The Peacetime War
Caspar Weinberger in Reagan's Pentagon
BY NICHOLAS LEMANN
FINDING SOMETHING TO SPEND THE MONEY ON
AT SEVEN O’CLOCK IN THE EVENING ON FRIDAY, JANUary 30, 1981, Caspar Weinberger, the brand-new secretary of Defense, and David Stockman, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, met in Weinberger’s office in the Pentagon to decide by how much to increase the defense budget. It was only the eighth regular working day of the Reagan Administration, and neither man was a defense expert. Stockman had carefully studied domestic spending and intended to concentrate his early efforts on cutting it, but he had not really learned the defense budget; Weinberger had made it no secret that he was going to have to learn defense on the job, because it was outside his area of expertise.
That they were meeting at all was a sign of how strongly the current of the new Administration was pushing them to spend more on defense. Reagan had campaigned ardently in 1980 (and in 1976) for increased defense spending. Senator John Power, of Texas, who as a result of the new Republican majority in the Senate had become the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had made it clear to Weinberger and Stockman that he wanted large increases. Tower had met alone with Weinberger and with Stockman, to suggest a specific plan to them. “We had the numbers already,” Tower told me recently. “I don’t think Stockman or anybody else did. Weinberger did not know defense and, to his credit, was willing to rely on people who did.”
There were two other people at the meeting between Weinberger and Stockman, One was William Schneider, Jr., a conservative defense expert who had recently become the associate director of OMB for national security, put there at the suggestion of conservatives who wanted to make sure that while Stockman was cutting the rest of the federal budget, defense would be growing. That appointment was a sign of the times; so was the great outcry that had greeted the appointment of the other man at the meeting, Weinberger’s new deputy secretary, Frank Carlucci. Carlucci had worked for Weinberger in the Nixon and Ford Administrations, but had also served under Carter—an unpardonable sin.
The meeting went on through the evening; at the start of the next working day—Monday, February 2—budget officers at OMB and the Pentagon had a one-page memo saying that the Administration would immediately request a total increase of $32.6 billion, the largest and swiftest rise in defense spending during peacetime in our history.
Now that there was a figure, the first question was not What should our military strategy be and what programs will help us achieve it? Instead it was What can we think of to spend all that money on? This was a matter made more complicated by President Jimmy Carter, who, on January 15, 1981, five days before leaving office, had proposed a national defense budget for fiscal 1982 of $200.3 billion— an abrupt increase over the figure that had emerged as a result of negotiations between the Pentagon and OMB in October and November, and $26.4 billion more than the fiscal 1981 budget. The Reagan Administration would be adding its $32.6 billion on top of that.
So even before the new additions the armed services had received an unexpected windfall, and they had proposed a new round of programs to meet it. Now, in the first week of February, they were asked to come up with more programs, to meet the new Administration’s numbers. Here is the way one former Pentagon budget officer recalls that period: “It was kind of a unique situation. I was working for the Navy, and there was a numbers drill that said, If you had half a billion or a billion more, what would you do with it? And my stuff was only five billion total. We put in a minesweeper that had been on the books for years, for example. Definitely there was a need for a new class of minesweeper, but this design was kicking around for ten years and we just pulled it off the shelf. Suddenly money was available. There are cheaper designs that could have been looked at, but they just dusted off the old plans. Under Carter’s zero-based budgeting, they had priority bands— band one, band two, band three. There was a lot of crap from band five and six that got funded.”
Another account, from a different former budget officer: “I was in the Office of the Secretary, working for the readiness accounts. Carter had given us a lot. The Weinberger team came in and said, Add more. Find room to add. Find places to put more money. We said, You don’t up your readiness in a year. They said, This is the honeymoon, and the later cuts will be on a much higher base”—that is, the higher the initial appropriations, the more would be left after the inevitable cuts came. From someone still at OMB: “We were thinking they’d add seven billion. Maybe even fifteen. But thirty-two! Schneider argued, We have a mandate, and every day that goes by, it lessens. We argued with him.” Richard A. Stubbing, then a high-ranking civil servant in the National Security Division of OMB and now the assistant provost of Duke University, willing to speak on the record, recalls: “The services were stunned, and the OMB staff was stunned—Stockman was too, I think. It was, You got two weeks, fellas, and anything you want is okay. They went to the wish lists—they filled it up. There was no serious screening. No review by OMB. No national policy. And that became the essence of the submission.”
