The Pentagon has vigorously denied the existence of a “gag order” that National Security Adviser Susan Rice supposedly placed on Navy Adm. Harry Harris to temper his aggressive rhetoric on China’s aexpanding activities in the South China Sea.
Harris, chief of U.S. Pacific Command, denounced the idea of any kind of clash between him and the White House.
“Any assertion that there is a disconnect between U.S. Pacific Command and The White House is simply not true,” Harris said in a statement. “My private counsel to the President and the Secretary during classified deliberations wouldn’t be worth much if it weren’t private.”
“What I find troubling is sensationalist and irresponsible reporting that uses anonymous sources to inaccurately portray conflict between the White House and me,” Harris added. “The truth is, I’m satisfied that my concerns and recommendations are solicited, listened to, and considered.”
The denials come in response to an article published Wednesday by Navy Times, in which anonymous officials reported of a clash between the Pentagon and the National Security Council. National Security Adviser Susan Rice apparently issued a gag order against Harris to cut down on inflammatory rhetoric, so that President Barack Obama could have maximum negotiating room with China’s President Ji Xinping.
Although both the Pentagon and Harris deny any such clash, the theme of enmity between junior staffers at the NSC and experienced defense officials is depressingly familiar. All three of Obama’s former defense secretaries have testified to the NSC’s constant and frustrating micromanagement of military issues, despite the fact that there are a lack of veterans and people with practical experience serving on the NSC.
But what to do about the South China Sea remains up in the air. Obama did apparently listen to Harris’ suggestion to restart freedom of navigation patrols in the region, though the most recent patrol took place only after a huge gap from the first patrol. And Obama has taken an incredible amount of criticism for preferring talks over asserting power in the region. Meanwhile, China continues to develop artificial islands and threaten other U.S. allies.
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