Posts Tagged ‘Robert Gates’

To End the Shutdown, Try Thinking Big on Immigration

January 19, 2019

Thinking Only Wall is Thinking Small

Both parties are to blame for this embarrassing impasse. Yet a sensible longer-term immigration solution may be possible.

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As the U.S. government shutdown approaches the one-month mark, one thing has become abundantly clear: Few politicians in Washington—Republican or Democrat, in Congress or the White House—consider the best interest of the country a priority. The fight is all about politics, partisanship and power.

To win the day, both sides are willing to upend the lives of 800,000 government employees and their families—and countless others who depend on the spending of those families for their own livelihoods. Some surely have to deal with unpaid mortgages and rent, medical bills, car payments and even a shortage of money for food. What do the politicians have to say for themselves for imposing such hardships?

Robert M. Gates, far left

The Democrats oppose funding for a border wall or barrier, calling it “immoral.” But that didn’t prevent them from voting to build hundreds of miles of such barriers along the border in the recent past. It seems they oppose extending the barrier only because President Trump proposed it. And apart from increased spending on technology and additional Border Patrol agents, Democrats have been mum on how they would deal with the thousands of families approaching the border and seeking refuge in the U.S. from crime and deprivation back home—much less the broader immigration problem.

For his part, Mr. Trump has stoked fear, distorted facts, and exploited the immigration issue to create a false sense of crisis for political benefit. His policies have produced photographs of thousands of children separated from their parents, held in holding pens that look more like Syrian refugee camps than what we would expect in America. The country does face a serious problem with illegal immigration, and has for many years now, but the president has offered no proposals on how to deal with it comprehensively. Only a wall.

Mr. Trump insists on $5.7 billion for a wall, and the Democrats refuse to give him any money at all. As a result, major elements of the government remain shut down.

Put aside the polls on who is getting more blame for the shutdown. All those involved share responsibility for the fiasco and its lamentable consequences for millions of Americans. For too long hyperpartisanship has prevented the American government from addressing the immigration problem.

Yet perhaps the crisis—in Washington, not at the border—could yield an opportunity. Instead of thinking small—trading some money for a wall in exchange for taking care of the “Dreamers”—couldn’t Congress and the president think big? The 2006 immigration-reform legislation supported by President George W. Bush provided a comprehensive plan to harden security along the border and provide legal status for the 11 million or so aliens already living in America illegally. The U.S. cannot send them all home, yet need not necessarily give them a path to citizenship. But the government could legitimize their presence to ensure that they pay taxes and no longer live in fear. Give the president all the money he seeks—and more, if necessary—to secure the border in exchange for a longer-term immigration solution.

Such a win-win outcome might seem naive. But it looks a lot better than the situation we’re in now. Mr. Bush’s proposal passed the Senate in 2006 by 62-36. Perhaps the way out of today’s impasse is to enlarge the problem, not shrink it, and proceed strategically instead of adopting another short-term fix.

The American government’s longest shutdown ever makes the country—or at least its leaders—look ridiculous. It’s past time for leaders in Washington, at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, to place the interests of the country above their power struggles and political mud-wrestling. Surprise all Americans and end this disgraceful shutdown with a sensible compromise that actually addresses the immigration problem.

Mr. Gates has served in eight U.S. administrations, mostly recently as defense secretary for George W. Bush and Barack Obama.


Don’t Let Jim Mattis Get Away — America badly needs his calm and his vision

October 1, 2018

Trump chose an excellent defense secretary, who needs more time in the job.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon, Sept. 21.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon, Sept. 21. PHOTO: SUSAN WALSH/ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Trump is reportedly considering a change of leadership at the Pentagon, perhaps after the midterm elections. He shouldn’t do it. Rather than ask Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign, Mr. Trump should keep him through 2020.

To be sure, I am exactly the kind of moderate foreign-policy establishmentarian who would say such a thing. That people like me admire Mr. Mattis is one of the reasons Mr. Trump may want a change. Yet there are two compelling reasons to keep “Chaos,” Mr. Mattis’s call sign and preferred nickname, that have little to do with making the establishment happy.

First, he is an excellent defense secretary—and he is Mr. Trump’s choice. That obvious point is too frequently forgotten. In the daily rough and tumble of Washington, the president may feel that no one gives him personal credit for his wise selection. But the history books won’t forget.

Second, Mr. Mattis needs more time. Since the position of defense secretary was created in 1947, almost all important legacies were achieved by men who held the job at least three or four years. The Defense Department is simply too big, the challenges of American national security policy too sweeping, and the domestic politics of implementing a given vision at the Pentagon too daunting for meaningful change to happen more quickly.

In the Eisenhower administration, Secretary Charles Wilson (1953-57) stabilized the U.S. Cold War posture in both Europe and Asia while implementing Ike’s “New Look” defense strategy. He was in office four years. Melvin Laird (1969-73) managed the U.S. drawdown in Vietnam during Richard Nixon’s first term, after the tumult of the Robert McNamara era. Jimmy Carter’s secretary, Harold Brown (1977-81), helped usher stealth aircraft, cruise missiles, and other modern technologies into the American arsenal, while beginning the military buildup that Caspar Weinberger (1981-87) expanded and sustained under Ronald Reagan.

In the post-Cold War era, Dick Cheney (1989-93) undertook the most successful major U.S. military drawdown in history while overseeing Operation Desert Storm. William Perry (1994-97) continued the careful drawdown and brought order to an initially unsteady Clinton foreign policy team. Robert Gates (2006-11) oversaw the successful surge in Iraq and became the first defense secretary to work long periods for presidents of both political parties, restoring a nonpartisan aspect to American defense policy after Donald Rumsfeld’s controversial tenure (2001-06).

There have been other defense secretaries. Many have been impressive, but few have been historically memorable, usually because they didn’t have time to effect real change.

Secretary Mattis, a seasoned warrior from America’s “forever wars” in the Middle East, is trying to reorient the Pentagon to reinforce deterrence of China and Russia. That change in priority is necessary and momentous. It is also hard to pull off while the forever wars—to say nothing of today’s partisan Washington wars—continue. It requires a sophisticated touch, lest America overdo it and wind up in an actual violent confrontation with China or Russia. “Chaos” Mattis is anything but. At this moment, America badly needs his calm and his vision.

Mr. O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

What Would Gates Do? A Defense Chief’s Plan for North Korea — “China is still the key no matter how you slice it.”