There was not, however, a total lack of systematic thinking behind the new budget requests, which Weinberger unveiled publicly before Tower’s committee on March 5, with the stern warning that “we do not believe we can afford to temporize any longer in the face of the Soviet threat.” In January the Heritage Foundation had published a book of specific suggestions for the Reagan Administration, called Agenda for Progress; the chapter on defense had been written by Schneider, and virtually every one of its many specific suggestions was incorporated into Weinberger’s budget submission. These included seed money for the restoration of the B-l bomber, which Carter had canceled; a major investment in the military’s command, control, communications, and intelligence system, which is designed to maintain America’s ability to fight during a nuclear war; twenty new F-15 fighters to intercept cruise missiles and planes or low-altitude satellites; development funds for a new aircraft carrier and the recommissioning and purchase of several other ships; a large military pay raise; major investments in spare parts and maintenance; and, mainly, increased rates of production for many of the services’ weapons systems. The services’ suggestions overlapped Schneider’s and, particularly in the case of smaller weapons systems, went beyond them; Schneider’s suggestions alone did not add up to the new number. Weinberger’s budget sailed through the Senate and the Democratic House virtually untouched — the $226.3 billion that the Reagan Administration had requested for 1982 was cut by less than a billion dollars.
Although every succeeding budget that Weinberger has proposed has been the result of an elaborate process of planning and bargaining inside the Pentagon, the first round of increases established a trajectory for the Reagan Administration’s defense spending and strongly influenced the size of the later budgets. Similarly, on matters of defense policy, though the succeeding years have seen long-term studies and intense public debates, the seeds for most of the new policies were contained in that first quick budget submission: the B-l and the MX, the bigger Navy, the emphasis on the ability to fight a protracted nuclear war. The Administration at the outset committed itself to using most of the new money to buy more of the existing array of weapons systems, rather than undertaking any dramatic new strategy. And because the numbers emerged so quickly, they shaped Weinberger’s own job, making it necessary for him to assume the role not of defense planner but of defense salesman. The specific agenda was not his at the start and can never be his; his cause was the general one of more for defense. Less than a month after the House passed the huge first round of defense-budget increases, the numbers began to come under serious attack, and so they have remained ever since. It has fallen to Weinberger to protect them.
THERE IS A CHART THAT SHOWS DEFENSE SPENDING since the Second World War, adjusted to eliminate the effects of inflation. It begins with a steep decline after the war, and reaches a trough in the late forties. There is a peak in the early fifties, for the Korean War, followed by a decline; a hillock during the Kennedy Administration; another peak in the late sixties, for the war in Vietnam, and then another decline; another hillock under Carter; and a third sharp upturn with the beginning of the Reagan Administration. Last year spending rose past the spending peak of Vietnam, and in the fiscal year that begins this month it may, depending on the outcome of the never-ending battles over the defense budget in Congress, go past the peak for Korea. In spending terms we are in our first peacetime war.
The defense budget for fiscal 1985 is still in dispute; the Administration has requested $313.4 billion. In Carter’s last true budget, for fiscal 1981, national defense got $173.9 billion. In fiscal 1980 it got $145.8 billion, less than half of today’s likely figure. During Reagan’s first term, defense spending has increased 80.2 percent in what are called “nominal” dollars—that is, dollars not adjusted for inflation—and 48.7 percent in constant dollars.
