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October 28, 2010
Notes from the Pentagon

India-China policy fight
Behind the scenes within the Obama administration a vigorous debate took place over the president's upcoming visit to India. The issue is whether the president will avoid all comments and meetings that are likely to upset China, or whether the United States will continue the Bush administration strategy of seeking a closer alliance with New Delhi as a counter to China.

Once again, as reported in this space last week, the debate involves a dominant group of policymakers who think the best way to work with China is to avoid upsetting the communist government.

On the other side are more moderate officials in a "sad and disappointed" group who favor shifting or dumping the administration's two-year program of conciliatory policies toward Beijing.

The pro-China group, dubbed the "kowtow" faction by officials close to the debate, is fighting to keep out of the president's speech in New Delhi next month anything that would upset China.

That would include any reference to the Indian border state of Arunachal Pradesh that China is claiming as its territory, or meetings or references to the exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan government in exile, both based in India.

The visit to India will be a showdown of sorts over as many as 10 national security and defense issues related to India and China.

The moderates think pro-China officials will use the India visit to roll back initiatives launched by President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that are aimed to coaxing India, with its history of promoting nonaligned policies, into a closer U.S. policy orbit, using the future threat from China as the catalyst.

The programs being debated, in addition to India-China territorial dispute and U.S. support for the Dalai Lama, include:

  • Should the United States continue to promote India's leadership role in the region, amid criticism from China that New Delhi is becoming regional hegemon.

  • Whether the United States should press India to cap its long-range missile and nuclear program, which China favors.

  • Whether the president will go to bat for U.S. aircraft manufacturers and press India to buy up to 150 U.S. jet fighters worth an estimated $5 billion, instead of choosing European warplanes.

  • Whether to let the U.S. military continue joint special operations force exercises with Indian special forces troops, and to continue promoting stepped up Indian naval visits to Japan, Guam and other Asian ports.

    The soft-liners on China favor a presidential visit to India that will make it appear the United States and India have no special strategic relations and specifically that Washington is not supporting India in a grand strategy against China.

    The moderates favor continuity with policies that work to help India become a strategic counterweight to China in the years ahead.

    The nations of Asia are closely watching the Obama visit, which begins Nov. 5, as a sign of U.S. commitment to regional security.

    "Every country in Asia will be watching closely to see how Chinese objections and pressure will be handled by Obama," said one official. "Most Americans have no sensitivity to this at all. But Asians, from Japan and South Korea to Indonesia and Vietnam, will all be gauging the U.S. commitment to the region."

    Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for communications; William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs; and Mike Froman, deputy national security adviser for economic affairs, told reporters on Wednesday that the president's India visit will focus largely on trade and economic issues.

    Mr. Rhodes said there is no message for China by the administration in the tour of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who left Wednesday for visits to a group of Asian nations, and Mr. Obama's visit to Asia, without a stop in China.

    However, he said it was not a coincidence that India will be the first stop scheduled on the president's visit.

    "Asia is a focus, as I've said, and we see India as a cornerstone of our engagement with this hugely important region of the world," he said.

    On China, Mr. Rhodes said, "We don't feel like there needs to be a choice between a cooperative U.S.-China relationship and these broader relationships that we have in Asia."

    "As an Asian power and a Pacific power, it's in the interests of the region for the U.S. to have a cooperative relationship with China on some of these issues, but it's similarly in the interests of the region for us to, again, be very engaged with ASEAN, to be deepening our partnership with India, and to firm up our alliances with Korea and Japan," he said.

    What China policy fight?
    The Obama administration appears stung by the report in Inside the Ring last week revealing a policy fight over China and a split between pro-Beijing "kowtow" officials and a more moderate group described as "sad and disappointed" at China's failure to cooperate with the United States on all major issues.

    Asked about the Ring report, Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, who officials say is part of the "sad and disappointed" camp, told reporters Wednesday: "Look, all I can tell you in terms of the Asian-Pacific team, it is among the most cohesive, engaged groups of people I've ever worked with."

    The team has held "very productive discussions on all initiatives that we've been involved with," Mr. Campbell said, noting that discussion of "this kind of division is wrong, is incorrect."

    "And I think of myself as quite optimistic generally and open," he said. "And so I would highlight instead a team that is working very hard in a very cohesive fashion together, not disunity. I think that's totally incorrect."

    Jeffrey A. Bader, who was identified as a key figure in the "kowtow" group of officials who favor orienting all U.S. policies toward avoiding anything that would upset China, told the New York Times, without addressing the policy dispute, that the administration is aiming "to effectively counteract" the view that the United States is a declining power while China is growing, through a policy of "renewing American leadership" by shifting its Asia policy toward developing closer ties to nations in the region.

    Mullen on suicides
    Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a speech Wednesday that the military needs to train its soldiers in "psychological fitness" as a way to stem the growing problem of suicides.

    Speaking at the annual Association of the U.S. Army convention in Washington, Adm. Mullen said the head of a task force on suicide prevention in the military has urged military members, veterans and their families to "attack the stigma" of seeking help for psychological problems.

    The military's warriors are also human beings and "calling for help" to deal with depression and other mental ailments is no different than seeking help for other needs, he said.

    Adm. Mullen said the military needs to build up "resilience" of soldiers in basic training. "We need to teach soldiers psychological fitness skills, just as surely as we teach them to march, wear a uniform or fire a weapon," he said.

    The comments by the chairman come as the Army on Wednesday launched a $17 million program to study which suicide prevention programs work best.

    The three-year project will look at various aspects of suicide in order to find which methods can be used best to prevent suicides. Between 2005 and 2009, more than 1,100 U.S. military members committed suicide.

    "We know we're not going to solve the suicide problem in the military with this three-year research consortium," Army Col. Carl Castro, director of the Military Operational Medicine Research Program at Fort Detrick, Md., told the Associated Press. "But what we hope to do at the end of this three years is to lay a very solid foundation on which other research can be built."

    Don't ask in Afghanistan
    Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of Task Force Leatherneck located in the heart of southern Helmand Province, Afghanistan, told reporters this week that the legal wrangling over the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays has had no impact on the Marines fighting the Taliban.

    "Here down on the ground level here in Afghanistan, there is no impact at all," Gen. Osterman said of a recent federal judge's decision striking down the law, and a subsequent appeals court upholding it.

    "I think it's safe to say that most of the Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen that I have underneath my charge really are not that aware of a lot of the dialogue that's going on," he said.

    Most of the Marines fighting in Helmand are "living in 15-man patrol bases where they're lucky to have some fresh water or some kind of shelter over their head beyond a tent," he said.

    Gen. Osterman said the Marines are out of touch with the controversy, "and I also don't know that they necessarily would take it as problematic in terms of the dialogue."

    "They understand that, as Marines, we'll follow whatever laws are in place, and also whatever policies are promulgated by the secretary of defense," he said. "So really, basically, we'll follow, you know, whatever policy is promulgated there and move on."

    Gen. Osterman said the Marines in the region are making progress in defeating the Taliban and securing the population through what he called an "ink blot" strategy of driving out the insurgents and securing the central territory of the province.

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