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May 5, 2006
Notes from the Pentagon

Pace's mail
Conservative commentator Ben Stein has said and written many laudatory things about America's military. He lambasted Hollywood for not one mention of the troops during the Oscars broadcast.

But one column he wrote gained the special attention of a very important person Marine Gen. Peter Pace, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman. In fact, Gen. Pace liked the piece so much he e-mailed it to his regular address list, including Army Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq.

"I hesitate to forward e-mail but I think our service members should be aware of this," he said, under the title, "Ben Stein speaks the truth."

Mr. Stein wrote the column as an open letter to members of the armed forces. He compared a day in his life of running errands in Rancho Mirage, Calif., to their jobs of fighting the evil forces of al Qaeda.

"We are on our knees to you and we bless and pray for you every moment," he writes. "You are everything to us, as we go through our little days, and you are in the prayers of the nation and of every decent man and woman on the planet. That's who you are and what you mean. I hope you know that. Love, Ben Stein."

McCaffrey's back
Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey returned to Iraq last month, his first visit in a year to assess the war for his colleagues at West Point. While some are still calling for more American troops, Gen. McCaffrey supports the commanders' position that troops will likely come down, not go up.

Gen. McCaffrey worries, in a post-trip memo, that an increase in troops will leave the military unable to handle other trouble spots.

"In my judgment, [U.S. Central Command] must constrain the force level in Iraq or we risk damaging our ground combat capability, which we will need in the ongoing deterrence of threats from North Korea, Iran, Syria, China against Taiwan, Venezuela, Cuba and other potential flashpoints."

The general, a highly decorated combat veteran in Vietnam, is increasingly worried about military-press relations. "There is rapidly growing animosity in our deployed military forces toward the U.S. media," he writes.

He said in an interview that two things are at work: The soldiers hear top Bush administration officials complaining about press coverage of Iraq; and when they watch the news most of what they see are insurgency bombings, not progress that is being made.

Gen. McCaffrey's report also touches on Iran. And his prediction is not reassuring to an administration determined to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

"The Iranian people have collectively decided to go nuclear," he says. "The Chinese and Russians will not, in the end, support serious collective action against Iran. The Iranians will achieve their nuclear weapons purpose within five to 10 years."

Army protector
Gen. T. Michael Moseley, the Air Force chief of staff who ran air wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, had this interesting fact on air dominance when he met with reporters recently.

"The United States Air Force is very good at defending Army troops," he said. "The last time an Army soldier was killed on the ground was April of 1953 by an attack from the air, in Korea. So we take this very serious about our partnership with the Army."

Rummy and the press
Radio commentator Laura Ingraham asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld about the latest negative item about him in Washington's other newspaper. The article talked of a split between Mr. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"Oh, absolutely not," the defense chief told Miss Ingraham. "What nonsense. It's just fairly typical Washington Post stuff."

Hu visit fallout
White House officials were pointing fingers at each other over who is to blame for the protocol gaffes that disrupted the recent summit between President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Pentagon officials tell us Dennis Wilder, the acting director for Asia at the National Security Council and a key organizer of the White House part of Mr. Hu's visit, is blaming the White House press office and the U.S. Secret Service for allowing the Falun Gong heckler into the White House grounds, while other Asian and foreign press reporters were banned. The reporter, Wang Wenyi, disrupted the ceremony by shouting at the Chinese leader, "Your days are numbered."

Other officials are blaming Mr. Wilder, who is not fluent in Chinese, for not properly overseeing the public address announcer, who embarrassed Mr. Hu by dropping "People's" from the "Republic of China," the name for China's archrival Taiwan, in introducing the Chinese president. China regarded the bogus announcement as a huge insult.

A third gaffe was the series of errors made by one of the Chinese language interpreters in translating Mr. Bush's English into Chinese. Mr. Wilder has banned the interpreter from future work, even though Mr. Wilder approved his assignment for the ceremony, we are told.

Chinese government officials were livid over the mishaps and think they were intentional acts by administration officials opposed to warmer U.S.-Chinese ties.

Critics say Mr. Wilder also was the leading advocate for reversing a decades-long ban on U.S. space cooperation with China, one of the few announcements made at the summit. Mr. Wilder hailed the agreement as an effort to "deepen" ties with China.

Human rights advocates in Congress and the administration were appalled by the agreement, which includes sending the NASA administrator to China and exploring the moon with China. "No one in Congress or the Pentagon was consulted by order of Wilder," one insider tells us.

The space cooperation ban had been part of a bipartisan consensus that working with China on space would trigger human rights protests against the U.S. space program for dealing with a nation engaged in systematic human rights abuses.

Defense officials also oppose sharing space technology with China because its space program is run by the Chinese military, and U.S. technology will be used to enhance China's space weapons and missile programs.

Di Rita leaving
Larry Di Rita, one of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's closest advisers, is leaving the Pentagon. He has taken a senior communications post with Bank of America in Charlotte, N.C.

Mr. Di Rita, a former Navy officer and former Heritage Foundation analyst, was one of Mr. Rumsfeld's first aides to arrive on the scene in February 2001. He handled special projects, press relations and regular squash matches with the 73-year-old defense chief.

  • 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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