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January 28, 2010
Notes from the Pentagon

Taiwan air threats
Included in the Obama administration's latest arms package for Taiwan will be authorization for a joint U.S.-Taiwan feasibility study on bolstering air power against the threats to the island posed by Chinese missiles and aircraft, according to U.S. officials.

The administration put off actual sales of newer F-16s, but if the study, which will be conducted rapidly, determines that the jets are needed, they will be authorized in the coming months, said officials familiar with the arms deal who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The current package, worth several billion dollars, augments an earlier arms offer worth $6.5 billion that was announced in October 2008.

The latest arms package includes 60 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, air defense communications equipment and additional Patriot PAC-3 missile defenses, according to congressional and administration officials who said an announcement on the package is imminent.

Support for helping the Taiwanese military to build eight diesel electric submarines is not included in the package, the officials said.

The Pentagon considered authorizing the submarine feasibility study to examine whether they should be built in Taiwan or bought from a foreign supplier in Europe. The submarines could cost as much as $4 billion.

A Taiwan defense official has said the Black Hawks were a more urgent need than the 30 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters approved in 2008, since the Black Hawks can be used for military and humanitarian operations.

Cool reception
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and senior Obama administration officials received a chilly reception on Wednesday during a breakfast meeting with congressional leaders on White House plans to loosen export controls.

Fewer than five members, out of more than a dozen that were invited, showed up for the members-only breakfast sponsored by Rep. Howard L. Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee who also attended the breakfast, told Inside the Ring that she is skeptical of the export-control reform effort.

"The administration has yet to make a good case for sweeping export-control reform," she said in a statement. "The claim that export controls are negatively affecting our competitive edge regarding defense transfers is not based on any solid evidence."

Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said she is concerned that sweeping proposals are aimed at loosening trade restrictions. "The U.S. continues to lead the world in global arms deliveries and transfer agreements. I am concerned that sweeping proposals aimed at loosening restrictions on transfers to our allies would target a problem which doesn't exist while potentially weakening oversight mechanisms designed to prevent weapons from falling into the hands of our enemies. We need a firmer factual basis before we make any leap that could endanger national security interests."

According to congressional aides, the members did not receive positive signals from those attending.

The members "were in no mood to talk about a big reform package and warned the administration against trying to do this at all," said one aide familiar with the session.

The members also warned the administration against trying to fold the complicated issue of export-control reform into legislation designed to create jobs, the aide said.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Berman had no immediate comment.

Al Qaeda defeat
Counterterrorism specialist Steve Coll told a House committee hearing Wednesday that the al Qaeda terrorist organization remains politically weak but militarily resilient and is still a threat.

"In a strategic or global sense, al Qaeda seems to be in the process of defeating itself," Mr. Coll, president of the New America Foundation, told the House Armed Services Committee.

"Its political isolation in the Muslim world has set the stage for the United States and allied governments, with persistence, concentrated effort, and perhaps some luck, to finally destroy central al Qaeda's leadership along the Afghan-Pakistan border."

Getting Osama bin Laden, and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri "would not only provide justice for the victims of 9/11, it would also contribute to the freedom of maneuver enjoyed by the United States in the region and globally, by drawing to an end the debilitating, destabilizing narrative of hunt-and-escape that has elevated the reputations of bin Laden and al-Zawahri for so long," he said.

Mr. Coll said the effort to kill the two al Qaeda leaders through Predator drone attack or other means remains "essential" for the United States.

Al Qaeda has changed over the past decade from functioning as a central node in raising money and providing Islamist ideology and training for terrorists.

"Today that media and ideological role remains important, but al Qaeda's fundraising abilities are pinched," Mr. Coll said. "Its most practical contribution to its networked partners today may be the tactical expertise it has developed about bomb making and suicide bomb delivery."

The main strongholds for the group are in Yemen and the Pakistan-Afghanistan region.

Mr. Coll said al Qaeda has been unable to develop a political foundation and remains politically isolated, largely due to its attacks that have killed Muslims.

"Yet the outlook of bin Laden and al-Zawahri is not merely political," he said. "It is also millenarian, in the sense that both of them believe, as they often repeat, that they have been called by God to lead a war whose outcome is pre-ordained and will only finish at the end of earthly time."

