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November 23, 2007
Notes from the Pentagon

Fighting for China
Pentagon officials are upset and worried that the Bush administration's pro-business policies toward communist China are undermining morale among troops fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The latest outrage was the disclosure this week that a Chinese state-run mining company won a contract from the Afghan government to develop a large copper mine. The China Metallurgical Group is expected to invest about $3 billion in the Aynak mine, in Logar province south of Kabul.

"China is getting a free ride while the U.S. and our NATO allies are fighting and dying for the Afghan people and their democratic government," one official said. "The PRC has been credibly accused of bribery to [construct] the fiber optic ring around Kabul, and now they are positioned to exploit Afghan natural resources with nasty and environmentally damaging mining operations."

Mining companies from Canada and Australia, whose troops are in Afghanistan, also bid for the copper mining rights.

The question asked by Pentagon and military officials is: Why not press the new governments in Kabul and Baghdad to pick U.S. companies or those from allied countries?

The answer, the officials said, is that the pro-China policies are the work of State Department officials who apparently prefer to see Chinese companies doing business in Iraq and Afghanistan over U.S. or allied firms.

Officials suspect that in addition to getting access to copper, the Chinese want the oil and gas reserves in the resource-rich Afghan mountains, since China has almost no reserves of those resources and is heavily dependent on Middle Eastern energy supplies.

The Chinese copper concession follows recent intelligence reports that China is covertly shipping arms to insurgents and terrorists in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and hiding the transfers by supplying rifles, grenades and rockets that have been altered to make tracing their origin difficult.

Chinese companies also were allowed to win contracts in Iraq to develop oil fields and to build electric power stations. Beijing also is supplying weapons to the Iraqi police.

Ellen, honey
Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, told reporters recently how much nicer Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and his team are to Democrats, compared with treatment from his predecessor, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The California Democrat recalled a breakfast meeting with Mr. Rumsfeld, when Democrats were still in the minority. "I can remember sitting right across from him and demanding in 2003 that we lift end-strength, and had the bill to do it for both the Army and the Marines, and having him tell me in his deprecating tone how 'it wasn't really about people, honey,' which wasn't what he said but that was the tone. The only thing missing was the little pat on the head."

Mrs. Tauscher said she was "stunned" at offering to increase the number of troops and "have him say, 'No, it's not about that, honey.' I mean it was just amazing."

The congresswoman said her relationship with Mr. Gates is better. She also meets every week with Eric Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy and a foreign service officer.

Mrs. Tauscher also had harsh words for Gen. Peter Pace, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who she suggested would not tell civilian leaders about problems in the military, such as readiness shortfalls, problems with dealing with other military contingencies and for "allowing criminals into the military."

"This administration is responsible for all that," she said.

Mrs. Tauscher had praise for the new chairman, Adm. Michael Mullen, and new vice chairman, Gen. James Cartwright.

Asked whether Adm. Mullen would be chairman if Mr. Rumsfeld were still secretary, Mrs. Tauscher said: "Probably not" since such officers "could not sustain a conversation with Secretary Rumsfeld and get their views actually heard in a respectful way and have any impact at all."

Gates' tenure
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell telephoned recently to take issue with Pentagon officials who were quoted in this space suggesting that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates appointed Bill Clinton's deputy secretary of defense to an advisory panel as a way to position himself to stay on in a future, perhaps Democratic, administration.

"He has no plans to stay on past Inauguration Day 2009," Mr. Morrell said of his boss, Mr. Gates.

Mr. Gates' limit on his tenure at the Pentagon followed a recent speech in Texas where he expounded on the difficulties and virtues of public service during wartime.

He quoted Benjamin Franklin on life in public office: "The public is often stingy, even of its thanks, while you are sure of being censured by malevolent critics and bug-writers, who will abuse you while you are serving them, and wound your character in nameless pamphlets, thereby resembling those little dirty insects that attack us only in the dark, disturb our repose, molesting and wounding us while our sweat and blood are contributing to their subsistence."

"We live in a time of great necessities," Mr. Gates said. "Our country faces many challenges at home and abroad. It is precisely during these times that America needs its best and brightest, from all walks of life, to step forward and commit to public service."

Pace's stars
Outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace made a quiet stop on Oct. 1, the day he retired after 43 years of service, to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Against the solemn black memorial bearing the names of those killed in Vietnam, Gen. Pace left three index cards. On each was a set of the four stars he wore on his shoulder as general for the past seven years, along with a note to fallen comrades, a touching tribute discovered by several veterans who saw the cards.

The cards were addressed to three members of Gen. Pace's Marine Rifle platoon who fought and died in Vietnam around 1968. "These are yours Not mine!" Gen. Pace wrote, adding, "With Love and Respect, Your Platoon Leader Pete Pace."

A spokesman for Gen. Pace said the stop by the memorial was a personal visit.

One of the cards was for Lance Cpl. Farinaro, whom Gen. Pace has spoken of in the past. The fellow Marine was killed by a sniper as he stood next to Lt. Pace. One other Marine also was killed as he stood in front of him, thus shielding him from the shooter.

"Some died, others did not. I still truly do not understand," Gen. Pace said in September. "But because of Guido and the others I lost, I determined that I would continue to serve in the Marine Corps until I was no longer needed, and to try to serve in a way that paid respect to their lives."

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

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