All that money has produced amazingly little in the way of tangible increases in the military strength of the nation. When Reagan took office, the United States had sixteen Army divisions and three Marine divisions; today, after the buildup, we have sixteen Army divisions and three Marine divisions. When Reagan took office, the Air Force had twenty-four active-duty tactical air wings; today it has twenty-four active-duty tactical air wings, and fewer planes on active duty. The Navy today has two new ships that weren’t put on track by Carter, and it has plans to build many more in the coming years. Steaming days are up slightly, and flying hours down. In the Army, training days per battalion and flying hours per crew have decreased since Reagan took office. The Marine Corps’s training days are down. When Reagan took office, Defense Department officials complained about American forces’ lowrate of sustainability in the field, said to be less than thirty days, and spoke of increasing the rate to sixty or even ninety days. The definitive numbers are classified, but congressional reports and the recent testimony of military leaders indicate that sustainability is still less than thirty days—for the Navy, it is less than a week. “Readiness,” a subjective measure of our forces’ ability to fight, has officially shown a decline for the Army and the Air Force during the Reagan Administration. The problem of our forces’ inability to meet our stated military commitments around the world, much discussed as Reagan was taking office, still exists, and is perhaps even more severe than before.
The Administration’s great success story is in enlisted personnel. Re-enlistment rates, recruitment rates, and the quality of the recruits are up dramatically. The rate of firstterm re-enlistment, which was 30 percent in 1976, is 68 percent today. The percentage of new Army recruits who are high school graduates, which was 54 in 1980, is 88 today. But the personnel numbers had already started to rise sharply in 1981, before any of the Reagan program took effect, thanks to a recession in the civilian economy and an 11.7 percent military pay raise pushed through Congress in 1980 by Senators Sam Nunn, of Georgia, and John Warner, of Virginia. Since then the Reagan Administration has raised military pay another 30 percent across the board. In addition, a “variable housing allowance” for military personnel who live in expensive areas, which was part of the 1980 legislation, has become all but universal—98 percent of the military personnel in the continental United States receive it, and only one town where military personnel are stationed, Gallup, New Mexico, is classified as not in a high-cost area. Special and incentive pay is up too. Today, according to the General Accounting Office, a full colonel has a gross income of $66,556 a year and a disposable income of $42,917. The military’s generous retirement plan, under which an officer may retire after twenty years’ active duty at half pay for life, is intact, though the rationale that it compensated for an underpaid, physically debilitating career is gone.
How can it be that we have spent so much and failed to solve many of our basic problems in defense? One answer, from the Administration, is that Congress has cut too much from its defense budgets. Another is that the procurement of weapons systems that are ever more complicated and difficult to maintain can eat up a great deal of money without appreciably increasing our forces. There are other answers, too, having to do with the politics of the Administration and Congress, beginning with the nature and the speed of the early spending increases. But those answers get ahead of the most fundamental one: that the real context of the buildup is the military and diplomatic policies of the Soviet Union, rather than a systematic consideration of the state of our own forces. The real aim of the buildup is to show the Soviets our resolve. The spending is meant to be a powerful symbol, and therefore a deterrent.
FOR TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AND MORE, THE VIEW THAT the Soviet Union is on the road to military superiority over the United States has had currency in this country, most strongly among conservative defense intellectuals and the professional military. It is an idea that has flitted in and out of the mainstream of American politics— for example, it was a main point of Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign, in 1964. In the mid-seventies it began to gain force again, in reaction to our withdrawal from Vietnam, the signing of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, the decline in the rate of growth of American defense spending, the receipt of intelligence reports about Soviet military activity, and other factors. That Republican Presidents were in power only made the situation worse, in the view of those worried about the Soviets—it showed that even the more conservative of the two parties was willing to let America slip.
