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March 10, 2006
Notes from the Pentagon

Maritime security cut
The Bush administration is cutting funds needed by the U.S. Northern Command, the military unit responsible for directly protecting the United States, to counter sea-based threats to the country.

The command has told Congress it needs $5.6 million for a program that was left out of President Bush's fiscal 2007 defense budget request of $439.3 billion. It was on a list of Northern Command's five unfunded priorities.

According to a Northern Command statement we obtained, the Maritime Domain Awareness program is needed to "detect, track and defeat maritime threats."

Northern Command has a military requirement to conduct round-the-clock monitoring of all vessels near U.S. coasts. It is working to set up a tracking and detection system that could guide warships and other weapons to threats, such as a mobile missile fired from a freighter at the United States from coastal waters, or the smuggling of a terrorist bomb in a shipping container or other vessel.

"Without these funds U.S. NorthCom will not be able to leverage ongoing [Defense Department] maritime initiatives which strengthen the ability of the department to defend maritime approaches to the United States," the command statement said.

The funding cut will force the command to postpone developing the system and limit efforts to improve current programs.

The cuts could be restored by Congress during the budgeting process.

Other funding omissions will block purchases of new mobile communications to link military and nonmilitary users; intelligence and information sharing systems needed by anti-terrorism forces; and two other communications networks needed to beef up the command's ability to work with local, state, federal and international agencies in attacks or disasters.

Taiwanese arms
Taiwan is moving ahead with plans to buy U.S. P-3 anti-submarine aircraft and upgraded Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile systems as part of a compromise over its long-stalled special defense spending package.

Asian diplomats tell us the aircraft and missile defenses are the most urgently needed defense items to counter the growing Chinese military forces across the Taiwan Strait, where up to 800 short-range missiles are now deployed.

Taiwan's government is still stalling on approving funds needed for eight diesel-electric submarines because of political differences over the costs.

Jane's Defense Weekly reported recently that the U.S. Navy also is stalling on the diesel submarines, which the United States does not manufacture.

Navy officials in the past have opposed the offer to build the submarines for Taiwan, formally called the Republic of China, because of the precedent for ending the all-nuclear submarine force.

Pentagon officials are concerned that the Taiwanese submarine offer will get sidetracked now that Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, a supporter of the submarine sale when he was Navy secretary, is no longer close enough to shepherd the deal.

Shali's gala
The National Bureau of Asian Research is creating a national security studies committee in the name of retired Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, the former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman and political supporter of Democratic candidates.

The Seattle-based think tank is honoring the former four-star officer with a gala fundraiser April 5 at Washington's Ritz-Carlton hotel.

The honorary committee is mostly Democratic, headed by former President Bill Clinton, and his secretary of state, Madeleine K. Albright, a sharp critic of President Bush's foreign policy. The list includes Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts; retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, who ran against Mr. Kerry for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination; and former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton of Indiana, co-chairman of the September 11 commission.

Republicans include Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who often is more critical of Mr. Bush than Mrs. Albright, and Sens. Ted Stevens of Alaska and John W. Warner of Virginia, who control the Pentagon's spending habits on the Senate side.

Also on the committee is Colin L. Powell, the former Joint Chiefs chairman who went on to lead the State Department in Mr. Bush's first term.

Promoters promise a night of fine dining and multiple tributes to Gen. Shalikashvili.

New appeal
Former Army medic Michael New was in Washington recently to watch U.S. Court of Appeals arguments. His attorneys want the court to throw out his conviction for disobeying a direct order when he refused to don U.N. insignia and deploy to the Balkans.

Mr. New, now a college student in Texas, has his own Web site and a line of anti-U.N. paraphernalia. One is a lapel pin of the insignia of the United Nations with a red line through it. Another is a refrigerator magnet you can stick right next to the phone numbers for the plumber, cable guy and pizza delivery. "Mike was right," the magnet says. "Real Americans Don't Wear U.N. Blue."

Keeping cool
Rep. John P. Murtha, a decorated Marine Corps veteran who has become the House Democrats' chief critic of the Iraq war, has cited several reasons for an immediate troop pullout. They include: The war is unwinnable; the United States is creating terrorists; it costs too much; there were no weapons of mass destruction; and the Iraqi people want our troops to leave. On Sunday, the Pennsylvania Democrat told CBS' "Face the Nation" there is another reason: air conditioning.

"Our troops have air conditioning not the troops in the field, but the commanders and so forth," he said. "So they sit in their air-conditioned places and they have good food and they're well the Iraqis know this, and as they see the casualties, they start to turn against us."

Meanwhile, a new Gallup Poll shows that 70 percent of Americans want to keep troops in Iraq or increase their numbers; 27 percent back Mr. Murtha's demand to pull them out now.

In the poll, 62 percent think the United States will, or can, win in Iraq, compared with 34 percent think otherwise.

  • 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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