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Jewish World Review June 19, 2001 / 29 Sivan, 5761

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.

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Consumer Reports

Don't politicize military matters -- IN the wake of two recent, controversial Bush Administration decisions with far-reaching national security implications, Democratic legislators have called for congressional hearings. Unfortunately, the focus of these initiatives could become an attack on the integrity and ethical conduct of the President's senior political advisor, Karl Rove. This would appear to be a mistake for two reasons. First, Mr. Rove appears to be an honorable man and a dedicated public servant.

Second, there is a real problem with both the Administration's recent approval of the sale of the Silicon Valley Group (SVG) to a foreign buyer and its announcement that the Navy would not be permitted to use Vieques Island for critical combined arms training after 2003. But that problem is the evident subordination of national security interests to political considerations, not unethical behavior. If the latter is what partisan congressional investigators choose to pursue, they may miss altogether what should trouble all of us -- and fail to take whatever corrective actions might yet be possible.

Rep. Henry Waxman, Democrat of California and ranking minority member on the House Government Reform Committee, has asked that panel's chairman, Indiana Republican Rep. Dan Burton, to launch an inquiry into Mr. Rove in connection with the SVG sale. Congressman Waxman did so in response to published reports that Mr. Rove may have had a conflict of interest since he was lobbied a few months back by Intel Corporation representatives anxious to have an interagency group known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) approve SVG's purchase by a Dutch competitor called ASML. At the time, the President's advisor held at least $100,000 worth of Intel shares.

My sense is that, to the extent Karl Rove played a role in the Administration's ultimate approval of the SVG decision over objections from the Pentagon, it was not because he was swayed by personal pecuniary considerations. Rather, many senior members of the Bush team -- and, for that matter, Members of Congress -- are anxious to do what Intel wants simply because they recognize that this huge company and its friends in Silicon Valley have become one of the most important new sources of campaign contributions and political influence.

The trouble lies with what Intel wanted. Intel is a principal consumer of electronic chip-manufactuing machines utilizing a technology known as lithography. Thanks to many millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer investments in the Silicon Valley Group, its lithography machinery was among the best in the world. Moreover, it had pioneered breakthroughs in the field that promised to allow SVG to dominate the industry in the years ahead. Importantly, SVG was also the last manufacturer of lithography machines in the United States.

SVG's European rival, ASML, saw an opportunity to take out its competitor and proposed to purchase it and a subsidiary called Tinsley Laboratories that manufactures precision optics used in spy satellites and for other defense-related purposes. Although the Defense Department belatedly recognized that it would be contrary to U.S. national security interests to have no American supplier of such equipment, Intel -- which views itself as a multi-national, not a U.S., company -- pushed very hard, and ultimately successfully, to have the Pentagon's recommendations disregarded by the White House.

A similar political override took place last week with respect to Vieques. Both Republicans and Democrats alike have appreciated that Hispanic Americans represent an increasingly influential and potentially decisive electoral group. (Surprisingly, even savvy Anglo politicians frequently fail to appreciate, however, that this community is far from monolithic in their views. For example, Cuban- and Mexican- Americans and others from Latin America share a common language but frequently have little else in common with Puerto Ricans.) Hence, Bill Clinton pardoned convicted Puerto Rican terrorists and pandered to the opponents of Navy and Marine training on Vieques.

Faced with the Clinton legacy on Vieques -- specifically, the prospect of a possible repudiation in a referendum of the island's residents to be held in November -- and anxious to curry favor with Hispanics, the Bush team decided that the Navy would have to find someplace else to exercise by 2003. There is, however, no reason to believe that the military will in fact get two years to find someplace else. Neither is there anyplace else in prospect that will enable the sort of realistic training done at Vieques over the past sixty years, without which American personnel sent into harm's way may suffer needless casualties and/or fail to accomplish their missions. The new Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, has announced his intention to hold hearings on this decision and will presumably zero in on its political aspects.

Just as Congress could usefully examine the folly of allowing industries vital to U.S. security to be sold off to entities that may prove to be unreliable suppliers -- and/or willing providers of such technology to potential adversaries -- so it could helpfully conduct a rigorous evaluation of the assumptions underpinning the Vieques decision. In particular, legislators ought to assess whether Navy Secretary Gordon England's claim that his service will find an "acceptable alternative" (as opposed to a place, or places, capable of providing the same training benefits as Vieques) is supportable and, if so, whether such lesser training is adequate.

In addition, Capitol Hill should address whether the precedent being set by the transparently politicized decision to get out of Vieques will have a highly detrimental ripple effect around the world and perhaps even in the United States itself. After all, what is to stop others seeking an end to military exercises in their backyards from demanding equal treatment with the Puerto Ricans?

In short, Congress could do a valuable service to the national interest and security if it helps the Bush Administration to keep politics out of military-related public policy decisions. The way to do this is not to pursue witchhunts against the likes of Karl Rove, but to establish unmistakably that such decisions should not be made in his office but in the Defense Department in consultation with the President's National Security Advisor.

JWR contributor Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. heads the Center for Security Policy. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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04/24/01: Sell aegis ships to Taiwan
04/17/01: The 'hi-tech for China' bill
04/10/01: Deal on China's hostages -- then what?
04/03/01: Defense fire sale redux
03/28/01: The defense we need
03/21/01: Critical mass
03/13/01: The Bush doctrine
03/08/01: Self-Deterred from Defending America
02/27/01: Truth and consequences for Saddam
02/21/01: Defense fire sale
02/13/01: Dubya's Marshall Plan
02/05/01: Doing the right thing on an 'Arab-Arab dispute'
01/30/01: The missile defense decision
01/23/01: The Osprey as Phoenix
01/17/01: Clinton's Parting Shot at Religious Freedom
01/09/01: Wake-up call on space
01/02/01: Secretary Rumsfeld
12/27/00: Redefining our Ukraine policy
12/19/00: Deploy missile defense now
12/12/00: Sabotaging space power
12/05/00: Preempting Bush
11/28/00: What Clinton hath wrought
11/21/00: HE'S BAAAACK
11/14/00: The world won't wait

© 2001, Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.