In December of 1975 a group of officers, intellectuals, and former government officials gathered at the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command, in Omaha, to discuss this state of affairs, and after the meeting came a flurry of activity. In 1976 Paul Nitze and Eugene V. Rostow, both former high government officials, founded a group called the Committee on the Present Danger to promote increased military spending and a generally more aggressive response to the Soviets. The same year, some members of the committee, along with other conservatives, persuaded President Gerald Ford that the Central Intelligence Agency was underestimating Soviet military strength and that he should appoint a special committee to review the CIA’s intelligence reports. Ford and George Bush, then the CIA’s director, named nine conservative defense experts to an organization called the B Team (the CIA itself was the A Team) and gave it full access to the CIA’s classified intelligence about the Soviet Union. The B Team was supposed to review this material and draw harsher conclusions from it than the A Team had. It worked through the second half of the year, issued an alarmed report, and then disbanded.
One member of the B Team was William Van Cleave, a professor at the University of Southern California and in every way a true believer. He is a man with a plainspoken, midwestern manner that obscures how difficult he can be, how much of a lone wolf. He lives alone in the California desert, a hundred miles from his office. Van Cleave believes that in the late fifties the Soviet leadership set itself on a course of developing its nuclear weapons to the point at which it could fight and win a nuclear war with the United States. We could have prevented the Soviets from achieving this goal, he feels, but during Robert McNamara’s tenure in the Pentagon it became our doctrine that we and they should have rough parity in nuclear weapons, and that neither side would use them because of the fear of assured destruction by the other side. This was the opening that the Soviets needed, in Van Cleave’s view, and all during the late sixties and early seventies they pressed relentlessly onward, steadily increasing their defense spending and the power and accuracy of their conventional and nuclear weapons.
Van Cleave was a member of the SALT negotiating team and was the only official witness to testify against the treaty in the Senate. In 1976, he says, he coined the phrase “window of vulnerability,” to make vivid the situation into which he thought the United States was rapidly heading: The Soviets were deploying a new generation of extremely powerful and accurate land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (particularly SS-18s) that would be capable of destroying most of our land-based ICBMs on a first strike. Yes, we had thousands of seaand air-based nuclear weapons with which to respond (we built many more nuclear warheads than the Soviets did during the seventies), but they were not powerful or accurate enough to destroy the key Soviet military targets. They would have to be aimed at cities and would result in genocide. An American President would be unlikely to order strikes at cities, and if he did, the Soviets were prepared to take enormous losses while their leaders and millions of others were protected in a network of underground shelters. So we would surrender. If the Soviets didn’t use their first-strike superiority, our knowledge that they had it would nonetheless let them behave more aggressively all over the world.
Van Cleave worked a little in Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign in 1976, and afterward he stayed close to Reagan. Reagan first used the phrase “window of vulnerability” in a speech in 1979. In 1980 Van Cleave went to work full-time for the Reagan presidential campaign as its chief defense adviser. Soon he suggested to Reagan that he begin work on an eight-year defense plan for the Reagan Administration, to be ready by Inauguration Day. Reagan told him to go ahead. Part of the arrangement was that after the election Van Cleave would become the head of the defense transition team and would move into an office in the Pentagon, so that he could have access to classified information while he completed the plan. In the fall of 1980 Van Cleave began to quarrel with other campaign advisers about how much more Reagan should promise to spend on defense. He wanted Reagan to say that defense should be based on needs, not a number, and to point out that in the fifties defense spending had been more than nine percent of the gross national product, whereas in 1980 it was less than five percent. If pressed, Reagan should say that an annual increase in the defense budget of seven percent a year, after adjusting for inflation, was the absolute minimum. Van Cleave’s main combatants within the campaign were Martin Anderson, in charge of domestic policy; Alan Greenspan, in charge of economic policy; and Caspar Weinberger, in charge of budgetary policy.
