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November 4, 2010
Notes from the Pentagon

Obama temple visit nixed
White House political advisers canceled President Obama's planned visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, amid concerns that his wearing an orange scarf there would fuel misperceptions that he is a Muslim.

Mr. Obama leaves Friday for a 10-day trip to Asia, including four days in India, his first stop.

Initial plans called for him to go to the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine for the Sikh religion, administration officials said. All visitors to the temple must don an orange head scarf or a cap when entering the site, located in northern Punjab province close to the Pakistan border via Kashmir.

An administration official said the White House nixed the visit over worries that photographs of the president at the temple wearing a scarf would add to Mr. Obama's image problem as a Muslim.

The White House became sensitized about the issue after a Pew Research Center poll in August revealed that 18 percent of Americans think Mr. Obama is a Muslim. Mr. Obama is Christian.

Officially, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said the temple visit fell off the president's schedule because of time constraints.

A White House spokesman referred questions about the reason for scrapping the temple visit to Mr. Gibbs' and Mr. Rhodes' earlier statements.

Mr. Gibbs said Oct. 20 that the schedule for stops in India was coordinated with the Indian government and that three days is a short time in a big country.

"We'd love to spend a lot more than the three allotted days that we have in India," Mr. Gibbs said. "This trip will focus our business in the cities of Mumbai and New Delhi."

Mr. Rhodes, who said he led planning for the trip, told reporters on Oct. 27 that "the schedule that we ended up [with] is the schedule that best advances the purposes and interests of the trip."

"We've visited multiple religious sites mosques, churches, synagogues on foreign travel," Mr. Rhodes said. "We'll do so on this trip, probably in Indonesia. So I think that the decision we made was driven by, again, the interests of time, how to best advance our common interests with India in these three days, and, unfortunately, we're not going to be able to get to get to every place we advanced."

A diplomatic official in New Delhi told Agence France-Presse last month that "the head scarf is one issue, and there were other logistical issues that led to the cancelation."

PLA commissar visit
Despite the Chinese military's break in relations with the Pentagon over arms sales to Taiwan, China is sending the political commissar of Beijing's National Defense University (NDU) to Washington this weekend.

Lt. Gen. Liu Yazhou will take part in the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting of heads of defense universities that begins Saturday at the NDU campus on Fort Lesley J. McNair.

Gen. Liu is considered among the more hard-line anti-U.S. and anti-Japan military officers in China. In 2005, when he was deputy commissar in the air force, Gen. Liu published a statement on the Internet with other military officers protesting Beijing's canceling of a symposium he had arranged on policy toward Japan. U.S. officials said the forum was blocked because of concerns about the potential impact on security during a period of anti-Japanese demonstrations.

The general is one of China's "princelings," as the privileged sons and daughter of senior communist officials are called. He is the son-in-law of the late Li Xiannian, former president of China and a member of the ruling Politburo. His wife is Li Xiaolin, daughter of former Chinese communist Prime Minister Li Peng.

Gen. Liu also is a key promoter of China's large-scale and largely secret military buildup. He wrote the foreword to the recently published book "China's Dream," which says China would replace the United States as the world's superpower. The book promotes the Chinese propaganda theme that China's rapid arms buildup is defensive, mainly to avoid being attacked by the United States.

NDU China specialist Phillip C. Saunders, who reviewed the book for the Jamestown Foundation, defended Gen. Liu's foreword as "brief," noting that the general did not support the book's call for Chinese military dominance.

Mr. Saunders is viewed by critics as having sought to minimize China's military buildup. He wrote in 2006 that China did not have the technological prowess to develop anti-satellite weapons, only to be embarrassed in January 2007 after China conducted its first successful test of a satellite-destroying missile.

The NDU has a poor record of China studies despite being the Joint Staff think tank. After Congress mandated NDU's creation of a Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs, the first head was Ronald Montaperto, who in 2006 pleaded guilty to charges of passing classified documents to Chinese military intelligence.

Gen. Liu raised eyebrows in Asia last August when he was quoted in Hong Kong's Phoenix magazine as saying "if a system fails to let its citizens breathe freely and release their creativity to the maximum extent, and fails to place those who best represent the system and its people into leadership positions, it is certain to perish."

That raises the question of whether Gen. Liu will be asked to comment on international efforts calling for the freedom for imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, whom Beijing has described as a criminal for his calls for political reform.

An NDU spokesman had no immediate comment.

Donald D. Mosser, dean of NDU's Institute for National Strategic Studies and host for the meeting, did not respond to an e-mail asking whether Gen. Liu will be questioned about the fate of Mr. Liu, who earlier this year was sentenced to 11 years in prison for helping organize a pro-democracy group.

McKeon awaits

Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, California Republican, is set to assume the chairmanship of the House Armed Services Committee in the wake of the defeat Tuesday of key Democrats, including current chairman Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri.

Mr. McKeon, who, as the ranking member, said he will seek the chairman's post, announced his priorities for the committee as "winning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq while also investing in the capabilities and force structure necessary to protect the United States from threats of tomorrow."

"America remains a nation at war," Mr. McKeon said in a statement on Wednesday. "More than 150,000 of our sons and daughters are deployed around the globe in the fight against al Qaeda and its terrorist allies. The top priority of the Armed Services Committee will be to work in a bipartisan manner to provide those brave war fighters the resources and support they need to succeed in their missions and return home safely."

He promised "focused and aggressive" oversight.

"Our citizens have spoken, and they want a defense budget that is sufficient to address the challenges of today and the threats of tomorrow," he said. "One percent real growth in the base defense budget over the next five years is a net reduction for modernization efforts, which are critical to protecting our nation's homeland."

One priority will be investing in weapons and force structure "needed to protect the United States from tomorrow's threats."

Cybercom boots up
The U.S. Cyber Command, the new military unit devoted to offensive and defensive cyberwarfare and defense, was declared fully operational on Wednesday.

"I am confident in the great service members and civilians we have here at U.S. Cyber Command," said Army Gen. Keith Alexander, the commander, in announcing what the Pentagon calls "full operational capability."

"Cyberspace is essential to our way of life, and U.S. Cyber Command synchronizes our efforts in the defense of [Department of Defense] networks. We also work closely with our interagency partners to assist them in accomplishing their critical missions."

The command now has a Joint Operations Center and has folded in people and functions from the Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations and the Joint Functional Component Command for Network Warfare.

The command was launched in May at the National Security Agency at Fort Meade and is part of the U.S. Strategic Command.

Spy apps
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), the little-known mapping and imagery intelligence agency, is taking a page from Apple Inc. and asking the spies, first responders and war fighters who use its information to create "apps" for their intelligence products.

The software applications would be used by intelligence and military consumers on desktop and laptop computers and hand-held devices.

The agency responsible for mapping the planet as well as its electromagnetic spectrum is looking to streamline the way it delivers its products to the end user.

In a speech to the annual GEOINT conference Tuesday in New Orleans, NGA Director Letitia Long said: "I'd like to see a proliferation of apps, developed by both providers and users alike that empowers users to 'do it themselves' when and where they want."

Ms. Long said the apps could include maps of helicopter landing zones in discrete geographic regions. Ms. Long also stressed that she wanted to add layers of expertise to her agency to also map out human networks, or what she called "human geography."

This kind of analysis, she said, could yield insights into weapons of mass destruction proliferation, mass population migrations, outbreaks of pandemic diseases and populations susceptible to extremist ideology.

  • Reporter Eli Lake contributed to this column.

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