July 10, 2017

Robert Gates, the most seasoned senior U.S. national-security official of the last half-century, lays out a response

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Robert Gates.  DoD photo by R. D. Ward.

July 10, 2017 10:33 a.m. ET?

Everybody who’s ever wrestled with the North Korean nuclear problem agrees on one thing: There are no good options for solving it.

That bleak reality grows ever more apparent as North Korea fires off increasingly sophisticated missiles that could one day carry a nuclear weapon. So the pressing question is: Among all the imperfect options for dealing with North Korea, what strategy holds the best hope?

Few are more qualified to offer an answer than Robert Gates, the most seasoned senior U.S. national-security official of the last half-century. He spent almost 27 years as an intelligence official, including a stint as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, worked in the White House for four presidents of both parties, and was defense secretary for both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

As it happens, Mr. Gates has a plan, which he explained in an interview. It’s worth listening to at a time when tensions are rising rapidly.

North Korea reached a milestone as it test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching Alaska. What could happen next, as tensions escalate? Here are some of the possible scenarios. Photo: Getty Images

The Gates proposal proceeds from several basic principles.  First: There simply is no good pure military option for attacking North Korea. The sheer destruction and danger of an all-out war on the Korean Peninsula take that idea off the table.

Second: “China is still the key no matter how you slice it,” Mr. Gates says. As has been noted by every recent American administration, China is the one country with sufficient leverage over North Korea to make a difference.

But Mr. Gates also says he agrees with President Donald Trump and his aides that it’s time to “disrupt the status quo” by trying a different approach with the Chinese.

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Which leads to the third principle: “It seems to me the need is for a comprehensive strategy you would lay out to the Chinese at a very high level, which would basically have both a diplomatic and a military component.” In other words, make a deal with China before you deal with North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un, directly.

Under the Gates approach, the U.S. would make China the following offer: Washington is prepared to recognize the North Korean regime and forswear a policy of regime change, as it did when resolving the Cuban missile crisis with the Soviet Union; is prepared to sign a peace treaty with North Korea; and would be prepared to consider some changes in the structure of military forces in South Korea.

In return, the U.S. would demand hard limits on the North Korean nuclear and missile program, essentially freezing it in place, enforced by the international community and by China itself.

“I think you cannot get the North to give up their nuclear weapons,” Mr. Gates says. “Kim sees them as vital to survival. But you may be able to get them to keep the delivery systems to very short range.”

In addition, the U.S. would tell China that in any diplomatic solution the North Koreans would have to agree to invasive inspections that could insure a limited nuclear stockpile of no more than a dozen or two dozen nuclear weapons, as well as inspections to ensure they aren’t developing more weapons or further capabilities for delivery.

Crucially, the Chinese would be told that any diplomatic solution is one they would be expected to help enforce.

On the flip side of that offer, Mr. Gates says, the U.S. would present a tougher alternative for China: “If that is not an outcome you can accept, we are going to take steps in Asia you hate.”

Absent such an agreement, the U.S. would “heavily populate Asia with missile defenses.” That would include missile-defense buildups in South Korea, Japan and aboard additional American ships stationed in the Pacific. In addition, the U.S. would declare that it would shoot down “anything we think looks like a launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile” from North Korea.

In short, lacking a diplomatic solution, “whatever means we need to take to contain this regime, we will take.”

For China, he says, the meaning of such a plan would be clear: “All those measures you will see as hostile to China. Your military response will cost you billions.”

In reality, the U.S. would be threatening only to take military steps that would be inevitable in the absence of a negotiated solution in any case: “If option number one doesn’t work, option number two is what you’d need to do anyway.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis would present this proposal to the Chinese. If Beijing signed on, only then would direct talks with North Korea begin.

Mr. Trump already has accepted the idea of a diplomatic approach when he said he would be “honored” to meet Mr. Kim “under the right circumstances.” Mr. Gates offers a smarter way than that to get onto the diplomatic track.

Write to Gerald F. Seib at

Europe Reckons With Its Depleted Armies

June 3, 2017

As European NATO members confront rampant materiel shortages, officials acknowledge Trump has a point in calling for more military spending

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Russian servicemen march during the Victory Day military parade, marking the 72nd anniversary of its victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, in the Chechen capital of Grozny on May 9. Moscow has grown increasingly frustrated with the U.S. and NATO’s expanding military infrastructure around the world and has vowed to take countermeasures. Photo credit SAID TSARNAYEV/REUTERS

Updated June 2, 2017 7:22 p.m. ET

Soldiers in Germany’s Light Infantry Battalion 413 near the Baltic Sea coast complained last year that they didn’t have enough sniper rifles or antitank weapons or the right kind of vehicles.

During exercises, they told a parliamentary ombudsman, their unit didn’t have the munitions to simulate battle. Instead, they were told to imagine the bangs.

Across Europe, similar shortfalls riddle land, sea, air and cyber forces following years of defense cutbacks.

U.S. President Donald Trump last month irked European leaders when he berated them at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s new headquarters for insufficient defense spending and what he called unpaid military bills.

Current and former European officials were quick to point out that NATO members don’t owe dues to the U.S., but they acknowledged Mr. Trump wasn’t wrong: Europe lacks the capabilities to defend itself.

A Leopard tank and Tiger helicopter of the German Armed Forces participating in military exercises in October near Bergen, Germany.
A Leopard tank and Tiger helicopter of the German Armed Forces participating in military exercises in October near Bergen, Germany. PHOTO: ALEXANDER KOERNER/GETTY IMAGES

“Trump won’t have made many friends during his trip to Brussels,” said Richard Shirreff, a retired British four-star general and a former senior NATO commander. “However, Trump is dead right that European nations do not spend enough on defense.”

When Belgium put hundreds of soldiers on street patrols in Brussels after the Paris terror attacks in November 2015, it had to request a thousand armor sets from the U.S. Army. Britain’s Royal Navy has 19 destroyers and frigates. In 1982, during the Falklands War, it had 55.

Fighting wars—and preventing them—doesn’t entail just bullets and bombs. Troops and heavy weapons must be moved to the front, requiring fleets of planes, helicopters and trucks. Arsenals must be ready to reload weapons, necessitating stockpiles of munitions. Armies must be ready to defend themselves and to counterattack, which requires specialized systems. In Europe, all are in short supply.

The U.S. has also cut back its troop strength, naval fleet and tank forces from their Cold War highs. But Europe’s offerings are far outmatched by America’s high-end military capabilities, including advanced fighter planes, armed drones, elite special-operation forces and aircraft carriers.