There was one contretemps in September, during preparations for an economic address that Reagan was to make in Chicago. Because Carter had scoffed at Reagan’s plans to balance the budget, cut tax rates, and increase defense spending at the same time, Reagan decided to include in his speech some numbers showing how he would do it. On the plane to Chicago, Van Cleave, Anderson, and Greenspan began working with the numbers, and it quickly became clear that with a seven-percent increase in defense spending they couldn’t show a balanced budget. Anderson and Greenspan cut it to five percent. Van Cleave, ever zealous, extracted a small measure of revenge by telling reporters at a press conference after the speech that he still thought five percent was too low. In October, when members of the Reagan campaign staff were holed up at a Virginia country estate preparing for Reagan’s debate with Carter, Van Cleave, playing the reporter, asked Reagan how much he would increase defense spending. Five percent, said Reagan. No, that’s wrong, said Van Cleave; we haven’t committed to that. Weinberger, who was also in the room, quickly said, Oh, yes, we have; five percent is definite; we are not going to promise more than that.
AFTER THE ELECTION THE MOOD OF VAN CLEAVE AND of the whole circle of people who were like-minded on defense issues was one of jubilation mingled with firm resolve—election results, they knew, did not automatically translate into policies, and Washington was full of Republican supporters of détente who, in an atmosphere lacking in vigilance, would soon be able to capture the Administration. The Committee on the Present Danger held its annual banquet a few days after the election, at the Sulgrave Club, in Washington, and there was much talk about how Reagan was coming just in time, because it was almost too late to reverse America’s decline. “There was a feeling that we were scooping the country up from the depths,” says one person who was there, now a high official in the Administration; another remembers that the seventies were described as “the dark years.” Although defense and diplomacy were the committee’s main concerns, its members had over the past few years developed a sweeping cultural critique of American society. We had become weak, self-doubting, incapable of showing resolve, appeasing. That last was the key word: it conjured up the whole rich picture of England in the thirties—Munich, the liberals calling for disarmament, Churchill’s magnificent, lonely warnings against the threat to the West. Almost incredibly, even with that example still firmly in reach of personal memory, we were taking the same road again, with the Soviets playing the old role of the Nazis. We needed a dramatic jolt out of our complacency.
Van Cleave, typically, took this feeling further than anyone else. A few weeks later he suggested to Richard Allen and Edwin Meese III, two members of Reagan’s inner circle, that the inaugural ball be canceled and that Reagan go directly from his swearing-in to an emergency joint session of Congress called to increase the defense budget. He was not alone in recommending extreme measures. During a conference of conservative defense experts held in Baltimore in December of 1979, for example, the talk turned to “triggering events” that might cause public opinion to change in favor of more defense spending. In the transcript Fred C. Iklé, who now has the number-three job in the Pentagon, says, “What should we do in the event of a post-Tito Soviet invasion of Yugoslavia? ... In the present situation we would scrupulously refrain from aiding the partisans. In a larger global context ... I think that would be the wrong decision. We should move in with assistance and be prepared to lose on that battlefield in order to trigger the larger reaction that is needed to halt the further deterioration in the correlation of forces.”
At this point Kenneth L. Adelman, now the director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, interjects, “It is pretty depressing when you get to the point where you want some kind of a defeat, no matter how little it may be, to waken people up.”
“No, we don’t want a defeat,” Iklé replies. “We want an engagement. It would be better to win in Yugoslavia. But you have to be prepared to lose locally.”
Van Cleave knew that Weinberger would be given an important Cabinet job, because he had a long record—of more than ten years, anyway, which is long in national politics—as both a high government official and a loyal counselor to Reagan. Van Cleave hoped the job would be secretary of State, though, and not the Pentagon. He pinned his hopes on Tower for secretary of Defense, and began to establish a line of communication with him, arranging a series of breakfasts together to talk about defense. Van Cleave urged Tower to propose an immediate, major increase in defense spending if he became secretary; he gave Tower three sets of numbers, which he had labeled “Minimum Essential,” “Begin to Close the Gap,” and “Recommended.”
