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June 30, 2006
Notes from the Pentagon

Ribbons and IEDs
The Bush administration says the military is fighting a new kind of war. And it is requiring a new way to award ribbons for valor.

Gen. Michael Hagee, the Marine Corps commandant, sent out a message this week changing the criteria for the combat action ribbon, or CAR, citing "the evolution of warfare and the realities of the modern battlefield." The change cited is the enemy's use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have killed hundreds of American troops in Iraq.

The Marines replaced the requirement for the service member to be in "combat fire-fight or action," and replaced it with, "a tactical conflict, usually between opposing lower echelon maneuver forces."

A Marine officer commented to us, "You don't have to return fire to win a combat action ribbon."

The message says, "The intent of this change is to broaden the criteria to allow for recognition of situations encountered in today's combat environment."

The message goes on to explain the changed language by saying that "direct exposure" to an IED explosion now qualifies one for a CAR, even if the enemy is not in the immediate area.

"It is important to understand that the IED issue is the primary reason that the principal eligibility criterion was broadened," the document states.

The expanded CAR criteria are retroactive to the start of the war in Afghanistan in October 2001.

"Awards are instrumental in recognizing the service of Marines and sailors to our nation, and the personal involvement of commanders at all levels is absolutely vital to maintain the integrity and honor of the Navy and Marine Corps awards system," Gen. Hagee wrote. "Keep attacking."

From the front
Army Lt. Tom Cotton, on duty against the insurgents in the streets of Baghdad, had some damning criticism of the New York Times for reporting the covert Treasury Department program to gather terrorist financial data.

In a letter to the paper's managing editor and two reporters, Lt. Cotton wryly congratulates them for revealing the terrorist money-tracking program.

"I apologize for not writing sooner, but I am a lieutenant in the United States Army and I spent the last four days patrolling one of the more dangerous areas in Iraq," he stated.

"Unfortunately, as I supervised my soldiers late one night, I heard a booming explosion several miles away," he said. "I learned a few hours later that a powerful roadside bomb killed one soldier and severely injured another from my 130-man company. I deeply hope that we can find and kill or capture the terrorists responsible for that bomb.

"But, of course, these terrorists do not spring from the soil like Plato's guardians. No, they require financing to obtain mortars and artillery shells, priming explosives, wiring and circuitry, not to mention for training and payments to locals willing to emplace bombs in exchange for a few months' salary."

Lt. Cotton, a Harvard Law School graduate, said the program had been a success, but "not anymore."

"You may think you have done a public service, but you have gravely endangered the lives of my soldiers and all other soldiers and innocent Iraqis here," Lt. Cotton said. "Next time I hear that familiar explosion or next time I feel it I will wonder whether we could have stopped that bomb had you not instructed terrorists how to evade our financial surveillance."

China defense talks
A senior defense official tells us that recent defense consultative talks, or DCT, in China went well, despite the fact that they were led on the U.S. side by Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman and not by the usual undersecretary for policy, currently Eric Edelman, as in the past.

It was the first set of defense talks without Gen. Xiong Guangkai, who once threatened to use nuclear weapons against Los Angeles to deter U.S. intervention in a conflict over Taiwan. The official described the June 8 talks as "businesslike" and "positive."

Gen. Xiong's replacement at the head of Chinese side of the DCT was Lt. Gen. Zhang Qinsheng, who has an operational military background but who appeared in the talks as cautious and sometimes unfamiliar in dealing with what the Chinese regard among themselves as visiting foreign "barbarian" military and defense officials.

The talks in Beijing included a Chinese presentation of their military budgeting process, which the Pentagon has called secret and reported that published figures vastly understate real military outlays by tens of billions of dollars. The U.S. side probed the Chinese on their nuclear doctrine, one of China's deepest secrets and one that remains unclear. The doctrine appears to be in the early stages of a debate over whether to abandon the declared no-first-use of nuclear arms in a conflict to one of using them to retaliate for U.S. conventional missile strikes on China.

The strategic arms discussion was held as the head of the strategic nuclear forces, Gen. Jing Zhiyuan, is expected to visit the United States next year. China also repeated its position that it is studying a U.S. proposal to set up a hot line communications link between the Pentagon and China's military command center, something Beijing has been considering for years, but never agreed to, since it was proposed by the Pentagon.

Chinese military officials at the meeting criticized the Pentagon's annual report to Congress on Chinese military power. In response, it was suggested that Chinese military officers take part in a pre-publication review of the annual report in exchange for a U.S. military review of China's regular defense white papers.

"If they think we're wrong on something, we're happy to let them tell us," the senior official said. As for the white papers, "we can offer some suggestions for them," he said. Officials said the mutual report cooperation is unlikely to happen.

Chinese officials also stated their opposition to U.S. support for Taiwan. U.S. officials, as they have in the past, had nothing to say on the subject.

Saddam's generals
Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the man given the critical task of training and equipping the new Iraqi Security Force (ISF), was in Washington this week for consultations along with his boss, Gen. George Casey.

Gen. Dempsey put a new light on the difficulty of creating leaders within the Iraqi army, which he considers the key to a functioning fighting force. Under Saddam Hussein, senior officers thought their rank entitled them to all sorts of privileges. Gen. Dempsey is trying to erase that culture and replace it with the edict that generals are public servants, not kings.

"I think it's fair to say, and even some of the former officers would say, in the former regime, leadership was an entitlement," he said. "You wanted to be a leader because you got certain things for it. And the system that Iraq is putting in place now [is] to build leaders who actually have to perform, who have a loyalty to their subordinates and who have a loyalty to the greater Iraq. And as long as we keep that moving in place, I think we're going to be OK."

  • 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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