Despite cutbacks in the Pentagon’s budget in recent years, U.S. military spending far exceeds Europe’s, and American conventional forces are generally better trained and equipped than their European counterparts. The U.S. defense budget, $680 billion by NATO calculations, dwarfs the alliance’s European members, which spend a total of $242 billion.

Europeans have tried for decades to more efficiently build military hardware and organize troops. That effort is littered with failures, delays and compromises. Today European allies spend roughly half as much as the U.S. on defense yet have less than one-sixth of its combat power, European officials acknowledge.

The U.S. has long chastised Europeans on their inadequate military. After the 2011 bombing campaign in Libya, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticized allies for not having enough smart bombs to conduct the effort. NATO countries had to rely on U.S. targeting experts and refueling planes and even borrowed American munitions.

The real wake-up call, allied officials say, was Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, followed by Moscow’s intervention in Syria. Both displayed new Russian tactics and weaponry. Suddenly long-ignored weapons of the Cold War became relevant again.

“The Russian ground forces have under way the biggest modernization program they have undertaken in the last 50 years,” said Christopher Foss, editor of Jane’s Armored Fighting Vehicles. “Their new vehicles are a step-change in capability on what NATO has got.”

For decades, NATO’s nuclear forces kept the peace, offsetting any imbalance in conventional forces. Russia wouldn’t risk annihilating the planet by invading a NATO country, the thinking went. But in view of the risks of nuclear war, the West would only consider pushing the button against an all-out attack. A a so-called hybrid scenario like Crimea, involving a handful of unidentified soldiers sneaking across a border to foment unrest, is impervious to nuclear deterrence.

U.S. President Donald Trump delivering a speech at last month’s NATO summit in Brussels as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg looks on.
U.S. President Donald Trump delivering a speech at last month’s NATO summit in Brussels as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg looks on. PHOTO: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

That is where conventional weapons fit in. The best way to prevent Moscow from stirring up trouble on NATO’s borders has been to ensure the world knew NATO had the firepower to win any kind of conflict, U.S. and allied officials say.

NATO’s challenges in achieving such deterrence today are exemplified in the decline in stocks of tanks.

During the Cold War, the Netherlands had 445 battle tanks. In 2015, the country put up for sale its last 60 tanks, along with its transport helicopters and many of its naval minesweepers. Instead, the Dutch sent soldiers to operate German tanks.

But Germany was also cutting tank numbers, from a Cold War peak of 2,125 Leopard 2 battle tanks to a force as of last fall of only 244, of which just over half were ready for action. The reduction has meant units sometimes have to borrow tanks from sister units for training with just hours’ notice, according to a parliamentary official.

A defense ministry spokeswoman said military units do sometimes need to borrow equipment from other units to carry out exercises—a problem, she said, that informed a recent government decision to invest more in such equipment.

The dearth extends beyond tanks. Last year, only around nine of Germany’s 48 NH-90 transport helicopters and 40 of its 123 Eurofighter jets were usable at any given time.

Hans-Peter Bartels, the German parliament’s armed forces commissioner who functions as a military ombudsman, said in his annual report this year that efforts to improve equipment and replenish munitions stores were taking too long. At Light Infantry Battalion 413 the battalion near the Baltic Sea, he said, materiel shortfalls led to “discontent and frustration” among the troops.

A German army spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the complaints reported to Mr. Bartels were accurate. She said the battalion currently has the equipment and munitions it needs to train properly and carry out its duties.

Stories of shortages abound in Europe. France recently sent only five tanks and 300 troops to a new NATO force in the Baltic states partly because French deployments in Africa, Syria and the streets of Paris have overtaxed its military, according to allied officials.

Britain’s storied Royal Navy is without a single aircraft carrier while it awaits the delivery of two carriers. When the HMS Queen Elizabeth sets sail in 2021, it may initially carry U.S. Marine Corps F-35B fighter planes while Britain builds up its own fleet. The U.K. has also placed its submarine-hunting crews with allies because it lacks planes and awaits new surveillance aircraft.

Britain and France—Europe’s biggest defense spenders—and Germany, its biggest economy, have all pledged to rebuild their militaries. In 2016, non-U.S. NATO military spending ticked up by $10 billion, an increase of 3.8% over 2015 outlays.

Officials say a first sign that Mr. Trump has had an impact may come later this month when NATO releases preliminary estimates for 2017 European defense budgets.

NATO’s goal that member countries spend 2% of economic output on defense is formulated as a loose target meant to be reached by 2024. But Washington increasingly treats it as a requirement. Days after the NATO meeting, Mr. Trump tweeted: “We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change.”

German officials acknowledge their force has become hollow and vow to rebuild it—a decision they stress was made before Mr. Trump’s election. Chancellor Angela Merkel  pushed through parliament a military budget increase of 8% for this year, to €37 billion ($42 billion). According to the German government, that represents 1.2% of the country’s gross domestic product. Ms. Merkel says she is committed to NATO’s 2% goal.

Better defense spending, not just more defense spending, is what is required

—Douglas Barrie of the International Institute for Strategic Studies

German and U.S. critics say changes are too slow. The German defense ministry announced in 2015 it would rebuild its tank force, but the tanks haven’t arrived, to the frustration of U.S. military planners. The €760-million deal to refurbish 104 tanks was signed only last month. The two-year gap was due to the technical complexity of the refurbishment and procurement process, the German defense ministry spokeswoman said.

How money gets spent is another factor. “Better defense spending, not just more defense spending, is what is required,” said Douglas Barrie, a senior fellow at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Transportation remains the most critical need, U.S. and NATO officials say. The U.S. has been urging allies to extend rail lines to training bases, since its transport trailers can’t legally carry tanks on European roads due to weight limits. The U.S. also wants Europeans to buy their own tank transporters.

Cargo planes and helicopters are also a big capability gap, officials say. If tensions with Russia flare on NATO’s borders, war plans call for reinforcements of front lines with NATO rapid-reaction forces. But deploying those forces quickly would likely depend on American equipment.

NATO Warship HMS Duncan docking in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
NATO Warship HMS Duncan docking in Belfast, Northern Ireland. PHOTO: MARK WINTER/CORBIS/GETTY IMAGES

NATO says members are beginning to turn a corner. Later this month, the alliance will approve a new defense plan that boosts heavy equipment, like tanks, but also calls for additional surveillance planes, air refueling tankers and strategic airlift, according to a senior NATO official.