There were several theories about why Weinberger didn’t get the State Department: one was that Reagan had decided to put Alexander Haig in the Cabinet, and a former general is legally barred from serving as the civilian head of the Pentagon; another was that Weinberger’s having worked for Bechtel Corporation, the construction giant that does extensive business in the Arab world, would make diplomacy in the Middle East hard for him; another was that Reagan, planning to increase defense spending, wanted to put someone known as a strict manager in charge, to send out the signal that there would not be a spree. Whatever the reason for Weinberger’s appointment (on December 12, 1980), Van Cleave reacted quickly to the news of it: he arranged a meeting with Weinberger. As soon as he got wind that Weinberger wanted Carlucci as his deputy secretary, he began to campaign ardently— with Allen, with Meese, with Tower, with Reagan’s friends in California, with many others—against the appointment. Van Cleave and other conservatives believed that the CIA’s covert operations had been “dismantled” during the time Carlucci was deputy director, and this made them especially bitter about his appointment.
On Saturday, December 20, 1980, Van Cleave and his deputy on the transition team, Benjamin Plymale, went to Weinberger’s office at Bechtel, in San Francisco, and spent the morning briefing him on their policy suggestions and on the Soviet military. At the end of the briefing Weinberger very politely thanked Van Cleave for his work and said that he would be sending in his own people now, so he wouldn’t be needing the transition team. Van Cleave said that he couldn’t bear to fire his people just a few days before Christmas, and Weinberger gave him until New Year’s Eve.
But the game was not over. Van Cleave made sure that the story of his dismissal soon became well known around Washington. He continued to give briefings in which he suggested specific defense-spending increases—for instance, working through his old friend Schneider, he wangled an appointment with Stockman and presented his numbers to him. In the same spirit Tower sent one of his aides, Rhett Dawson, to the Pentagon budget office in January with a paper that suggested, as Van Cleave had suggested to Tower, three options for increases in defense spending. Allen and Tower began actively pushing candidates for the other jobs in the Pentagon, even going to the President to press their case. This was nothing new in Washington—it is rare for an incoming Cabinet secretary to be able to pick all of his own team—but the conservatives’ dissatisfaction with Carlucci gave them an opening to push particularly hard, if not for his job, then for others. When all the jobs were handed out, they did well; in effect, though Weinberger got Carlucci, they made him pay a very high price.
Three conservatives in particular, all members of the Committee on the Present Danger, got important jobs. Iklé, a Swiss émigré who, like Allen, had worked in the Nixon Administration, run afoul of Henry Kissinger and détente, and been an exile from the center of foreign-policy making ever since, would be the undersecretary for policy. John Lehman, Jr., then thirty-eight, a great favorite of both Allen’s and Tower’s, would be the secretary of the Navy, having won that position after a spirited campaign against a California automobile dealer named Robert Nisen, who later became the ambassador to Australia. Richard Perle, for years an ardently anti-Soviet aide to Senator Henry Jackson and more recently Lehman’s partner in a consulting firm, would be the assistant secretary for international security policy, in charge of nuclear strategy and arms control. Perle had played the transition brilliantly, first elaborately feigning lack of interest—he let it be known that his young son and his new enthusiasm for cooking were of great importance to him, and that he was thinking of opening a restaurant, to be called Le Soufflé— and then, when negotiations began seriously, bargaining responsibility for European policy away from a rival assistant secretariat as a condition of his coming. Van Cleave, who had had hopes of getting either Carlucci’s or Iklé’s job, was finally named to an advisory committee in the State Department.
