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May 13, 2005
Notes from the Pentagon

General snubbed
Gen. Xiong Guangkai, the deputy chief of the Chinese general staff, led a Chinese military delegation to defense talks at the Pentagon last month and tried but failed to get an unscheduled meeting with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

China has been trying for years to court Mr. Rumsfeld, a reputed hard-liner on communist China and especially its military.

Gen. Xiong told Pentagon officials during his visit that he had an important message for Mr. Rumsfeld and that it must be delivered personally, defense officials said. The request was denied, but Gen. Xiong was allowed to see outgoing Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. The important message? Officials said it was nothing more than "boilerplate" Chinese military positions.

Gen. Xiong then asked to meet with both Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Peter Pace, the vice chairman and chairman-designee. Both were not available to meet with Gen. Xiong, who is notorious for his 1996 statement to a defense official in which he made a veiled threat to use nuclear weapons against Los Angeles.

In the mix
Michael W. Wynne, the Pentagon's top acquisition official, is back in the mix for another senior post, insiders tell us.

The White House nominated Mr. Wynne last year to be undersecretary of defense for acquisition, but Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, blocked a vote in the Senate. Mr. Wynne is among a number of officials and officers held up by Mr. McCain over the Boeing tanker lease scandal.

But now, industry and administration officials talk of a possible truce in that battle. They say Mr. Wynne is being considered for other posts, possibly secretary of the Air Force or Navy.

The White House announced in April that it wants Kenneth J. Krieg, who directs the Pentagon's program analysis and evaluation office, to be confirmed as the next undersecretary for acquisition. A Senate vote is expected soon.

IED warnings
We had a look at a thick, confidential report created by a special Pentagon task force on how to defeat improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq. The remotely detonated bombs are the principal weapon of insurgents, be they Saddam Hussein loyalists or foreign terrorists.

"Enemy sophistication continually improves," the report states. "Enemy is adapting all the time."

The report acknowledges drawbacks in jammers rushed to Iraq to try to disrupt the electronic link between the battery-powered ignition and the bomber who uses gadgets such as doorbells and cordless phones.

"Rely on proven patrol techniques not electronic equipment," the report says. "Do not become complacent while patrolling with jamming devices."

Businessman's view
An Army National Guard captain, who is a banking executive in private life, has sent a lengthy e-mail back home with his take on progress in Iraq.

"Believe me, I had low expectations prior to coming here, and the economy is worse than I anticipated," the officer wrote in April. "Without tremendous international support, the future of Iraq would certainly look bleak. With international support, there is hope. There are many positive signs, but most people do not have an accurate picture how bad the situation was when we entered Iraq" in March 2003.

The captain looked to the history of nation-building and concluded that the U.S. is essentially attempting an unprecedented feat: carry out a Marshall Plan, fight an insurgency, privatize a state-owned economy and eliminate an entitlement mentality and do them all at once.

"On the positive side we are building the Iraqis a first-rate infrastructure with water, power, schools, sewage all several decades more advanced than they ever had in the past," he said.

"I couldn't be more proud of the way our soldiers are performing. Morale is high and most people seem to enjoy their jobs. It is usually the exception that is quoted on television. I find most soldiers enjoy what they are doing."

Offense, defense
Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, the U.S. Strategic Command chief who is in charge of waging nuclear war and defending against a nuclear missile attack, told a Senate committee this week that strategic defenses are an essential complement to offensive weapons.

Gen. Cartwright told the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee on Wednesday that the limited on-off strategic missile defense system now in place can defend the United States against attacks from two to five North Korean Taepo-Dong 2 missiles.

Gen. Cartwright said the new missile defense can identify a missile attack in three to four minutes and then fire an interceptor to kill it, if it is thought headed for Hawaii or Alaska in the next three to five minutes.

Explaining why missile defenses are needed, the four-star general said it is important to have a balance of offensive and defensive forces to deal with today's sophisticated threats.

"We can have snipers and terrorists on the street who hide among civilians, take their first shot thinking they're going to [have] the advantage by getting that first shot off with no regret factor, because nobody will shoot back at them, and you're worried about ducking," Gen. Cartwright said.

"Having a defense makes all the difference in the world in the calculus of the mind of the adversary, in the mind of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines."

Gen. Cartwright said the "offensive-only" Cold War strategy of mutually assured destruction holding populations at risk of nuclear attack to deter a war "is just not going to be robust enough for the diverse threats that we face today."

"We have to change the calculus in the mind of the enemy so that [after] that first shot, they don't believe that they're going to escape that with no regret," he said. "Number two, they've got to question whether they're going to be successful or not. Number three, they've got to believe that we will get them if they take that first shot. It's absolutely essential. And so, having a balanced offense and defense in the world we deal in today is absolutely essential."

  • 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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