Return to

June 22, 2001
Notes from the Pentagon

Losing Battle
Defense sources say Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is losing his battle with the White House budget office on increased spending in the fiscal 2002 budget.

"We´re going to get an awful lot less than many of us expected," said a Pentagon official. He blames the White House´s stinginess on less federal revenues owing to the slowed economy and President Bush´s 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut.

The sources say Mr. Rumsfeld had asked for more than $30 billion to augment the pending $310-billion plan for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. A large chunk of those funds would be earmarked for health care and improved infrastructure.

But the White House is holding firm at no more than an $18 billion increase. Sources said the services were cutting programs and amending budgets. The plan is due to Congress late next week.

Senior military leaders are not happy. They were viewing the 2002 budget as a mechanism to bring combat readiness to "get well" levels before embarking on a Bush plan to transform the armed forces for the 21st century.

Republicans worry that such a relatively paltry increase will create an open hunting season on Mr. Bush. Democrats will say his tax cut left no room for him to make good on a campaign promise that "help is on the way" for the military. Pro-defense conservatives will likely join the chorus.

N. Korea masses forces
U.S. intelligence agencies are closely watching the east and west coast of North Korea. Last week, large numbers of amphibious assault vehicles and craft were spotted getting into formation. Officials said the forces were probably preparing for military exercises.

The amphibious-warfare equipment was photographed by a U.S. spy satellite and included air-cushioned landing craft and troop- and tank-transport ships.

The massing of forces coincided with the incursion of a North Korean merchant ship into South Korean waters on June 13.

Asymmetric threats
Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. Central Command, is warning that the United States must prepare itself for a future "asymmetric" Pearl Harbor-like sneak attack.

"The asymmetric threat is serious and deserves our focused thought and preparation," Gen. Franks said in a recent speech to the Operations Security Professionals Society. "The point is to avoid another Pearl Harbor-like event by recognizing the threat and preparing to meet this growing challenge."

How to deal with asymmetric threats will be addressed in the ongoing defense-transformation efforts by the military, he said.

Asymmetric warfare threats include efforts by weaker powers to defeat stronger ones using attacks that can include weapons of mass destruction, the use of computer-based information warfare, and terrorism.

As a candidate last year, President Bush pledged on several occasions not to intervene in a referendum in which residents of Puerto Rico´s Vieques Island would decide whether to keep or close a Navy bombing range.

The commander in chief went back on that promise last week, saying in rather blunt terms that the Navy has to get out by May 2003. Pro-defense Republicans view the decision as sellout of the military in favor of potential Hispanic voters, among whom Vieques has become a seminal issue. Longtime Bush adviser Charles Black, a paid lobbyist for Puerto Rico, told us the president wants to defuse a volatile situation and that only the Navy believes it can win a referendum among Vieques´ 6,400 registered voters.

The Navy has a real dilemma on its hands. The only way it can win the referendum is by campaigning on the island from now until Election Day this November. But Mr. Bush wants Congress to repeal the law setting up the vote. If the Navy holds off campaigning and then Congress refuses to cancel the referendum, there will not be enough time to try to garner the needed majority vote.

"The one thing the Navy needed to do to win, they can´t do," said a Republican congressional aide. The staffer said the big question is whether the White House lets the Navy spend $40 million in the current budget to improve living conditions on Vieques.

Like father, like son
President Bush´s decision to get the Navy off Vieques Island by May 2003 is eerily similar to a decision President George Bush made as president in 1990.

For years, Hawaii residents complained of live-fire exercises on the island of Kahoolawe. There were protests, demonstrations, civil unrest and Navy statements that the site was essential to training -- the same dynamics framing the debate over Puerto Rico´s Vieques bombing range.

Then-President Bush solved the problem by ordering the range closed. There were suspicions in the Navy at the time that the action was calculated to help a Republican Senate candidate, who eventually lost the election. This time around, there is suspicion in the Navy that the son opted to close Vieques to help him with the Hispanic vote in 2004.

Laser-incident update
The Canadian helicopter pilot who suffered eye injuries during an encounter with a Russian merchant ship four years ago is being forced out of the military.

Capt. Pat Barnes will leave the Air Force Oct. 1 because injuries to his right eye -- damage believed to have been caused by a laser fired from the ship Kapitan Man in the Strait of Juan de Fuca in April 1997.

"I think I´m being wrongfully dismissed," Capt. Barnes, 44, told reporter Dean Beeby of the Canadian Press/Broadcast News service in Halifax, Nova Scotia. "They seem to be able to get away with throwing people out without compensating them."

Capt. Barnes was one of two casualties from the laser incident. The other was U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jack Daly. Lt. Cmdr. Daly announced last week that he is suing the Russian owner of the Kapitan Man over the incident.

Since the April 4, 1997, laser incident, the Canadian military has issued laser-protective eyewear to its pilots and soldiers.


  • The Pentagon has let the Army´s U.S. supplier of berets off the hook.

    The hubbub over foreign-made black berets prompted the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) to check to make sure Arkansas´ Bancroft Cap Co. was making military headgear from 100 percent American components, as a federal law requires.

    Last month, Bancroft acknowledged to DLA that its wool comes from South Africa and its leather from Pakistan. At stake were nearly 575,000 berets, costing the military over $4 million.

    But on Monday, the Pentagon came to the rescue. A senior acquisition official signed a waiver called a "determination of domestic non-availability."

    "We finally can breathe a sigh of relief," said Rep. Marion Berry, Arkansas Democrat, whose district includes the Bancroft plant. "Bancroft will remain in business and its employees will keep their jobs."

  • Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee criticized the Bush administration yesterday for cutting $100 million from the questionable Cooperative Threat Reduction program -- the Pentagon´s program to help Moscow dismantle nuclear weapons.

    Administration sources tell us the cut was ordered by White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is said to view the program as only marginally contributing to U.S. national security.

    Critics say the U.S. aid is freeing up money for Moscow to continue its strategic nuclear buildup, which includes two new long-range missile systems and a new class of missile submarines.

  • 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

  • Inside the Ring Archives
    1999 Columns
    2000 Columns
    2001 Columns
    Return to