In the short term, the U.S. is filling the gap in European defenses. Last month, the U.S. announced plans for $4.8 billion in new military spending in Europe, an increase of $1.4 billion over last year.

In Germany, military spending has become an issue in September general elections. The main party challenging Ms. Merkel is casting her support for higher military spending as kowtowing to Mr. Trump, whom many German voters dislike.

Ms. Merkel’s chief electoral rival, Social Democrat Martin Schulz, said Thursday he would officially abandon the 2% goal if elected. “I don’t think this spiraling arms buildup makes sense,” he said.

At last month’s NATO summit where Mr. Trump lambasted Europeans, several leaders said they would publicly advocate higher military spending for the sake of their own national security, not American demands. But they also privately told Mr. Trump they agreed with him, according to diplomats.

“To an extent,” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte after the meeting, “he has a point.”

Write to Julian E. Barnes at, Anton Troianovski at and Robert Wall at

Appeared in the June 3, 2017, print edition as ‘Europe Reckons With Its Depleted Armies.’

Shangri La Dialogue Military Leaders Meeting: India’s Defence Minister Arun Jaitley caught up with work; China delegation smaller than in years past

June 3, 2017

By Manu Pubby

NEW DELHI: India has skipped Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore, which is addressed by top defence ministers from across the world. Defence minister Arun Jaitley could not go due to work-related commitments. The annual conference will not have any Indian speaker unlike last year, when the defence minister had delivered an address on the country’s security concerns.

Pakistan, however, has got a slot to speak at the conference on the challenges for crisis management in Asia-Pacific region. Chairman of Join Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen Zubair Mahmood Hayat to speak alongside the defence ministers of Canada and Malaysia. Other speakers at the conference include defence ministers of Australia, Japan, France and the US Secretary of Defence. The Chinese side is also not participating at the defence minister-level.

Officials told ET that initially Arun Jaitley was expected to address the conference. “Due to work-related commitments, the minister was not able to go for the event,” defence ministry sources said. Subsequently, the Indian side was in talks with organisers of the conference for a speaking slot for Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre. The junior minister was scheduled to attend the conference as of last week, sources said.

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Chinese Lt-Gen He Lei (R) attends the first plenary session speech by US Pentagon chief Jim Mattis at the 16th Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ShangriLa Dialogue Summit in Singapore on June 3, 2017.

China sent a smaller-than-usual delegation to the Shangri-La Dialogue, and it’s really not a big deal

Not everything needs to be over-analysed, guys.

The Shangri-La Dialogue is a once-a-year high-powered military summit that often sees high-ranking military officials from all over the world convene in Singapore, at the Shangri-La Hotel in Orange Grove Road.

The three-day event consists of panel sessions helmed by ministers, and senior military officials, as well as break-out groups for further discussion on issues pertinent to Asia-Pacific regional security.

Various countries’ delegations have also increasingly used the summit to meet and broker deals or agreements with other countries’ officials, so it can be said to be a fairly important part of an Asia-Pacific country’s military calendar.

As a matter of fact, this year’s summit is attended by defence ministers from Australia, the U.S., Canada, France, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand and the Philippines, according to The Diplomat. It’s also headlined by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who gave the event’s opening remarks.

But we’re here to talk about China.

Always a fixture

Now, every year (the Dialogue is now in its 16th), China does send a delegation of military officials to attend and participate in it. In 2011, for instance, it sent its then-defence minister General Liang Guanglie — the most high-ranking military official ever to lead a delegation to the summit.

Here he is shaking hands with our very own DPM Teo Chee Hean:

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Teo Chee hean (L), Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister, minister for home affairs and co-ordinating minister for national security shakes hands with Liang Guanglie (R), Chinese Minister of Defense at the Asia-Pacific security forum in Singapore on June 4, 2011. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Saturday vowed the US military will maintain a “robust” presence across Asia backed up with new high-tech weaponry to protect allies and safeguard shipping lanes. AFP PHOTO/ROSLAN RAHMAN (Photo credit should read ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

But, as it turns out, this regal gracing of the forum was not an event that would be repeated — China would never send any of its future ministers, or even anyone from its defence ministry in the years that would follow.

Why, you might wonder? Even people studied in international relations can only make educated guesses at the reasons, but it’s possible this is because:

1) At the 2011 edition of the dialogue, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates stressed the importance of, and emphasised that America will maintain a “robust” military presence in the Asia-Pacific region — of course, not something the Chinese enjoy hearing. This became known as the “pivot to Asia”: the focus on growing relations with ASEAN and other countries in Asia, a charge led by former U.S. president Barack Obama himself.

2) In several subsequent years, one headlining topic everyone tends to speak out about, and also obsess over, is the South China Sea dispute — for obvious reasons, of course, for folks like Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan. And while China is content to send an official to share a carefully-worded toe-the-line safe and friendly-to-all speech, they’d prefer not to have to handle questions in response — especially not hostile-sounding ones about the South China Sea.


So yes, the point we’re trying to make here is, China reduced its presence at the Shangri-La Dialogue over years before our Terrex chias got stuck in Hong Kong on the way home from Taiwan.

As The Diplomat points out in an op-ed piece, its delegation to Singapore was from 2013 to 2016 led by a deputy chief-level officer from the People’s Liberation Army.

This year’s group is smaller, even, than in previous years’, and is led by Lieutenant General He Lei, vice president of the People’s Liberation Army’s Academy of Military Science. He has no formal government position, but let’s see what the South China Morning Post found when they asked Beijing officials why they sent such a “small-time” team to the summit:

“Military sources said the People’s Liberation Army had scaled down its presence at the Shangri-La Dialogue to focus on domestic reforms and prepare for a key Communist Party congress later this year.

A spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry rejected suggestions by overseas media that the low-key presence at the forum was due to the diplomatic spat with Singapore at the end of last year.”

The diplomatic spat, of course, refers to our Terrex chias once again, by the way.

The article does, in fact, go on to cover quite extensively more reasons why we shouldn’t worry at all about this —

1) One military source quoted said this year is the 90th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army’s foundation, so everyone’s busy with that.

2) There’s also a series of ongoing sweeping military reforms happening, chiefly surrounding the need to cut the size of China’s military to make it leaner and more efficient.

These were outlined by a Chinese military analyst named Zhou Chenming, who said military reform in China is now “at a critical point”, with military officials working to ensure a smooth operational start at the end of the reform process.

