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November 9, 2007
Notes from the Pentagon

Gates in China
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates made little progress in advancing U.S.-China military relations on his first visit to China as defense chief, and defense officials say his talks were dominated by the usual barrage of Chinese platitudes against U.S. arms sales to and support for Taiwan.

Mr. Gates announced this week in Beijing that the Chinese had agreed "in principle" to a U.S. proposal to set up a direct telephone link between the Pentagon and the Chinese Defense Ministry. But the officials said the hot line proposal has been discussed for years, with promises by the Chinese to "study" the plan but never getting to the point of actually setting one up.

A Pentagon official said of the hot line deal that "while we have reached this agreement with China, we do not want to get too far out ahead on this." Technical consultations and preparations still are needed "so that the agreement can be finalized," the official said.

Other officials said the hot line will work only if it is located where the real power in the Chinese military works, namely inside the secret underground command facility known as Western Hills, in Beijing, and not at the showpiece defense ministry. China's military is expected to refuse to permit the hot line at the site.

Chinese military officials continue to block all visiting U.S. defense and military officers from seeing the command bunker, fearing the visits would enhance U.S. intelligence-gathering or precision-guided missile targeting. Chinese military visitors, by contrast, have been shown very sensitive U.S. military facilities.

On the anti-satellite weapon test China carried out in January, Chinese generals refused to discuss the matter in meetings with Mr. Gates, leaving the defense secretary with no answers about the development of a strategic space weapon that could cripple U.S. military communications in a conflict.

"The trip failed miserably," said a second defense official, noting that the Chinese military's new tactic is to limit contacts and agreements with the Pentagon to nothing more than it allows for military exchanges with other nations, highlighting the view among Chinese communist and military leaders who see the U.S. as their main enemy.

A U.S. diplomat said Mr. Gates, who is more focused on Iraq, has shown little interest in China. "He just wants to check the box of making a trip that [Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr.] demanded," the official said.

Pentagon spokesman Maj. Stewart Upton said in summing up the visit that "what will come out of it was an ongoing dialogue about these issues ... to enter into a longer-term dialogue about perceptions of threats, about a world that faces a threat of nuclear proliferation. We see this as an ongoing process rather than a one-time event."

Defense vs. State
Defense officials say the State Department is quietly trying to take back new Pentagon authorities that were expanded under Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld involving support for foreign militaries, something Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England are not opposing.

In particular, State's bureau of political military affairs wants to restore its past level of control over the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, a key strategic tool for supporting allies.

"State wants to go back to the good old days of them running everything with FMF and ending Rumsfeld innovations, including the 'train and equip' program for allies," one official said.

The power struggle is triggering a major fight on Capitol Hill led by pro-State Department staff members who are working to "turn the clock" back and give the State Department the lead authority in identifying which foreign allies to help and how much.

Further concerns among conservatives about the liberal Democratic bent of the Pentagon were highlighted by the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff's first public speech to the Democrat-dominated Center for New American Security, founded by Clinton administration defense officials Kurt Campbell and Michele Flournoy.

The Oct. 25 speech by Adm. Michael Mullen followed Mr. Gates' appointment of Clinton administration Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre as chairman of the Defense Policy Board, prompting insiders to speculate that Mr. Gates is following the example of former CIA Director George J. Tenet in seeking to become a "holdover" in an anticipated Democratic administration.

Munchkins win
John R. Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, reveals in his new book how bureaucrats in the State Department undermined efforts at the United Nations against North Korea. The bureaucrats are particularly strong in the East Asia-Pacific bureau, known as EAP and dubbed "EAPeasers," because of the penchant for appeasement over tough diplomacy and action.

The book, "Surrender Is Not an Option," is Mr. Bolton's fascinating insider account of his work at Foggy Bottom and Turtle Bay and also shows how the appeasers succeeded in undermining U.S. efforts to get North Korea to give up its nuclear program as part of the six-party nuclear talks.

Under Christopher R. Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, a series of endless concessions to North Korea is producing an outcome similar to the Clinton administration's failed diplomacy with Pyongyang, he said.

In a section titled "The Munchkins Win on North Korea," Mr. Bolton said tough diplomacy under his leadership succeeded in passage of two relatively tough U.N. resolutions, over initial objections of China and Russia, on North Korea's missile and nuclear tests, while concessions at the six-nation nuclear talks are a disaster.

"Strong diplomacy in the Security Council produced two tough resolutions," he wrote. "Weak diplomacy in the six-party talks has allowed North Korea to consolidate and solidify its nuclear posture and taken the United States down the same road as the failed 1994 Agreed Framework." He called the February deal in Beijing "radically incomplete" since it did not deal properly with the existing nuclear weapons, much less the covert uranium enrichment program.

Army stress
Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Rochelle recently told defense reporters that military operations in the war against Islamist extremism are causing problems for the Army.

Gen. Rochelle, deputy chief of staff for personnel, said last month at a breakfast meeting that "this is challenging and ... our Army is clearly stressed right now." The "demands exceed the available assets, time, people and, to a lesser degree, resources."

Congress is providing great support for both resources and authorities that will allow the Army to vary its practices to meet changing demands and realities, he said. For liberals in the press and Congress, the blame for the Army stress is the costly wars in Afghanistan and especially Iraq.

But conservatives in the Pentagon and other security agencies of the U.S. government say most of the blame for the Army's problems today have their roots in the sharp cuts in funding and forces during the Clinton administration, plus extended peacekeeping deployments, which led to a "hollowing out" of Army forces. The prospect of a second Clinton administration has defense officials bracing for even more cuts and little chance for a much-needed re-equipping of the forces.

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

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