WEINBERGER STAYED ALOOF FROM THESE MACHInations, letting Carlucci represent him in negotiations on the high-level staffing of the Pentagon. But within a month of his appointment as secretary he became an ardent proponent of the views about the Soviet military that Van Cleave, the Committee on the Present Danger, and other conservatives had put forth for so long. Weinberger had never—until now—been associated with the political manifestations of the pessimistic view of Soviet power and intentions. For example, in the fall of 1973, as the secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, he took a sixteen-day tour of the Soviet Union, meeting with the Soviet health minister, Boris Petrovsky, and setting up a direct cable link between Washington and Moscow for the transmission of information on advanced health research. At a news conference upon his return, he criticized the National Academy of Sciences for threatening to stop participating in joint research projects with the Soviets in protest against the treatment of Andrei Sakharov. Weinberger said that the benefits of scientific cooperation should transcend an internal Soviet affair, even if he did not approve of it. Henry Jackson heatedly condemned Weinberger (a nice irony, in that Perle must have helped with the statement), saying, “Secretary Weinberger’s statement is an example of just how low his administration will sink to produce a deal at any price with Moscow.” Early in the transition, during discussions of defense and foreign policy, Weinberger became animated only when the subject turned to the Law of the Sea Treaty, on which he had long held definite views. By January, however, he had become an impassioned convert. Weinberger and his inner circle say that what did it was the briefings he got on the Soviet threat—that he was shocked, had had no idea that the Soviets had achieved military superiority over us in so many areas. A few weeks into the job he was telling friends that he didn’t know how much time America had left.
The briefing that had the greatest impact was by John Hughes, a quiet, ailing, scholarly analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency who was famous in the intelligence world for his pioneering work in the use of photographs taken from spy planes and satellites; it was Hughes who in 1962 had discovered the Soviet missiles in Cuba. He had briefed Kennedy then, and he had briefed officials on the Soviet threat ever since. Weinberger gave him new prominence. It gave Hughes credibility that he was no swaggering general, on the order of Curtis LeMay, but a shy, unprepossessing technician; the briefing was all the more intense for its low-key delivery. One saw photographs of the new Soviet Typhoon submarine, bigger than our Trident; of airstrips in the Western Hemisphere; of the vast Nizhniy Tagil tank plant, nearly a mile long. Because of a long-standing bureaucratic arrangement, defense intelligence and what is called “net assessment” are done in separate government departments, so the Hughes briefing focused mainly on Soviet forces in and of themselves rather than comparisons of their forces with our own. Still, if one wanted to compare, the Soviets vastly outspent us, had increased spending while we were cutting back, had ICBMs more powerful and numerous and advanced than ours, had a B-1-like bomber while we didn’t, had 180 Army divisions to our sixteen, 50,000 tanks to our 11,000, 220 attack submarines to our 90. Their society was fully devoted to military production, giving it 15 percent of their GNP, in contrast with our five. Weinberger twice sent Hughes to Europe to brief NATO defense ministers, and on several evenings during one spring’s fighting over the defense budget, members of Congress were brought to the White House movie theater to get the Hughes briefing there. In the fall of 1981 Weinberger published the first of three editions of a paperback called Soviet Military Power, which uses photographs, charts, and double-page color paintings to make some of Hughes’s main points.
There is one other important factor in the conversion of Weinberger: his boss. At a point last spring when, as was often the case, all of Washington seemed to be clamoring for cuts in the defense budget, I asked Weinberger why so many people didn’t agree with his views on defense spending. He immediately answered: “Well, the President does, and I’m here to serve the President and came back only for that reason. I did not come back to fight the President. I could have done that at ten times the current income from my home in California, and I did not come here to do anything but try to help the President and work with him and help this Administration succeed. And I have had no reason whatever to believe that any of the things I’ve done thus far have been things that the President didn’t want done.”
ORGANIZER, ADMINISTRATOR, MINISTER
H E WAS BORN IN SAN FRANCISCO IN 1917-CASPAR Willard Weinberger, the second and last child of Herman and Cerise Carpenter Hampson Weinberger. His parents were both from Colorado. Herman Weinberger’s grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Bohemia who opened a general store in the town of Idaho Springs. Cerise Weinberger’s parents were from England and were Episcopalian, and Caspar was raised in that faith. Herman Weinberger worked from the time he was in junior high school, put himself through college and law school at the University of Colorado, practiced law briefly in Idaho Springs, and in 1913 moved west to San Francisco. After working for several years for the well-established law firm of Chickering & Gregory, he left and practiced on his own for the rest of his life.
