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August 31, 2007
Notes from the Pentagon

Four-star veep
Three of the eight announced 2008 Republican presidential campaigns are considering retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks as their pick for vice presidential candidate, according to Republican Party operatives.

Gen. Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command until he retired in 2003, orchestrated the military campaign that ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

The choice of Gen. Franks as vice president would be a direct affront to antiwar Democrats, who plan to make opposition to the Bush administration's handling of the war the main plank of their campaign platforms.

A staunch Republican, Gen. Franks hails from Oklahoma but considers Texas his home state. Having him on the ticket would boost Republican prospects in the must-win Lone Star state.

The sources, who are well placed in Republican circles, did not identify the campaigns that are considering Gen. Franks. They said Gen. Franks' consideration also is based on his potential to draw votes in the South, and his role as an eloquent spokesman for winning the global war against Islamist extremism.

All Democratic candidates overtly oppose the Iraq war and most favor ending the Bush administration's military and paramilitary emphasis on fighting global terrorism. A Democratic administration in 2009 likely would restore the approach of the Clinton administration, which favored law enforcement and diplomacy over military action.

Gen. Franks has been a target of liberals, including several journalists whose books criticized him for a lack of post-invasion planning, and for being close to former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, who backed and probably influenced Gen. Franks' Iraq war plan. That plan used smaller, flexible and speedier combined forces instead of large, massed ground troops.

Gen. Franks, who could not be reached for comment, stated in a 2006 speech that 35 years of military service showed him "no war is ever fought on time."

"Wars are always started too early or they're always started too late and it is unfortunate for the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have to do the work in accordance with our Constitution," he said. "But you know what: We have a way, we have a history sometimes in spite of ourselves in this country, of winning the wars we start and this one will be no exception. America will get this done."

Mullen on China
Adm. Michael Mullen, the chief of naval operations slated to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Beijing recently he didn't understand the political nature of China's communist-controlled military.

Adm. Mullen said he met during his visit earlier this month with one of the Chinese military's "political commissars," prompting a reporter to ask him about holding military exchanges with an armed force controlled by a political party instead of a national government.

"Quite frankly, I haven't spent any time on the connection of how the Chinese government works or the political aspect," Adm. Mullen said. "I'm not a political individual; I'm a U.S. military guy in the U.S. military. And that's where I spend my time. So I haven't really spent any time either studying what you've asked or reaching any kind of conclusion with respect to that."

Richard Fisher, a specialist on the Chinese military at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the admiral needs to understand the fundamental difference between Communist Party armies and national armies.

The 2.2 million-strong Chinese military is tightly controlled by the Communist Party of China, not the Chinese government, through the party's Central Military Commission (CMC), which is subordinate to the collective dictatorship of the nine-member Standing Committee of the Politburo. Thus the political general who is CMC vice chairman (Chinese President Hu Jintao is chairman) holds more power than either the defense minister or chief of the general staff, both of whom are figureheads who meet frequently with visiting U.S. generals and admirals.

"Admiral Mullen's statement shows misunderstanding and illustrates the dangers of a People's Liberation Army engagement policy for the sake of engagement," Mr. Fisher said. "The PLA is a party army and all of its significant commanders are 'political' individuals. The PLA cannot be fully engaged or understood without knowing the party apparatus that controls the PLA and knowing its goals and priorities."

Failing to understand this, military exchanges are "simply gladhanding for peace, playing a game in which we always show them more than they ever tell us, inviting potential misunderstandings and dangers," he said.

China's military in the past used military officers sent on U.S. visits to spy on U.S. war-fighting techniques and learn vulnerabilities of U.S. weapons systems such as aircraft carriers.

Adm. Mullen said the Pentagon's aggressive military exchange program with China is aimed at fostering "understanding" to reduce the chances of a future conflict with China that could result from "miscalculation."

"We have some differences and I think those are well known," he said. "But there aren't any of us that think getting into a conflict is a good idea, and so, we work very hard to make sure that doesn't happen."

House oversight?
A subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee recently issued a report with the inclusive conclusion that "after three months of studying the U.S. effort to develop the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), we cannot assess the operational capability of these forces. We are actually left with more questions than answers."

The report by the subcommittee on oversight and investigations, whose chairman is Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat, said its "most significant finding" was that the Pentagon "must do a much better job of reporting meaningful information to Congress on its ISF strategies, plans and progress."

The three-month probe included congressional and staff visits to Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan and Belgium, as well as military facilities in California, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia. They held four closed briefings, two classified sessions and five open hearings, and reviewed thousands of pages of classified and unclassified documents.

One document subcommittee investigators could not review was the secret Joint Campaign Plan outlining U.S. strategy in Iraq. The plan was revised this year.

The report said it was not clear that there had been a significant shift in plans to train and equip Iraq's forces, as opposed to an increased emphasis on U.S. troops bolstering security in Baghdad.

The report said the United States has spent more than $19 billion on the ISF, which includes 350,000 troops and police officers, but its operational capability to conduct counterinsurgency operations "has not been determined."

The report said "corruption" was a significant obstacle to development in Iraq and was costing that country $5 billion a year.

One big problem identified in the report is infiltration of the Iraqi police by insurgents and terrorists.

The report said 8,000 potential infiltrators were found by screening 280,000 Interior Ministry workers, and action was taken against 3,400 who were linked to the Saddam regime or the Ba'ath Party.

The police ranks were found to have "extensive and often overt militia infiltration, as well as blatant sectarianism in terms of members of specific sects who are targeted by police personnel of other sects."

"There also have been numerous accounts of [Iraqi police] involvement in insurgent and criminal activity," the report said.

  • Bill Gertz covers the Pentagon. He can be reached at 202/636-3274.

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