The White House has launched a covert publicity campaign against a bipartisan report that criticized the Obama administration for failing to provide urgently needed non-weapons military aid to Ukraine in its standoff against some 80,000 Russian troops massed along the country's eastern border.
The report by retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, a former NATO commander and former Democratic presidential candidate, and Phillip A. Karber, a former Reagan administration defense strategist, was based on a recent fact-finding mission to Ukraine that surveyed the outgunned Ukrainian military and reported on its most pressing needs.
The report stated that key non-lethal defense items sought by the Ukrainians were blocked by the administration as "provocative" and limited under an arms category mislabeled as "force multipliers," implying that the goods, while not weaponry, still are regarded as providing significant enhancement for Ukrainian military capabilities.
The key support that was needed at the time of the survey and rejected, according to the Clark-Karber report, includes body armor, night-vision goggles, communications gear and aviation fuel.
In response to the report, White House and Pentagon officials have tried to assert to news reporters and congressional officials that they are unaware of the restrictive force multiplier criteria.
But Mr. Karber and Mr. Clark were told repeatedly during meetings with U.S. officials in Ukraine that the force multiplier ban was applied to aviation fuel and would be applied to body armor and night-vision devices.
Additionally, the White House National Security Council staff, the organ that is tightly controlling the military aid requests, claimed the Ukrainians had not asked for body armor and night-vision devices.
The Ukrainian wish list of arms was put together shortly after the Russian military takeover of Crimea last month and was a five-page document seeking both lethal and non-lethal aid. It was sent to U.S. officials before President Obama said the United States would be limiting support to non-lethal military aid.
According to administration and congressional sources, an initial $20 million aid package for Ukraine initially was cut to less than $4 million. A key player in the aid debate was said to be Anthony J. Blinken, deputy national security adviser and long-time aide to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
According to these sources, Mr. Blinken obstructed a more robust military aid package to Ukraine by demanding that U.S. agencies conduct various studies and by calling numerous interagency meetings for discussion.
An NSC spokeswoman declined to comment on internal discussions on Ukraine aid.
The message of the aid delay for the U.S. government bureaucracy was "the urgency or defensive value of non-lethal items is not considered important, but being non-provocative is supreme," said one source close to the dispute.
Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a presidential candidate in Ukraine's upcoming elections, backed the report.
"A 'force multiplier' criteria applying a ban on support equipment that is not lethal — neither a weapon nor ammunition — needs to be dropped immediately; in particular, we need communications equipment, aviation fuel and other military equipment to defend our country," she stated.
In its bid to counter the Clark-Karber report, the White House published a fact sheet this week listing current and future aid, and announcing a new $50 million aid package — but only $8 million in military goods.
The military aid will include military and bomb disposal gear but not body armor and aviation fuel.
The United States will continue to actively review requests for additional support as Ukraine's government further modernizes its armed forces and deals with evolving threats," the fact sheet stated.
China censors Hagel speech
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited China earlier this month and tried to warm up chilly U.S.-China military relations. But the Chinese brass gave Mr. Hagel a harsh reception and less-favorable treatment than his predecessor's visit to China in 2012.
Senior Chinese military leaders offered the defense secretary rote support for closer military ties. But top officials, including the most powerful general, voiced anger at Mr. Hagel's critical remarks about China's effort to seek military control over the skies above Japan's Senkaku Islands and elsewhere in the East China Sea, during the secretary's earlier stop in Japan.
As a result of concern the U.S. defense chief would repeat the criticism during his speech at China's National Defense University, the April 8 speech was blacked out in domestic state-run media.By contrast, a speech in 2012 by then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to China's Armed Forces Engineering Academy made the Xinhua news feed, which is picked up and reported widely inside the world's most populous nation by China's new propaganda machine.
Chinese coverage of the visit was unusually harsh and is being interpreted by U.S. officials as signaling that despite its public support for closer military relations, China is not interested in a major improvement of the program of military exchanges, a priority for the Pentagon under the Obama administration.
On the positive side, China's most authoritative military outlet, the PLA Daily, the daily newspaper of the all-powerful Central Military Commission, said Mr. Hagel's visit to China's refurbished Soviet-era aircraft carrier the Liaoning was a sign of "sincerity" in closer ties.
But that was counterbalanced by official reporting that was harshly critical of Mr. Hagel and U.S. policies in Asia. The poor treatment of Mr. Hagel is said by U.S. officials to be a reflection of China's current propaganda campaign against Japan over the disputed Senkakus that China is claiming as its territory.
But the most unusual criticism came from Gen. Fan Changlong, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, who told state media that both he and "the Chinese people" were "dissatisfied" with Mr. Hagel's comments in Japan and that the United States needed to do more to promote friendly military relations.
The remark that upset the Chinese was made during a news conference in Tokyo April 6. Mr. Hagel said during a news conference with Japan's Defense Minister Itsunori Onadera "you cannot go around the world and redefine boundaries and violate territorial integrity and the sovereignty of nations by force, coercion or intimidation, whether it's in small islands in the Pacific or in large nations in Europe."
New strategic bomber?
Photos published last week online reveal what Pentagon sources say appears to be the first vague images of the Air Force's new prototype bomber, known as the Long Range Strike Bomber.
The bat-winged stealth aircraft was photographed March 10 by Steve Douglass and Dean Muskett over Amarillo, Texas, according to the Aviationist web site.
A month earlier a similar stealth aircraft, also flying at very high altitude, was photographed over Wichita, Kansas, by Jeff Templin, an amateur photographer who caught sight of the aircraft while taking wildlife pictures.
Little is known about the new bomber, but it is expected to be a hybrid aircraft capable of conducting both reconnaissance-intelligence missions and precision long-range strikes. It also might be capable of being flown both by onboard pilots or remote pilots linked by satellites.
The new bomber under development jointly by Boeing and Lockheed and is one of the Air Force's highest priorities. The service is facing large-scale aging of its current fleet of B-52, B-1 and B-2 bombers.
Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek could not say if the Aviationist photos showed the secret new prototype.
"Given the resolution of this photo, we can't tell whether this is a military aircraft, much less an Air Force one," she said.
Ed Gulick, another Air Force spokesman, said the new bomber will be deployed in the mid-2020s and between 80 and 100 bombers will be built.
The new bomber is needed because "despite upgrades, current bombers are increasingly at risk to modern air defenses," Mr. Gulick said.
"This [new bomber] capability provides the president with the option to hold any target at risk at any point on the globe," he said, adding the bomber's "long range, significant payload, and survivability provide operational flexibility for joint commanders."
• Contact Bill Gertz at @BillGertz.
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