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January 5, 2001

Notes from the Pentagon

Pentagon in space
A commission on space and national security is set to recommend next week that the Air Force assume the role of executive agent in managing the military's various space projects.

The Commission to Assess U.S. National Security Space Management and Organization was headed by Donald H. Rumsfeld, President-elect George W. Bush's nominee for secretary of defense.

The Air Force, insiders tell us, would fill a void at the Pentagon since no service now acts as an umbrella agency for militarizing space. The commission's report, which is being briefed to a few Washington players, is due to be released Thursday.

It also will call for a major restructuring of Air Force and Pentagon space offices to improve management of various satellite programs.

The commission, whose 13 members include several retired senior military officers, was created by Congress at the behest of Sen. Robert C. Smith, New Hampshire Republican.

The recommendation on Air Force sole proprietorship butts up against findings in the current defense authorization act. The bill expressed reservations about turning over space duties to a service dedicated to buying more tactical aircraft.

"The fighter mentality in the Air Force will sacrifice space any day for more fighters," a congressional aide said.

The commission membership included retired Air Force Gen. Charles Horner, who led allied air forces in the Persian Gulf war and later headed U.S. Space Command; and retired Gen. Ronald Fogleman, former Air Force chief of staff.

Battles for position
Former Pentagon official Richard Armitage met yesterday with Defense Secretary-designate Donald H. Rumsfeld to discuss whether Mr. Armitage will land the plum post of deputy defense secretary. The meeting represented a showdown of sorts between Republican conservati

ves and centrists jockeying for positions. If he gets the job, the centrists hope Mr. Armitage will become one of "the two Arms" in the new administration. The plan, according to transition sources, is to "neutralize" defense conservatives and their standard-bearer, Mr. Rumsfeld.

The other "Arm" is Michael Armacost, former undersecretary of state for policy and ex-ambassador to Japan, who clashed in the past with Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican and conservative chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Mr. Armacost heads the liberal Brookings Institution and is in line for the equally plum post of deputy secretary of state.

Anti-conservative Republicans want the two "Arms" as part of a "package deal" aimed at reducing Mr. Rumsfeld's clout.

On the conservative side, Mr. Rumsfeld has wide leeway, granted by Vice President-elect Richard B. Cheney, to pick his deputies and is said to be leaning against Mr. Armitage's appointment. But key positions, such as the deputy defense secretary, must win Mr. Cheney's OK. The deputy job could be announced as early as next week.

The anti-conservative faction is pushing a deal for the two "Arms" and nominees for two other key positions: Academic Torkel Paterson, an Armitage protege, is in line to get the pivotal National Security Council East Asia job, and retired Rear Adm. Michael McDevit, a Democratic witness at last year's House hearings on China, is the hoped-for choice for deputy assistant defense secretary for East Asia.

Another package-deal appointee is James Kelly, a retired Navy officer, whom the centrists want as assistant secretary of state for East Asia.

Several key aides to George W. Bush during the campaign appear to have lost out in the elbowing between conservatives and centrists over appointments.

Former Pentagon official Dov Zakheim, we are told, is not expected to get a key undersecretary of defense slot, and former Pentagon official Richard Perle also may be left out of defense appointees.

Another name in the transition mix is Les Brownlee, staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who may get the post of Pentagon comptroller.

The leading administration centrist is Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell, who already has brought a group of former Army colonels to assist him, including former Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Bill Smullen.

Another aide to Mr. Powell at State is retired Army Col. Grant Green, who was identified to us as an aggressive anti-conservative.

The new transition chief at the Pentagon is William Schneider, a former State Department and Office of Management and Budget official who is said to be firmly in the conservatives' camp. The five-member transition team is said to be focusing on policy issues that need Mr. Rumsfeld's immediate attention. Personnel decisions are in the hands of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld troika.

Republicans say Mr. Rumsfeld is thinking less about appointments these days and more about preparing for his Jan. 11 confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Backtracking on China
Pressure is mounting on President-elect George W. Bush to change his presidential campaign positions on China.

Pro-China national security aides want Mr. Bush to stop calling the communist government a strategic competitor the major difference from the Clinton administration's questionable view of China as a strategic partner.

Mr. Bush supports the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act promoted by House and Senate conservatives and opposed by China and its U.S. supporters. But statements supporting the bill, which passed the House last year by a wide margin, quietly disappeared from the candidate's Internet site in the latter stages of the campaign.

Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell moved away from Mr. Bush's position in remarks made Dec. 16. Mr. Powell dropped the term "competitor" in referring to China. The change was noted by the Chinese government, which privately sent words of praise for the softer language, we are told.

Another influence is said to be CIA analyst Marty Peterson. A CIA China hand leading a team of CIA briefers camped out at a hotel in Austin, Texas, Mr. Peterson is providing Mr. Bush with daily intelligence briefings. He was identified to us as a key advocate of the China-is-not-a-threat theory that congressional Republicans have criticized. CIA officials vehemently denied the charge.

Rumsfeld vs. Shelton
When Donald H. Rumsfeld is sworn in as defense secretary this month, he will inherit a Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman who is on record as disagreeing with Mr. Rumsfeld's major contribution to the missile defense debate.

In 1998, Mr. Rumsfeld was chairman of a commission that concluded: "[T]he U.S. might well have little or no warning before operational deployment" of a rogue nation's intercontinental ballistic missile.

The finding was in conflict with the intelligence community's three-year warning prediction, and with President Clinton's relatively slow approach to developing a limited national defense system.

Shortly after the report's release, Gen. Henry H. Shelton, Joint Chiefs chairman, sent a letter to Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican. Gen. Shelton, in carefully chosen words, made it clear he parted company with Mr. Rumsfeld's key judgment.

"While the chiefs and I, along with the intelligence community, agree with many of the commission's findings, we have some different perspectives on likely developmental timelines and associated warning times," Gen. Shelton wrote.

"After carefully considering the portions of the report available to us, we remain confident that the intelligence community can provide the necessary warning of the indigenous development and deployment by a rogue state of an ICBM threat to the United States.

"For example, we believe that North Korea continues moving closer to initiation of a Taepo Dong I Medium Range Ballistic Missile testing program. That program has been predicted and considered in the current examination. The commission points out that through unconventional, high risk development programs and foreign assistance, rogue nations could acquire an ICBM capability in a short time and that the intelligence community may not detect it. We view this as an unlikely development."

Fond farewell
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and the Joint Chiefs of Staff will honor President Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton today at the Pentagon. Spokesman Kenneth Bacon said the couple will be applauded "for their support of the military over the last eight years."

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are syndicated columnists. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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