3) The next Communist Party congress to elect China’s new top leadership is happening this autumn in Beijing, and they’re busy preparing for that too.

In fact, a Shangri-La Dialogue senior fellow was quoted saying a group visiting Beijing was informed beforehand that we would be receiving a smaller delegation this year, also for the above-mentioned reasons. They even said they will send a higher-ranking group to the dialogue next year, after their internal reforms are complete.

Former Pentagon chief Gates warns of more IS attacks

May 23, 2017

© GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File | Former US defense chief Robert Gates warns that Islamic State fighters will step up attacks against the West as they lose ground in Iraq and Syria


Former US defense secretary Robert Gates warned Tuesday that the West can expect further attacks like the suicide bombing in Manchester that killed at least 22 people.

Gates, who served under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said Islamic State jihadists would step up international terror attacks as they lose ground in Iraq and Syria.

“As people scurry away from those sites, that doesn’t mean they are defeated individually or have lost their commitment to attacking the ‘crusaders,'” Gates said at a Washington conference.

“It just means they will change their tactics.”

US-backed local forces have pushed IS out of almost all of their former stronghold Mosul in Iraq, and an offensive on Raqa in Syria is expected to begin in the coming months.

But the jihadists’ eventual loss of this emblematic pair of cities should not be overstated.

“Just as we have seen Al-Qaeda metastasize subsequent to the killing of Osama bin Laden back in 2011… I think you will see ISIS become more active and more aggressive in a variety of places in the West,” Gates predicted.

President Donald Trump has instructed the Pentagon to “annihilate” IS in a bid to prevent escaped foreign fighters from returning home.

The move to encircle then kill as many jihadists in place as possible — rather than letting them exit a city and targeting them as they flee — reflects an increased urgency to stop battle-hardened jihadists bringing their military expertise and ideology back to European capitals and other areas.

Twenty-two people, including children, were killed in a suicide bombing at a pop concert packed with teens in the British city of Manchester late Monday. Another 59 were wounded.

IS has claimed responsibility.

Trump Nominee Rex Tillerson Faces Questions About Russia, Climate, Rights

January 11, 2017

Pick for secretary of state tells senators that Russia poses a danger in confirmation hearing


Updated Jan. 11, 2017 10:48 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON—President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, went before senators for a confirmation hearing Wednesday, and planned to tell lawmakers that Russia poses a danger and that North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies are rightly concerned about the country’s resurgence, according to his opening remarks, released by the Trump transition team.

Mr. Tillerson’s hearing could extend into Thursday.


Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson Faces Tough Questions in Confirmation Battle

Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, is facing tough questions about his business dealings with Russia and the president-elect’s foreign policy views during his confirmation hearing Wednesday.

Like Trump, the Exxon Mobil CEO’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin has come under scrutiny and will likely be the focus of both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Tillerson’s wealth and his ability to separate his business interests from the interests of the nation will also likely be a major focus of the hearing. The oil man holds almost $500 million in total assets, some of which are in Russian and Chinese companies.

Image: Rex Tillerson
Rex Tillerson appears at his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill. NBC News

“To those who suggest that anyone who can run a successful business can of course run a government agency do a profound disservice to both,” Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat, said in his opening remarks.

Tillerson is an unconventional pick to become the next head of the State Department. But proponents of the businessman say his experience making deals around the globe have prepared him to become one of the nation’s top diplomats.

Tillerson will focus on America’s role as “the only global superpower” and the threats posed by terrorism and China in his opening statements, according to excerpts.

“To achieve the stability that is foundational to peace and security in the 21st century, American leadership must not only be renewed, it must be asserted,” Tillerson said in prepared remarks.

Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz helped introduce Tillerson, along with former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and lauded the businessman’s experience as an asset for the position.

Image: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Rex W. Tillerson, chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corporation at their meeting outside Moscow, April 16, 2012.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Rex W. Tillerson, chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corporation at their meeting in the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, April 16, 2012. Alexei Nikolsky / RIA-Novosi/AP

However, Cardin has delivered a tough series of questions to Tillerson about Exxon’s role in dealings with Russia, why he didn’t mention the Russian cyber hacking in his prepared opening statement and how he will deal with a President elect who ignored the findings of 17 intelligence agencies and may want to make a quick ally of Vladimir Putin.

Cardin said he has “grave concerns” about what Tillerson sees when he looks into Putin’s eyes not because Tillerson is naïve, but because Exxon’s money helped fund Russia’s crushing of opposition voices thru a Putin slush fund.

This is a developing story. Please refresh for details.

President-elect Donald Trump Names Gen. James Mattis as Pick for Defense Secretary

December 2, 2016

Congress will need to pass special law to allow retired officer to take Pentagon’s top post

President-elect Donald Trump has tapped retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis to be the next Secretary of Defense

Updated Dec. 1, 2016 10:38 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—President-elect Donald Trump has tapped retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis to become secretary of defense—a choice that requires Congress to pass a special law for the recently retired military officer to take up the Pentagon’s top post.

“We are going to appoint ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis as our secretary of defense,” Mr. Trump said at a rally in Cincinnati on Thursday, referring to the general by a nickname. Mr. Trump’s speech in Ohio was the first stop in a nationwide “Thank You” tour he will conduct over the next few weeks.

The decision brings a longtime military hand, known for his battlefield toughness and intellectual heft, to the lead of the nation’s armed forces as thousands of U.S. troops remain on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq. Gen. Mattis rose through the ranks of the Marine Corps over 43 years to become the U.S. military’s top commander in the Middle East.

Since retiring in 2013, Gen. Mattis has become a vocal critic of what he calls Washington’s “strategy-free” approach to warfare and threats. He has urged the U.S. to engage in the Middle East more directly and without preset limits on the use of force, echoing critics of President Barack Obama’s administration who say it has taken an overly incremental and fair-weather approach.

He has agreed with Mr. Trump about taking more intensive action against U.S. enemies such as Islamic State but also has articulated views that contradict Mr. Trump’s campaign-trail talking points, setting up potential battles over policy.

Gen. Mattis serves as a director at embattled blood-testing startup Theranos Inc. and is on the board of General Dynamics Corp., the defense contractor and aerospace firm that builds nuclear-powered submarines, armored vehicles and business jets.

