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September 3, 2004
Notes from the Pentagon

Kerry and Vietnam
If Sen. John Kerry is elected president, he will be the first commander in chief whose photograph is honored by a one-time enemy in thanks for helping it defeat the United States in war.

A photo of Mr. Kerry meeting with Vietnamese communist leaders in 1983 hangs in the War Remnants Museum, which used to be called the "War Crimes Museum," in Ho Chi Minh City. According to best-selling book "Unfit for Command," that wing honors Americans who helped the North Vietnamese communists chase Americans from the South. Others in the wing include anti-war activist David Miller, who is shown burning his draft card in 1965.

A plaque at the museum quotes from a Vietnamese Communist Party report in 1974 stating that "we would like to thank the communist parties and working class of the countries of the world ... peace-loving countries ... and progressive human beings for their whole-hearted support and strong encouragement to our people's patriotic resistance against the U.S. for national salvation."

A separate women's museum displays a photo of Jane Fonda meeting with Viet Cong Foreign Minister Madame Nguyen Thi Binh.

China plank
Republicans this week were divided over how to characterize communist China and its threats to Taiwan in the party platform.

Administration and congressional officials involved in the debate say it is a reflection of the major policy battle inside the U.S. government over whether to abandon the so-called "one-China" policy that says there is only one China not two, as in the mainland and Taiwan.

The final language of the platform was a mix of good and bad.

The good: "America's policy is based on the principle that there must be no use of force by China against Taiwan. We deny the right of Beijing to impose its rule on the free Taiwanese people."

The second sentence was a significant departure from past platform China planks in that it recognizes that China will never succeed in getting Taiwan to submit to Beijing's form of government and the United States will not give up its posture of defending the island from mainland attack.

The platform also says that Republicans welcome "the emergence of a strong, peaceful, and prosperous China."

The China section of the platform was developed by the White House National Security Council staff, with help from the offices of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

Korean missile threat
Asian military affairs specialist Richard D. Fisher says North Korea's new long-range missile "poses a significantly increased threat to the United States and Japan."

The missile is described by Mr. Fisher as derived from the Soviet-era SS-N-6 submarine-launched ballistic missile. It was Moscow's first sub-launched missile.

The CIA expected the North Koreans to display the new missile during a September 2003 parade, but it never appeared.

The North Koreans are thought to have 10 missiles and five transporter-erector-launchers at the Mirim air base near Pyongyang.

"At longer range this missile, fired from North Korean territory, could reach Okinawa and Guam," Mr. Fisher says. "... With a circular error probability of about one mile, it is accurate enough for North Korea, which needs only to threaten a large American military base or city, like Honolulu or Los Angeles."

Mr. Fisher warns that the "simplest option" for the North Koreans would be to use the missile hidden in a shipping container on one of North Korea's merchant ships.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, as we noted in this space last week, warned about the danger of ship-launched, short-range missiles in a recent speech. He said a Middle East nation tested a missile from a merchant ship in the late 1990s. The nation was Iran, which has close ties to North Korea in the area of missiles.

Air Force Gen. Ralph Eberhart, commander of the U.S. Northern Command, also said recently that the danger of ship-based missiles is growing. "I believe it's just a matter of time until the terrorists try to use a ... maritime attack against us," he said. "I believe that attack could come in terms of bringing a ship into port, whether it's [carrying] high explosives or whether it's weapons of mass destruction."

Notes Mr. Fisher: "Should North Korea adopt this strategy, it would have the option of trying to infiltrate and pre-position its missiles in Canada, Central America or even the continental United States. U.S. missile defenses do not currently defend against either launches from the south of or within the contiguous 50 states."

51st state
The disclosure of an FBI investigation into possible espionage at the Pentagon involving Israel has highlighted its close ties with the United States in information sharing.

Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid. Within that framework are hundreds of military-to-military contacts each year in which all sorts of information is exchanged.

For example, a military source told us last year that during a visit to Israel the United States learned of Israeli plans for air strikes against Iranian nuclear sites if the terrorist state draws closer to building nuclear bombs.

There's more.

Documents obtained by The Washington Times revealed that on Feb. 14, 2003, U.S. officials briefed senior Israeli leaders on U.S. war plans for Iraq. The war began a month later.

Two days after the briefing, the U.S. European Command, under the direction of the Central Command, set up a formal information-sharing channel with Israel on U.S. military plans for Iraq.

Two countries can't get much closer than that.

The mistaken bombing of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan in 2002 has forced the Air Force to turn its air operations center in Kuwait into "law and order."

At the Combine Air Operations Center (CAOC), three military lawyers (or judge advocates) are assigned directly to operational issues. The JAGs work shifts that assures one is there 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Their job: make sure targets lie within international rules of war.

A fighter or bomber pilot asks permission from the airborne control aircraft to strike. The issue is then relayed to the CAOC, where lawyers examine the target's suitability.

Iraq progress
The U.S. Agency for International Development has produced a picture-filled, 28-page report on progress made in Iraq.

The list of reopened schools, new democratic institutions, retooled electrical and water-treatment plants, and vaccinated and schooled children is not the kind of fodder for the U.S. press. But it is the kind of steady advancement that must be chronicled at some point to get the full picture of Iraq's try at becoming a democracy.

The report is written by Ben Barber, a former Washington Times reporter who spent two weeks in Iraq for AID collecting information as helicopters ferried him from town to town.

One excerpt: "While total electric power output continued to climb, it was distributed in a new way. Under the old regime, the outlying regions were required to send power to Baghdad which enjoyed electricity nearly 24 hours per day. But the smaller cities such as Basra had power only a couple of hours each day. Now power is more evenly shared."

  • 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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