Conservative national security officials are wondering what is going wrong inside the Bush White House. The choice of a retired Marine Corps general known for his liberal political views as a candidate for a "czar" over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has many scratching their heads and wondering whether the president is aligning his administration with the defeatists now opposing the war.
The retired Marine in question is Gen. Jack Sheehan, who was asked to be the new coordinator, despite a reputation as a liberal military officer, something uncharacteristic of most Marines. He turned it down, not only in private, but then with an added slap at the president in an opinion article this week in The Washington Post.
Officials pointed out one of Gen. Sheehan's shortcomings during his active-duty career: a past association with Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Ana Belen Montes, who in 2002 was convicted as one of the most notorious U.S. traitors and a damaging spy for the communist regime in Cuba.
Officials said Gen. Sheehan shared some of Montes' liberal views both when he was director of operations, or J-3, on the Joint Staff and as U.S. Atlantic Command leader. Gen. Sheehan invited Montes to sit in on many top-secret military meetings, including those involving U.S. war plans against Cuba, the officials said.
Montes not only stole some of the most sensitive U.S. intelligence secrets during her 16-year spying spree, but also acted as an influence agent who had significant sway over U.S. policies.
Another incident that raised questions about Gen. Sheehan's consideration for war czar took place several years ago, when he angrily walked out of a Defense Policy Board meeting because of a talk by former CIA Director R. James Woolsey on Wahabbist terrorism, angrily noting that he didn't want to listen to such waste.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino declined to say who was behind the consideration of Gen. Sheehan but stated in an e-mail that there is "no list" of candidates and "no one has been offered this job."
Gen. Sheehan, in an e-mail, dismissed both claims about his candidacy for the czar post and past ties to Montes as "incorrect."
Before being asked by the White House, "I am sure they checked my credentials and the record indicated I was an American who had served both Republicans and Democrats," Gen. Sheehan said. "Deal with the issue at hand on an objective basis, not character defamation."
On the idea of a czar, one official said: "We don't need a czar. The president already has such a coordinator. He's called the national security adviser" — a dig at current National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley, whom officials described as "still deputy" to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, his predecessor at the White House post.
F-22s to Japan
Japan wants to purchase up to 100 of the Air Force's ultramodern F-22 warplanes, and the subject is expected to be on the agenda of the meeting next week between President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Pro-China officials in the Bush administration are working against the sale of the advanced warplane, which has stealth characteristics and is expected to bring harsh criticism from China, which views Japan's more internationalist military posture as a threat.
The F-22 sale to Japan is favored by conservatives who say Japan, the closest U.S. ally in Asia, needs the warplanes to counter threats from both North Korea, where missiles could be pre-emptively attacked before launch, and China, which is building up forces opposite Taiwan, where China has deployed about 900 missiles within range of the island.
"One hundred F-22s in hands of Japan could change the Taiwan balance of power for two decades," said one official in favor of the estimated $30 billion sale. "The F-22 based in Okinawa could not only fight off [China's People's Liberation Army] air force but strike inside China; it is invisible to radar."
An Air Force spokesman said sales of the jet to Japan would require changing a 1998 law that prohibits the Pentagon from selling any F-22s to a foreign government.
China scored a political victory last year when the Bush administration headed off a planned request by Taiwan to buy upgraded F-16 jets. As a result of production schedules, any future sales of F-16s will be delayed until 2011.
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Justin Harding provided an up-close look at the progress being made by Marines in war-torn Ramadi and Anbar province in Iraq. In an e-mail to his wife, Yuriko, Sgt. Harding, now serving his fourth tour of duty with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, said things are much better than several months ago.
Worried about the dangers he faces traveling the same route used by terrorists on April 6 to kill 27 persons with a truck bomb filled with chlorine that was aimed at an Iraqi police station, Sgt. Harding said:
"Don't worry! Yes, almost every day I drive the same road that the car bomb exploded. One week before the incident happened I noticed the drivers in their cars on this stretch of road were acting differently so I changed my tactics."
Sgt. Harding said press reports of the bombing left out how "everyone, Marines, Army and Iraqi police, knew the car bomb was coming."
"People are so tired of war here so they tell authorities about the bad guys a lot in the Ramadi area," he said, noting that they are tipped off to about 70 percent of the planned attacks.
On the bombing, "police saw the car coming to their base and shot it and it exploded about 500 meters away from the police station — it was a very big bomb," he said, causing many casualties, including to families of the police.
The Marines responded with medical assistance and "our medical personal worked hard to save people," Sgt. Harding said.
Attacks are declining in the area and the area is slowly being stabilized, he said.
"They are calling it the Al Anbar Awakening," Sgt. Harding said. "Many sheiks have united. They realized the Americans are not leaving. At first the sheiks supported the terrorists — this was when I was here last time and it was all-out gunbattles and [improvised explosive devices] and suicide bombings. Now sheiks realize Americans have money and power and are not leaving. So half of them, Sunnis, have decided to work with the U.S. to get rid of the terrorists."
Although half of Ramadi is a war zone, the other half is becoming secure with open schools, businesses and hospitals, he said.
"So much progress has happened! My friends who died here did not die in vain. It moves me deeply. I feel tears welling up in me as I type this."
Like many deployed in Iraq, Sgt. Harding had no kind words for the press covering the war. He said he wanted people back home to know what's going on in Ramadi and Anbar and not the "if it bleeds, it leads," reporting mentality of most newspapers and television stations.
"Please know I love you and pray for you each night for about 10 minutes," Sgt. Harding said. "The other 23 hours and 50 minutes are total dedication to my Marines and our mission and accomplishing the job — total focus, absolute focus, one mind and heart focus at studying my enemy and the terrain and using my Marines to prevent them from attacking. And if they do attack us, to use overwhelming actions against them."
Sgt. Harding said God must be happy with the Anbar Awakening "because these poor families are finally getting a small taste of normal life."
"How much has Iraqi people suffered under Saddam and now insurgents, and their unorganized sheiks and tribal elders. Now slowly these issues are being resolved."
Bill Gertz covers the Pentagon. He can be reached at 202/636-3274 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.