The selection of Gen. Mattis adds to Mr. Trump’s reliance on former military officers for his national-security team. The president-elect chose retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as his national security adviser and is considering Navy Adm. Michael Rogers to become director of national intelligence. He has also spoken to another retired Marine Corps general, John Kelly, about a top administration post.


 Mattis once led U.S. Central Command. (Photo by Alex Brandon, AP)
At a rally in Cincinnati, Ohio on Thursday, President-elect Donald Trump named retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis as his choice for secretary of defense. Photo: AP

Most previous secretaries of defense served in the military in some capacity, the majority of them in their youth. U.S. law, however, requires a veteran to be out of uniform for seven years to qualify for the civilian post. Gen. Mattis retired 3½ years ago, meaning Congress will need to pass a special law giving Mr. Trump permission to nominate him.

The only other recently retired general to become secretary of defense since the position’s creation after World War II was George C. Marshall. Congress passed a law to permit his appointment.

Gen. Mattis enjoys widespread popularity on Capitol Hill, where many top lawmakers say they would vote to approve a law to allow for his appointment, but the process will force Congress to address broader questions about civilian control over the military. When Congress passed legislation permitting Gen. Marshall’s appointment in 1950, the law expressly said such a move wasn’t to be repeated.

One Democratic senator said she would oppose a law allowing for Gen. Mattis’s appointment.

“While I deeply respect Gen. Mattis’s service, I will oppose a waiver,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, the senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Civilian control of our military is a fundamental principle of American democracy, and I will not vote for an exception to this rule.”

However, Robert Gates, who served as a defense secretary under President Barack Obama as well as former President George W. Bush, defended such an action for Gen. Mattis. Mr. Gates said Gen. Mattis would provide stability for uniformed Americans.

“Normally, I would be concerned about civil-military relationships by having a former senior officer, particularly one so recently in uniform, in that job,” Mr. Gates said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “But Gen. Mattis is so deeply steeped in history and is such a strategic thinker and brings such extraordinary experience to the table, that I think that this would be one time that’s worth making an exception.”

Write to Paul Sonne at and Damian Paletta at


If Donald Trump Wins Ohio, One Buckeye He’ll Have To Thank is Sen. Rob Portman

September 30, 2016

GOP senator’s re-election campaign organization is much more extensive than that of presidential nominee

Polls show Sen. Rob Portman is comfortably ahead of his Democratic challenger in Ohio, former Gov. Ted Strickland, with weeks to go in the Senate election campaign.
Polls show Sen. Rob Portman is comfortably ahead of his Democratic challenger in Ohio, former Gov. Ted Strickland, with weeks to go in the Senate election campaign. PHOTO: FRED SQUILLANTE/THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH


The Wall Street Journal
Updated Sept. 29, 2016 9:41 p.m. ET

TOLEDO, Ohio—If Donald Trump wins Ohio, it may be because of the groundwork laid by Rob Portman, the state’s Republican senator who avoided the stage, the presidential nominee and the spotlight during the Republican Party’s Cleveland convention in July.

Mr. Trump’s campaign only recently started organizing voters here—months after Democratic rival Hillary Clinton—while Mr. Portman has for nearly two years been identifying and courting GOP voters in anticipation of a tough re-election race.

Consequently, Ohio may be a rare case study in reverse political coattails, with big stakes for Mr. Trump. Ohio has backed the presidential winners in the past 13 elections, and no Republican in modern history has won the White House without capturing Ohio.

In typical presidential years, the White House nominee drives party turnout for down-ticket candidates. Here, the Portman campaign, which began recruiting volunteers in high school government classes across the state in March 2015, is the primary point of contact for GOP voters.

“In Ohio, everyone is riding Rob Portman’s coattails,” said Donald Larson, a Republican who is challenging Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur.

It is an advantage that may help Mr. Trump steal a state from the Democratic column; polls show Mrs. Clinton and him in a dead heat. Meanwhile, Mr. Portman is leading his Democratic opponent, former Gov. Ted Strickland, by 13 percentage points, according to the Real Clear Politics average of public surveys.

While an assist from Mr. Portman, who endorsed Mr. Trump but hasn’t appeared with him, could make Ohio more competitive, the GOP nominee’s organizational weaknesses in other swing states such as North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin may present bigger problems.

Mr. Trump’s challenges were evident when he campaigned in Toledo last week. There was no one from the campaign in the lobby of the theater that hosted his rally asking supporters if they were registered to vote, a standard campaign tactic. Instead, John Hill, a frequent Ohio Republican Party volunteer, came on his own with a stack of voter registration forms.

At 7:15 p.m. the night after his rally, the Trump campaign office in downtown Toledo was locked with no one inside. At another local Trump office, in suburban Perrysburg, two women sat by themselves at 8:30 p.m. The women said they weren’t allowed to speak to reporters.

Phone-bank volunteers makes calls seeking support for Hillary Clinton at the Ohio Together Hillary Clinton campaign office in Newark, Ohio, earlier this month.
Phone-bank volunteers makes calls seeking support for Hillary Clinton at the Ohio Together Hillary Clinton campaign office in Newark, Ohio, earlier this month. PHOTO: PAUL VERNON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

That same night, the Clinton campaign’s Toledo office was buzzing with supporters, such as retired autoworker Linda Kulwicki, who was making phone calls to voters until after 10 p.m. A Portman office on Toledo’s west side—one of 11 the senator operates independently of the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee—also stayed open until 10 p.m.

Mr. Trump’s Ohio state director, Bob Paduchik, said Trump volunteers don’t have to be in offices to help the campaign. He said Trump volunteers can make calls from their homes. “I think that we’ve had a much better grass-roots approach here in Ohio that allows us to excite people and energize our volunteers and supporters in ways that Democrats struggle to do so,” he said.
A strong turnout operation can be worth up to 3 percentage points in a close state, said David Plouffe, the architect of President Barack Obama’s national campaigns. “The best way to get someone who is not sure they’re going to come out is to have a human talk to them,” Mr. Plouffe said. “In a close race that can matter.”

The Clinton campaign has more than 300 staffers working from 57 offices in Ohio. The Trump campaign, which wouldn’t reveal its tally of Ohio staff members, has delegated much of the nuts-and-bolts of voter outreach to the RNC, which has 112 staffers in the state in 31 offices it shares with local party officials and the Trump campaign.

“They’re starting to do the things that you would see in a presidential campaign but they are behind where they should be and far behind where Secretary Clinton is,” said John Weaver, the political strategist for Ohio’s GOP Gov. John Kasich. “You need a long runway to be as effective as possible and they don’t have that runway.”

