The Cable

Exclusive: White House aides insisted F-22 be removed from Obama speech venue

When President Obama spoke to troops at Alaska's Elmendorf Air Force Base last month, the unit there parked a shiny new F-22 fighter plane in the hangar. But according to multiple sources, White House aides demanded the plane be changed to an older F-15 fighter because they didn't want Obama speaking in front of the F-22, a controversial program he fought hard to end.

"White House aides actually made them remove the F-22-said they would not allow POTUS to be pictured with the F-22 in any way, shape, or form," one source close to the unit relayed.

Stephen Lee, a public affairs officer at Elmendorf, confirmed to The Cable that the F-22 was parked in the hangar and then was replaced by an F-15 at the White House's behest.

The airmen there took offense to the Obama aides' demand, sources told The Cable, seeing it as a slight to the folks who are operating the F-22 proudly every day. They also expressed bewilderment that the White House staff would even care so much as to make an issue out of the fact that the F-22 was placed in the hangar with the president.

A White House official, commenting on background basis, told The Cable that yes, there were discussions about which plane or planes would be in the hangar, but that they were not meant as an insult to the pilots and other personnel who work on the F-22. The official couldn't elaborate on why the White House aides felt it necessary to get involved in the matter in the first place.

The official pointed to Obama's speech to the troops that day, where he praised both the 90th Fighter Squadron, known as the "Dicemen," and the 525th Fighter Squadron, the "Bulldogs," both of which operate the F-22.

Even so, the Air Force personnel thought it odd the White House wanted to display the older plane rather than the more advanced plane that, in the eyes of its supporters, represents the latest and greatest in American aviation.

The Obama administration fought hard and successfully to cut off production of the F-22 at 187 planes, a number Defense Secretary Robert Gates endorsed but that was hundreds less than originally planned and about half of the 381 planes Air Force leadership lobbied hard for in the years preceding Obama's inauguration.

"It's one thing to be against further production; quite another to slight the folks who are flying them in the operational world," one source said, adding that "the F-15 pictured was put into service roughly around the same period when Obama graduated from college. It's vintage."

The Cable

Murtha: Obama will get his surge money

President Obama is likely to get all the money he needs to carry out his "surge" of U.S. forces to Afghanistan, despite widespread skepticism among the Democratic congressional leadership, the top House defense appropriator said Wednesday.

John Murtha, D-PA, who chairs the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said he was not convinced that an increased American commitment to Afghanistan was wise -- he referred to the options facing the president as "a real son-of-a-gun" and "horrendous" -- but predicted that the Democrat-led Congress would give Obama the money anyway.

"I don't see any circumstances under which the president would lose the battle over the money this year," said Murtha, who traveled to Afghanistan at the end of last month. "If we're going to stop the deployment ... we'd have to not only vote against the funding but also have a resolution and that's not likely."

President Obama promised to work with Congress to figure out a way to pay for the troop increase, but Murtha stands at the crux of that process and he isn't sure that will be as easy as the president seems to think.

Contradicting House leadership, Murtha said there would need to be a supplemental war-spending bill of at least $40 billion just to account for war operations in fiscal 2010. "Believe me, there will be a supplemental," he said, noting that even without the added troops there would have a need for war funding above what the administration has already asked for.

And even though the administration is planning to request new war funds in the coming weeks, the supplemental bill will probably come in the May-June timeframe, Murtha said, well after most of the new troops are already deployed. The Appropriations Committee chairmen, Rep. David Obey, D-WI, and Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-HI, have agreed not to fund the extra troops in the regular defense bill for 2010, which has also not been passed yet, he added.

On a more fundamental level, Murtha doesn't believe that that Obama's Afghanistan surge strategy will necessarily work and he pushed back against Obama's basic premise that the international mission in Afghanistan is vital to American interests.

"I'm not sure there's a threat to our national security," Murtha said, arguing that al Qaeda can train from anywhere and adding that there is no precedent for successful military campaigns by foreign forces in Afghanistan. "I'm not sure there's a goal here that can be achieved."

"Historically this is a tough call," Murtha continued, referencing failed occupations in Afghanistan from the Russians to Alexander the Great. "This is a real son-of-a-gun. This is horrendous."

Murtha will chair two hearings next week on the issue, one early next week with Adm. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, and one Dec. 10 with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry.

He acknowledged once again that Obey's idea to pass a war surtax bill was unlikely to happen.

Overall, despite a good speech from the president, Murtha said several of his subcommittee members remain ambiguous or opposed to the new strategy.

"Obama says 'You've got to be with us,' and maybe we will be with him, but I'm still not convinced."

Murtha gave a Obama a book by historian Paul Kennedy entitled The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, which he said was a relevant warning about how great powers decline after overextending themselves due to war expenditures.

"The more I look at it, the more I see how it fits in exactly with what's happening today."