By diminishing the importance of contemporary affairs, al Qaeda leaders have been unable to build a political movement that supports their terrorism, he said.

Still the group remains dangerous mainly because its central leaders are still in the field.

Lynn on warming
Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn recently disclosed how the Obama administration's Pentagon is linking defense to fighting global warming, by asserting that climate change threatens to produce social unrest in the Third World.

In a speech in London on Monday, Mr. Lynn said "energy security" is one of three major issues for the United States and Britain. The others include stopping the spread of nuclear arms and reforming the NATO alliance.

Mr. Lynn, a former aide to the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, is the highest-ranking Obama administration political appointee at the Pentagon, since Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was a holdover from the George W. Bush administration.

"It has been a tough week for [Kennedy's] former aides," Mr. Lynn said. "In the special election to succeed him, his Senate seat switched parties - a sign that political waters are churning on our side of the Atlantic, as I know they are here" - an apparent reference to the likely return to power of Conservatives in the upcoming British elections.

The United States, Mr. Lynn said, is "working alongside the U.K. to protect our climate and environment, and to understand their role in global security."

"Our department is for the first time focusing high-level attention on how natural resources contribute to conflict," he said. "This includes classic issues of resource scarcity, especially access to hydrocarbon fuels. But it also includes population growth and climate change."

According to Mr. Lynn, global warming will increase shortages of food and water, spread disease and could add to population migrations within and across borders.

"Increased poverty, environmental degradation, even social unrest and the possible weakening of governments are potential consequences," he said, noting that the risk is higher in developing countries.

Mr. Lynn said "to address the challenge of climate change," the Pentagon is trying to make its fixed installations more energy efficient and has tripled spending on energy technology in the past three years.

The deputy secretary said the results have been an 11 percent reduction in energy consumption at bases and the use of 5 percent of electricity from renewable sources.

The remarks raised concerns among some Pentagon officials who asserted that giving the Pentagon a major role in environmentalism was a questionable mission.

Retired Adm. James A. Lyons, Jr., former commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, stated in an open letter Wednesday that President Obama should form a review panel to study purported links between climate change and national security. "Before we adopt policies that affect military preparedness and national security, it is imperative that we act on honest assessments of the best available information," Adm. Lyons said. "When it comes to the climate change-national security link and the cap-and-trade legislation now being considered by Congress, any confidence in scientific pronouncements that may have existed in 2009 does not exist in 2010."

Petraeus and Iran
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus recently helped answer the question whether Iran's Foreign Ministry actually controls the country's diplomacy.

The four-star general, head of the U.S. Central Command and leader of the successful counterinsurgency program in Iraq from 2007 to 2008, disclosed last week that the real power in Iran is the leader of the Quds Force, the elite paramilitary organization that also has been linked to Iran's covert nuclear weapons program.

Gen. Petraeus said during a speech to the Institute for the Study of War that at the height of the Iraqi military's campaign to take back the city of Basra from Iranian-backed militias, the Quds Force leader reached out to him through Iraqi interlocutors.

"He said, 'General Petraeus, you should know that I, Qassem Suleimani, control the policy for Iran with respect to Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan,' " Gen. Petraeus said Jan. 25. "And indeed, the [Iranian] ambassador in Baghdad is a Quds Force member. The individual who's going to replace him is a Quds Force member."

The Quds Force is named for the Arabic word for Jerusalem and acts as the chief trainer and supplier for Iran's terror proxies throughout the Middle East. Many of its leaders have been singled out in U.N. sanctions on Iran, including Mr. Suleimani.

Gen. Petraeus, after recalling the story, said, "Now, that makes diplomacy difficult if you think that you're going to do the traditional means of diplomacy by dealing with another country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs because in this case, it is not the ministry. It's not [Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr] Mottaki who controls the foreign policy, again, for these countries, at least. It is, again, a security apparatus, the Quds Force, which is also carrying out other activities."

Among the Iranian group's deadlier deeds was the covert supply of explosively formed projectiles, or EFPs, to Iraqi insurgents. The EFP were special shaped-charge high-explosive bombs capable of penetrating armor-plated vehicles.

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