When a Portman volunteer canvassed likely Republican voters one afternoon last week in a well-to-do neighborhood in the Toledo suburb of Maumee, she encountered people who have been in frequent contact with the senator’s campaign but have yet to hear from Mr. Trump’s people.

Chris Uecker, a 36-year-old pilot for Delta Air Lines, said he has voted for Republicans in each presidential election since 2000. He said he’d vote for Mr. Portman but isn’t yet sold on Mr. Trump, with whose campaign he’s had no contact.

The Clinton campaign and the super PAC backing it, Priorities USA Action, have reserved $16.5 million in advertising time between this week and Election Day. Mr. Trump’s campaign has reserved $1.25 million on the Ohio airwaves.

The National Rifle Association bought an additional $2.7 million on Ohio TV to attack Mrs. Clinton. No other pro-Trump super PACs have bought Ohio advertising, according to a person monitoring campaign advertising spending.

Mr. Portman, meanwhile, is courting voters who don’t typically vote for Republicans. Last week his campaign announced it is spending $250,000 in advertising on Spanish-language TV, even though just 3.6% of Ohioans are Hispanic. It is also advertising heavily in local newspapers that cater to Ohio’s black communities.

“We’re very proud of the robust organization we’ve built over the past two years across all of Ohio’s 88 counties,” said Corry Bliss, Mr. Portman’s campaign manager. “With the help of thousands of volunteers and interns, we have contacted over four million targeted voters and our outreach will help all Republicans running in 2016.”

The Trump campaign has a fractious relationship with Mr. Kasich, the state’s popular GOP governor who defeated Mr. Trump in this year’s GOP primary. He has refused to endorse Mr. Trump or vouch for him to suburban voters who remain skeptical of the nominee. Earlier this month, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus suggested Mr. Kasich may be barred from running for the GOP nomination for president again because he has refused to back Mr. Trump.

There also has been tension between the Trump campaign and local RNC officials. One RNC Ohio communications directors quit because he refused to work to elect Mr. Trump and another left because the Trump campaign demanded to vet all of his discussions with reporters. There has been no RNC communications director in place for Ohio since August.

Several attendees interviewed at Mr. Trump’s Toledo rally said they haven’t had much contact with his campaign beyond fundraising solicitations.

Marilyn Caputo, a retired baker from Monclova, said she’s donated to the campaign but didn’t hear about his rally from Trump officials. “I heard about it in the newspaper,” she said.

Write to Reid J. Epstein at


Kasich criticizes Trump without mentioning Trump

By Randy Ludlow
The Columbus Dispatch  •  Wednesday September 28, 2016 7:34 PM

Ohio Gov. John Kasich may have had a flashback to those snowy days in New Hampshire and Michigan this afternoon while talking foreign policy and national security before about 300 people.

The second-term governor and unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate addressed a forum sponsored by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

Kasich never used the name of the GOP presidential candidate he battled in the primaries and refuses to support — Donald Trump — but he made not-so-subtle digs at the top of his party’s ticket.

“If we run down NATO, we’re making a horrible mistake … NATO is critical to us,” Kasich said.

Trump has questioned the effectiveness, and future, of NATO and called out other countries during his debate Monday with Democrat Hillary Clinton for failing to pay their fair share in militarily protecting themselves and member countries.

“Anybody who would wink and nod at Vladimir Putin about the future of Ukraine, you think about that for a second,” Kasich said in an apparent reference to Trump’s kind remarks about the Russian president.

“If NATO gets weak, if we lift sanctions, if we don’t really stand tough about what they have done in Crimea … how many people will be enslaved (in Ukraine) and how many decades we will they live like that?”

Kasich also seemingly criticized both Trump and Clinton on trade. The governor recently joined President Barack Obama at the White House to support the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement opposed by the candidates. “We don’t have a right as a nation to retreat from the world. What are we, crazy?” Kasich asked.

Kasich called for the United States to send a strong international message that it will not tolerate terrorism, saying whether it involves the military or diplomacy, the U.S. must make it known to the “radicals and crazies in this world that we will not tolerate them.”

He called for winning over “those people who sit on the fence, who cannot believe deep inside their souls that slaughtering innocent people in airports or in trains or running them over with a car is not the way civilization is ever going to work and they’re not going anywhere but to the depths of hell for that.”

America must project itself as a force for good in the world, the governor said. “The world needs us to lead and we ourselves can never afford to shrink from that,” he said.

The forum also heard from Robert Gates, a former CIA director and the secretary of defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama from 2006 to 2011.

Gates, who has claimed Trump is “beyond repair,” lamented that America has allowed humanitarian and other aid to foreign counties to diminish when they are needed to help build hope and democracy from the ground up.

“We have unilaterally disarmed when it comes to the other tools in the national security tool kit other than hammers,” Gates said. “The only tool left in the kit is the military … and the greater willingness of American presidents to use the military not as a last resort, but as a first option.”

Gates was not asked any political questions, but was questioned about what advice he would give the nation’s new commander-in-chief.

He replied that the next president should surround himself or herself with a good staff, one willing to challenge him or her, and not appoint a cabinet that largely consists of “paying off political debts.”


Top U.S. Military Leaders Told Not To Comment on China’s Activities in The South China and East China Seas, Chinese Media Reports Say — “President Obama Has Decided To Ignore International Law in The South China Sea,” U.S. Source Says

September 29, 2016

US military chiefs have been barred from publicly using phrase ‘great power competition’ to refer to challenges posed by PLA

By Laura Zhou and Minnie Chan
South China Morning Post

Friday, September 30, 2016, 12:24 a.m.

The White House appears to want to stabilise ties with Beijing in the final months of the Obama ­administration, Chinese analysts said on Thursday, after a weekend report that Pentagon chiefs had been barred from publicly using “great power competition” in reference to military challenges from China.

The analysts said the US National Security Council’s reported gag order was another sign that Washington intended to ease its tension with Beijing over disputes in the South China Sea.

Citing four sources familiar with a classified directive, the US’ Navy Times, a weekly publication for US naval personnel and their families, reported on Sunday that the NSC ordered Pentagon leaders to strike out the phrase “great power competition” and find something less inflammatory.

The news outlet quoted White House officials as saying the term inaccurately framed the US and China as on a collision course.

