letterman is under fire from the terrorist group for on-air jokes about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

While the threat may not be unusual, what is surprising to observers is that al Qaeda terrorists are spending time watching the funnyman on the CBS show "Late Night."

Mr. Letterman, like most other comedians, frequently pokes the terrorist group and its leaders behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed 3,000 people.

A posting Tuesday on the Arabic website Shumukh al-Islam Network, an al Qaeda-affiliated forum, quoted a terrorist named Amr Basrawi as denouncing Mr. Letterman as an “American Zionist.” It urged someone in America to follow the example of El Sayyid Nosair, the imprisoned assassin of Jewish Defense League Founder Rabbi Meir Kahane and “silence” Mr. Letterman by using terrorist methods.

“This noxious creature mocked the leaders of the mujahidin, and at their head Shaykh Osama bin Laden,” stated the posting translated by the U.S. government.

A spokesman for Mr. Letterman declined to comment.

U.S. officials say China, as in the past, is expected to hammer Vice President Joseph R. Biden during his visit to China over continued U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

The political club they expect the Chinese to wield this time is the anniversary on Wednesday of the third U.S.-Chinese joint communique, signed Aug. 17, 1982. The communique called for Washington to “gradually reduce” weapons sales to Taiwan.

The communique states that U.S. arms sales to Taiwan would be kept at the same levels as arms supplied around the time of normalization of ties. The U.S. government interpreted the communique as allowing sales that would keep a numerical and technological balance across the Taiwan Strait.

Former State Department official John Tkacik, who was a Taiwan desk officer in the department at the time, told Inside the Ring that the day after the communique was signed, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia John Holdridge announced at a congressional hearing that the Reagan administration would sell more than 250 F-5 jets to Taiwan.

“Holdridge also went on the record at the hearings to explain that the communique did not mean the U.S. would end arms sales to Taiwan, or would consult with [China] on arms sales, or would pressure Taiwan to negotiate with China. This was the essence of Reagan’s Six Assurances,” Mr. Tkacik said.

Mr. Tkacik also said the memoir of James R. Lilley, the late former U.S. ambassador to China, included the text of President Reagan’s secret directive regarding the 1982 communique to the State and Defense departments. In it, Mr. Reagan insisted that the level of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan remain firmly linked to the military threat posed by China, and if the threat from China increased, so too should U.S. defense support for Taiwan.

Mr. Tkacik said the timing of the F-5 sale a day after the 1982 communique suggests that from the U.S. point of view, Taiwan’s request to buy 66 new F-16 jets this year would not violate the communique, as critics of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan might argue.

The Obama administration appears to be ignoring the will of Congress when it comes to sales of new F-16 jets to Taiwan.

Scores of House and Senate members in recent weeks have written the president urging him to go ahead with the sale of 66 F-16 C/D models to the island government, which is facing a growing threat from China’s missile and air forces across the 100-mile Taiwan Strait.

Despite the congressional backing, word from the White House is that no new F-16s will be sold. Instead, a less controversial package of upgrades for Taiwan’s older F-16 A/B models will be approved.

The latest missive in support of the jet sale came from 181 House members Aug. 1. The lawmakers wrote to President Obama expressing concerns about the shifting military balance on the strait.

“In order to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, we believe it is critical for the United States to sell the government of Taiwan all the F-16C/D [jets] it requires,” the letter said.

“We respectfully request that your administration move quickly to announce its support for such a sale and submit the required congressional notification for a sale as soon as possible.”

The bipartisan letter was signed by 121 Republicans and 61 Democrats.

In May, 45 senators, again including both Republicans and Democrats, urged the president to sell the new F-16s.

Earlier this year, Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, also wrote to the State Department and said the sale of new F-16 jets was an “urgent matter.”

“Taiwan has legitimate defense needs and its existing capabilities are decaying,” Mr. Lugar said in an April 1 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. “Any reasonable approach to Taiwan’s existing tactical aircraft requirements includes both sustainment of its existing F-16 A/Bs, but also sales of new F-16 C/Ds,” said Mr. Lugar, ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

The Obama administration is refusing to sell the new jets to avoid upsetting Beijing, which twice in recent years cut off military exchanges with the Pentagon to protest arms sales.

Instead, the administration will soon announce an arms package worth about $4.2 billion to upgrade Taiwan’s existing 144 F-16 A/B models.

Said Heritage Foundation research fellow Dean Cheng: “The refusal to sell F-16 C/Ds, while upgrading F-16 A/Bs, smacks of decisions made not for military reasons but for political expediency. Like the clumsy handling of the Dalai Lama’s recent visit, the administration again appears intent on trying to appease Chinese concerns while still appearing reliable and consistent.”

Even by its own numbers, the Navy’s fleet of warships - the force that projects American power around the world - will get smaller in the next four years, then start to grow.

But that growth projection is now in jeopardy, as the Pentagon looks for roughly $400 billion in cuts over 10 years. If Congress‘ new supercommittee fails to find budget reductions, the armed forces would face another automatic $500 billion in cuts.

Industry sources tell special correspondent Rowan Scarborough that such a budget gash would end hopes of maintaining a 300-ship Navy.

Internal Navy budget documents show the “battle force inventory” will go from 290 ships in fiscal year 2012 to 286 in 2015. It then will turn upward to 324 by 2021.

But sources say the Navy may have to retire an aircraft carrier and its warship strike force to reach the $400 billion President Obama wants carved out of spending. This would scuttle the Navy’s promise to Congress that it will keep the fleet at no fewer than 313 ships.

And if the Pentagon is walloped by even larger cuts? Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta painted a bleak picture this week during remarks at the National Defense University:

“It would result in hollowing out the force. It would terribly weaken our ability to respond to the threats in the world. But more importantly, it would break faith with the troops and with their families.

“And a volunteer army is absolutely essential to our national defense. Any kind of cut like that would literally undercut our ability to put together the kind of strong national defense we have today.”

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