Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, testifying last week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declined to rule out the use of military force in Iran or Syria, although she said the administration prefers diplomacy. "I don't think the president ever takes any of his options off the table concerning anything," she said.

In fact, Iran appears to have been on some folks' minds at the Pentagon -- even if only subliminally.

For example, there was a PowerPoint presentation a few months back across the river, about the Air Force's "Future Total Force" plan. It looked at strategic needs for equipment and upgrading National Guard and reserve units with the highest-tech equipment.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Allison A. Hickey and two aides gave the briefing with the required color slides and marks showing an unnamed country with locations of targets of value, including nuclear "WMD" sites and "IBMs" and "Advanced SAMs" [surface-to-air missiles] and "Deeply Buried Targets."

Nick Schwellenbach of the Project on Government Oversight said he couldn't help but notice something oddly familiar about the imagined map, even though there were no city or country names.

That sure looks like the Tigris and Euphrates rivers west of that country and the Persian Gulf to its southwest, Schwellenbach said. Isn't this Iran? he asked.

No, no, he was told. This is just a generic country an artist drew for these slides.

But that Stealth bomber headed for the nuke site sure looks as though it's flying across Kuwait and heading east.

Everyone took a closer look. Well, we're going to have to change these, one aide said.

Embattled Sherwood Raises $26,000

The Hotline's called it "the quietest scandal ever." It's Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Don Sherwood's legal battle over a $5.5 million assault and battery lawsuit filed by his former mistress, who claims he repeatedly beat her during their five-year relationship.

Sherwood, 64, married and hailing from a rural district around Wilkes-Barre, has admitted the affair with the now 29-year-old woman but denies assaulting her.

Perhaps as a result of this matter, Sherwood's poll ratings have dropped from 60 to 54 percent. But recent reports that a Green Party activist may enter the race next year should doom any Democratic chances of picking up the seat.

Even so, the House GOP leadership must be concerned enough about the little adultery/domestic violence distraction that it's going to the aid of its pal. A review by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington finds that Sherwood's October monthly financial report, filed recently with the Federal Election Commission, indicates his campaign committee received $5,000 contributions from the Keep Our Majority PAC (Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois), Rely on Your Beliefs Fund (Majority Leader Roy Blunt of Missouri), the Freedom Project (John A. Boehner of Ohio) and TOMPAC (Thomas M. Reynolds of New York).

Sherwood's campaign also received $2,500 from the PRYCE Project PAC (Deborah Pryce of Ohio) and the Prosperity Helps Inspire Liberty PAC (Phil English of Pennsylvania); and $1,000 from the Help America's Leaders PAC (Harold Rogers of Kentucky).

That's $26,000 from GOP leadership PACs. Sherwood probably won't need it for his campaign, but CREW executive director Melanie Sloan notes the money can be spent on legal expenses as well as campaign expenses. Anything to support family values.

Prince Bandar Finds Work: Saudi NSC

Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud of Washington and Aspen, Colo., was named last week secretary-general of a new Saudi National Security Council chaired by King Abdullah and with Bandar's dad, Prince Sultan, as deputy chairman. The Saudi NSC will be even more powerful than the U.S. version, after which it is patterned.

It has the power to declare war and emergencies, oversee and investigate, if necessary, other Saudi security agencies, withdraw ambassadors, sever diplomatic relations, approve military strategies and so on.

So while no longer the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, our favorite Saudi prince has landed on his feet back home, returning to the center of Saudi intrigue.

Past, Tense

The Rice State Department responded for the first time Friday to a blistering critique of Iraq policy and the current leadership by former secretary Colin L. Powell's chief of staff, Lawrence B. Wilkerson.

A reporter asked deputy spokesman J. Adam Ereli about Wilkerson's comment that he was "not sure the State Department even exists anymore," and his description of [then national security adviser] "Rice . . . as an extremely weak national security adviser."

"These are the remarks of a former official and a private citizen and reflect one individual's views," Ereli said, "certainly not the view of the U.S. government or those of us working with the State Department."

"But he's like -- he was, you know, a pretty key guy under Secretary Powell," the reporter persisted, "I mean . . ."

"Was," Ereli said.