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February 20, 2004
Notes from the Pentagon

The king's worries
King Abdullah II of Jordan is telling his American contacts that he sent a confidential memo to President Bush in January.

The king, a staunch U.S. ally in the war on terrorism, said he gave Mr. Bush an assessment of developments in neighboring Iraq and point-by-point recommendations for how to take the country to self-rule.

But Iraq is not King Abdullah's prime worry. He looks south at Saudi Arabia and sees a fragile monarchy susceptible to overthrow by Islamic extremists. Such an event would create the region's second radical Muslim dictatorship, along with Iran, and further threaten the king's hold on power.

Jordanian officials contend they have kept the country free of al Qaeda cells for some time. The king's top priority is economic growth to create jobs to help stabilize the monarchy. Elections are not in the immediate future.

Jordan is maintaining close military-to-military ties with Washington, and the king, who commanded his country's special-operations forces in 1989, regularly talks strategy with Mr. Bush, sometimes outside the presence of aides.

Antibomb efforts
U.S. military forces continue to employ electronic signal broadcasters in Iraq as part of efforts to set off remote-controlled bombs before they damage passing vehicles.

At the same time, the terrorists are taking steps to make premature detonation more difficult, according to Pentagon officials.

Some convoys of military vehicles are using hand-held remote controls similar to garage-door openers in an effort to prevent being killed or injured by the deadly roadside bombs.

Officials tell us they are trying to use more-sophisticated methods to electronically jam the bombs, which have been the main killer of U.S. service personnel in Iraq since the end of major combat.

The terrorists, for their part, also are adapting their tactics by burying some of the bombs, making it more difficult for a remote signal to reach them.

Nominees on hold
The Senate is playing hardball with the Pentagon and has put all nominees on hold to protest the controversy over the Boeing aerial refueling deal, we are told.

The nomination logjam is being led by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who wants answers to questions about the lease of the refueling tankers.

One official said there has been talk in the Pentagon among senior leaders of offering up two senior nominees as "hostages" to the Senate in exchange for senators allowing other lower-level appointees to proceed through the nomination process.

The potential hostage nominees were identified as Michael A. Wynn, the acting undersecretary for acquisition and technology, and Air Force Secretary James Roche, who is up for Army secretary.

Abizaid talks
Gen. John Abizaid, the man at the tip of the spear in the war on terrorism, sat down with several reporters recently.

The U.S. Central Command chief delivered a tour de force view of the world on Afghanistan, America's staying power in the war on terrorism, Iraq's future and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, whom al Qaeda or its linked groups has tried to kill twice with roadside bombs.

Some highlights:

• On Iraq: "There's political activity of a moderate nature that's starting to emerge in the Sunni community that I think has been enabled to a certain extent by the capture of Saddam Hussein." And "I'm confident that there's no flood of foreign fighters coming in that you can read about on the Jihadist Web sites. The same has to do with Afghanistan. The propaganda never quite gains realization on the ground."

• On Mr. Musharraf: "I've talked to him personally about moderation developing in his country. He is working against the madrassa system. ... We shouldn't come to the conclusion that all madrassas are bad, because they're not. But he is moving against those that he knows are extremist. It's a battle of ideas as much as it is a military battle, and he's engaged in that and we've got to help him fight that battle."

•On the counterterror war: "Part of the problem that we have in this war that is being waged throughout my area of operations is patience. Culturally speaking, our patience quotient is not high. Culturally speaking, the patience quotient of our enemies is very high. We think in terms of sound bytes of 15 seconds. They think in terms of hundreds of years."

•On Afghanistan: "In Afghanistan, despite an awful lot of reporting that's always talking about the resurgence of the Taliban, I believe that the Taliban is in deep trouble as a military organization and I think their political capital is waning as well. ... So I'm feeling pretty good about how things are going against the Taliban."

Gay lunch II
Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness, has asked a National Defense University professor for equal time.

We ran an item reporting that the professor, Gregory D. Foster, was hosting a brown-bag lunch at the Defense Department school with two homosexual British sailors and Aaron Belkin, a California professor who runs the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military.

Mr. Foster's invitation reads in part: "Given the provocative and sensitive nature of the issue, I consider this an especially valuable opportunity to better understand what gays in the military feel and experience. Accordingly, I encourage you to bring your lunch and prepare to engage in some revealing and potentially enlightening discussion."

The British government has lifted its ban on open homosexuals in the military.

After reading the item, Mrs. Donnelly, whose group supports the U.S. military's ban on homosexuals in the ranks, telephoned Mr. Foster. She tells us she won a commitment that she would be invited to come to NDU in March at a brown-bag lunch so students and faculty can hear an opposing view.

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

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