China-US relations seem to have been hijacked by the South China Sea issues

But other experts warned that China’s assertiveness in the South and East China seas, including its ship building, artificial islands and expansive claims in the disputed waters, were hostile to US interests, the report said.

 Chinese officers and soldiers wave to a Russian fleet during joints drills with Russia off south China’s Guangdong province, September 19. Photo: Xinhua

The Pentagon did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Su Hao, an international relations professor at China Foreign Affairs University, said the rhetoric of US Defence Secretary Ash Carter and other US military leaders often gave the impression that “the US and China are in rivalry and opposition”.

“China-US relations seem to have been hijacked by the South China Sea issues, or by the military, which does not fairly describe the comprehensiveness of the bilateral ties,” Su said.

“If US President Barack Obama leaves Sino-US relations in chaos [to his successor], that would not be desirable,” Su said. “The White House must carefully consider how to stabilise relations.”

Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said the NSC directive indicated the White House might be worried that the Pentagon’s dramatic take on Chinese military challenges could backfire on US ties with China.

A Sino-US relations expert with a Chinese official think tank said Beijing and Washington had, in a way, reached an agreement that neither would take a steps to trigger direct conflict over the South China Sea.

Neither side wants to escalate tension, preferring talks between civilian officials

For example, he said, the US withdrew its aircraft carrier, the USS John C. Stennis, to Hawaii on July 5, one week before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejected Beijing’s claims over the South China Sea.

“China also made some compromises … and it is unlikely it will build an artificial island in the Scarborough Shoal, or set up an air defence identification zone in the South China Sea,” he said. “Neither side wants to escalate tension, preferring talks between civilian officials, or a diplomatic way, to solve the problems.”


A senior U.S. government official in a position to know the details told Peace and Freedom that, “President Obama has decided to ignore international law in the South China Sea.”


Xi Jinping and Barack Obama at the White House, Sept. 25, 2015. We at Peace and Freedom believe that President Xi and President Obama may have made a deal on the South China Sea in secret — so as to avoid a confrontation with the U.S. Congress. We expect the U.S. to slowly but steadily withdraw from Asia if this scenario is allowed to play out.


Gag order issued on South China Sea? Pentagon and top admiral say no way.

President Obama, joined by, from second to left, Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command; Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command; Gen. Paul J. Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Vice President Biden, speaks during a meeting with combatant commanders and the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the White House on April 5. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

By Dan Lamothe
The Washington Post
April 7, 2016

The Obama administration and a four-star admiral have denied that the White House issued a “gag order” on senior U.S. military officials discussing the disputed South China Sea, a politically charged region that is dogging the administration in its last months in office.

The denials came after the independent Navy Times reported Wednesday that national security adviser Susan Rice decided to “muzzle” Adm. Harry Harris, the chief of U.S. Pacific Command, and other senior military officials as the Obama administration prepared to host a nuclear summit in Washington last week that included China’s president, Xi Jinping. Rice’s request was designed to give President Obama room to maneuver politically as he met with the Chinese president, the newspaper reported, citing anonymous officials.

But Peter Cook, the Pentagon press secretary, said that Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and Harris have “been able to provide frank and informed counsel to the president and the National Security Council on a host of issues related to the Asia-Pacific area of responsibility.”

[China testing Obama as it expands its influence in Southeast Asia]

“We are confident that counsel has been considered and valued,” Cook said. The Defense Department “fully supports the current maritime strategy in the Pacific and is working to execute that strategy to the best of their ability. We continue to coordinate our communications within the framework of the interagency process in a way that advances that strategy.”

Cook added: “To be clear, there never has been a ‘gag order,’ as described by anonymous officials in the article.”

Harris said in a statement released to The Washington Post that “any assertion that there is a disconnect between U.S. Pacific Command and the White House is simply not true.” He declined to discuss what he has recommended, saying his private counsel to President Obama and Carter during classified deliberations “wouldn’t be worth much if it weren’t private.

“Maintaining that trust is why senior military admirals and generals won’t discuss our counsel in public,” Harris said. “During recent congressional testimony and press engagements in Washington just a few weeks ago, I was very public and candid about my concerns regarding many issues in the Indo-Asia-Pacific to include the fact that China’s militarization of the South China Sea is problematic. So any suggestion that ‘the White House has sought to tamp down’ on my talking about my concerns is patently wrong.”

Harris said that he is satisfied that his concerns and recommendations are “solicited, listened to and considered.”
The president has accepted many of Harris’s recommendations, including resuming freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea a few months ago to demonstrate waterways in that region will be patrolled by the Navy, said one defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the subject.

The issue exposes a couple of nerves for the Obama administration as it closes out its final year in the White House. For one, the previous three Pentagon chiefs have all voiced frustrations with perceived administration micromanagement after leaving office. Those former defense secretaries — Robert Gates, Leon Panetta and Chuck Hagel — made those points again in an interview with Fox News that aired Wednesday.

The Obama administration also has faced questions this year about how it will handle tensions in the South China Sea, in light of China continuing to add weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, in the region despite protests from U.S. partners such as Taiwan and the Philippines.

Harris and other senior military officials — including Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — have increasingly raised concerns about China’s operations in the South China Sea for months. During congressional testimony in February, Harris said “you have to believe in a flat Earth” to think China’s goal is not to militarize the area and achieve “hegemony in East Asia.”

China has specifically developed capabilities that counter U.S. strengths, including missiles that would help protect against U.S. aircraft, Dunford told the House Appropriations Committee in late February. Beijing’s “rapid military modernization is quickly closing the gap with U.S. military capabilities and is eroding the joint force’s competitive military advantages,” the general said.

The issue is likely to get even more exposure in coming days, as Carter visits the Philippines as part of a trip to Asia. The United States recently signed an agreement that will allow it to regularly use five Philippine bases. The deal led Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying to comment: “The U.S. has talked about militarization in the South China Sea. But can it explain whether its own increased military deployment in the region is equivalent to militarization?”


While Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton began what was called the “U.S. pivot to Asia.” In this photo, Hillary Clinton talks with then Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. on September 5, 2012. Today Hillary Clinton is running to become the next President of the United States and China’s former Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi has been promoted to the number three leadership within the Chinese Communist Party. China seems to be in control of most of the South China Sea and is pressuring all U.S. allies from Japan to Australia to Singapore to ally themselves with China or face consequences. In 2012, Hillary Clinton was a big advocate of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). After Donald Trump said the TPP was not a good deal for American workers, Hillary Clinton became against the TPP.