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October 9, 2008
Notes from the Pentagon

Taiwan arms sale
Sen. John McCain criticized the Bush administration this week for holding back key weapons in its package of defensive arms to Taiwan that was announced to Congress. The Republican presidential candidate also said the arms package was on hold for "too long."

Mr. McCain said in a statement that the weapons sale is a step in the right direction. "I have long supported such sales in order to strengthen deterrence in the Taiwan Strait and to help preserve the peace," he said. "American interests in Asia are well-served through faithful implementation of the Taiwan Relations Act, and if I am fortunate enough to be elected president, I will continue the long-standing and close ties between our peoples.

"I note that the administration has refrained from providing all of the elements requested by Taiwan for its legitimate security requirements," Mr. McCain said, noting the omission of new F-16s and submarines.

"I urge the administration to reconsider this decision, in light of its previous commitment to provide submarines and America's previous sales of F-16s," he said. "These sales - which could translate into tens of thousands of jobs here at home - would help retain America's edge in the production of advanced weaponry and represent a positive sign in these difficult economic times."

Mr. McCain said the United States should pursue good relations with China, but added that "however, we should understand that the possibility of productive ties between Taiwan and China are enhanced, not diminished, when Taipei speaks from a position of strength."

"I believe that America should continue to sell defensive weapons to Taiwan in the future, in accordance with its security requirements, and stand by this remarkable free and democratic people."

The senator's comments are viewed by China watchers as a hint that a McCain administration would be less conciliatory toward Beijing and friendlier to Taipei than the current team of China policymakers.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe declined to comment on the arms package, and a Pentagon spokesman had no immediate comment.

The campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, also issued a statement welcoming the arms sale but without mentioning the need to sell F-16s and submarines.

Campaign spokeswoman Wendy Morigi said the arms package was an important response to Taiwan's defense needs, including "maintenance of a healthy balance in the Taiwan Strait."

Mr. Obama thinks bolstering Taiwan's defenses can help reduce cross-strait tensions. The senator also said he regretted China's decision to suspend military relations with the United States because of the arms sale.

The Bush administration offered Taiwan a large arms package in 2001, but political wrangling in Taiwan blocked purchases for years. Then, when Taiwan's Legislature recently approved an arms budget, the Bush administration imposed the freeze before the Olympics to avoid upsetting Beijing. Critics in Congress said the freeze appeared to violate the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which requires the United States to supply defensive arms to Taiwan.

The $6 billion arms package announced Friday includes offers of 30 Apache attack helicopters, 330 Patriot Pac-3 missile-defense interceptors, 32 Harpoon anti-ship missiles and upgrade equipment for E-2 surveillance aircraft.

Beijing reacted to the arms sale by suspending military exchanges with the Pentagon.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in Beijing that the arms sale is "a serious violation" of the U.S.-China communiques that guide relations and "gross interference in China's internal affairs, which will undermine China's national security, and create disturbance and obstacles to the peaceful development of the cross-Strait relations."

"The U.S. should take immediate measures to correct its mistakes, cancel relevant plans to sell weapons to Taiwan, put an end to its military links with Taiwan, and stop disturbing the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations so as to prevent further damage to the Sino-U.S. relations as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," he said.

Adm. Tim Keating, the U.S. Pacific commander, was en route to Hong Kong when the suspension was announced this week but continued with that visit. An Army meeting with the Chinese on disaster relief is on hold, said Navy Capt. Jeff Breslau, the chief command spokesman.

Keane on Iraq
Retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, a key presidential adviser on the war in Iraq, recently explained for the first time in public some of the details behind the military surge in Iraq that has helped stabilize the war-torn country after what he said was "a failed strategy of three-plus years."

The surge "was the most difficult challenge I have ever undertaken in my life" because of the prospect of increased casualties for troops and risks of more if it failed, Gen. Keane said in an emotional speech.

In military terms, the surge was a "a counteroffensive, similar to [the] Normandy invasion" and other historical counteroffensives that involved higher casualties, greater risk and an unpredictable outcome, he said.

President Bush correctly decided to put Gen. David Petraeus, Gen. Ray Odierno and Ambassador Ryan Crocker in charge of the new effort, and "what they did is truly extraordinary, and this is going to get studied for years," he said. Though it normally takes years to defeat a counterinsurgency, in Iraq that was done in less than 1 1/2 years, Gen. Keane said.

Gen. Keane said the true heroes are "the Iraqi people themselves" who stood up to the terrorists, often in the face of horrible personal terrorist atrocities, to reject al Qaeda and the insurgents.

The retired four-star general also praised the work of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, who he said understand the nature of the threat posed by terrorism yet reflect the highest values in the world and those of the American people. By 2007, U.S. troops in Iraq "were transitioned from the toughness and steely-eyed infantry skills that they have to have to deal with people that are trying to kill them, and within minutes, [show] the compassion and love that they have for Iraqi citizens and families that they're willing to die for."

"They are not political people. They connected it. They understood what this really was. This was a threat to the security of their loved ones back at home, and what has always separated them from the rest of American society is they were willing to give up their life for it, and what an extraordinary thing that truly is," he said.

Petraeus on Keane
In a videotaped message at the dinner, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, new commander of the U.S. Central Command, praised Gen. Keane for his efforts to get the military surge going in Iraq.

"Gen. Keane has served our country exceedingly well and very courageously over the years, from the jungles of Vietnam to the battlefields of the Potomac," Gen. Petraeus said, with the reference to "Potomac" meaning the behind-the-scenes political battles in Washington over the Iraq war.

Gen. Petraeus recalled how Gen. Keane was standing next to him at Fort Campbell, Ky., years ago when he was accidentally shot in the chest by a soldier who had fallen and fired his rifle during a live-fire exercise.

"Though some have recalled the incident differently, perhaps tonight Gen. Keane will finally acknowledge my role in saving his life when I demonstrated lightning reflexes and leaped in front of him to take the round that was clearly headed for him," Gen. Petraeus joked.

Gen. Keane said "when a guy lays on the ground bleeding in front of you and you fight for his life and you do everything you can and you tell him, 'Hey, Dave, you know what's going on here. You're bleeding profusely, and we got to stop the bleeding. You got a hole the size of a 50-cent piece in your back, and we got to make sure you don't go into shock. So stay with us. OK? And we are going to keep you alive. So stay with us.'"

Gen. Keane said the future Centcom leader was "focused," a characteristic that stayed with him as leader of the successful surge in Iraq.

During the accidental shooting, Gen. Petraeus was sent by helicopter to a hospital where he was treated by Bill Frist, a surgeon who later would go on to become a Senate majority leader.

"And Bill Frist, who operated on Dave Petraeus, who had part of his lung blown out and a bunch of other things in his body, for five and a half hours are, believe me, close teammates to this day," Gen. Keane said.

  • Bill Gertz covers national security affairs. He can be reached at 202/636-3274, or at

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