Peter, the older of Herman Weinberger’s boys, was athletic and outgoing. Caspar was small and serious, and he was often ill with mastoid infections. He became bookish, and from a very early age was strongly interested in politics. He recalls his father’s telling him bedtime stories about the parliamentary maneuvering at the Constitutional Convention, and listening to radio broadcasts of the 1924 political conventions. Even before high school, he says, he took out a subscription to the Congressional Record and read it cover to cover.
He was a conservative and a Republican, as was his father, whom he adored. I asked him not long ago what had attracted him to conservatism, and he said, in a characteristic tone of irony mingled with combativeness, “Well, anyone with any discernment who studied government would always come out on the conservative side,” and chuckled. When I asked him again, he answered seriously, in terms not of great social theories but of determination and getting ahead in the world: “I think primarily it was the basic idea that the individual should be free to move up as far and as fast as he was able to do. I was very concerned and suspicious and opposed to any system in which people were forced into particular molds or particular patterns or anything of that kind. I liked the idea that we had a system in which an individual was free to rise and start a new industry, earn whatever he could, and follow any path that he wanted to without somebody trying to plan and to require him to fit into a particular mold.”
He graduated from Polytechnic High School in 1934 and went to Harvard—initially on a one-year scholarship granted by a rich alumnus in San Francisco on the basis of a personal interview. (Peter Weinberger, already at Stanford, transferred to Harvard after Caspar enrolled there.) He was a government major and an outstanding student, but he spent most of his time working on the student newspaper, the Crimson, and became its president. This was one of the proudest achievements and happiest experiences of his life—one that, even forty-five years later in the Pentagon, he discusses often with his close aides.
Weinberger was by no means instantly a part of the comfortable center of life at Harvard. By any broad measure the Weinberger family had already achieved great success, but the very outer rim of the very inner circle is perhaps the vantage point from which the difficulty of reaching the center is most apparent. Many of his classmates on the Crimson were from the East and had gone to prep school. Also, to have a Jewish name in that time and place was a matter that did not escape notice. In his mailbox late at night he once found a crude note from someone who didn’t like something in the Crimson; it was addressed “dere casper winebur-ger,” and signed “JACOBSTEIN & BLOOMBERG.” Weinberger was not invited to join one of the Harvard “final clubs,” to which many of his friends belonged. In his early days on the Crimson staff he went into Boston every night, an eager lad willing to do scut work, to get the used wire copy from the Herald. He worked tirelessly; friends remember him sleeping five hours a night. By the time of the election that would decide whether he would become president, there was no doubt about the outcome.
In the early thirties there had been a liberal spin-off of the Crimson, which folded; the paper left behind was staunchly Republican, in a comfortable, gentlemanly way. If the Crimson was conservative, Weinberger was more conservative. His great cause was opposition to the New Deal and to unions. He admired Herbert Hoover and even bet on Alf Landon. The editorials he wrote were fierce, biting, heavily ironic. One side was always completely right and the other completely wrong; a Weinberger editorial did battle against the forces of darkness. In November of 1937 he wrote of Roosevelt, “His mental state is calmer and more conciliatory, quieted perhaps by the start of a depression which may well develop into one fully as fearful as the depression which first elected Mr. Roosevelt.” He was already a devoted Anglophile, and he was bitterly disappointed by Edward VIII’s abdication, which he felt was a betrayal of the Empire. Commenting on an editorial that was tolerant of the abdication, he wrote, “I hate to see this stand being taken—Mrs. Simpson is just used goods & Edward is an ill-tempered, spoiled fool.”
The object of his greatest scorn was John L. Lewis, the head of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), who was under constant attack in the Crimson editorial columns. After one editorial Morris Earle, who would succeed Weinberger as president, wrote plaintively in the book where the editorials were pasted for comments by the staff, “No more labor eds! No more eds on controversial national subjects unless both sides are represented!” This elicited a heated response from Weinberger: “Even if all 10,000 men of Harvard liked Lewis it wouldn’t change our policy. . . Perfect Rot: Of what use is an Ed on any subject if it doesn’t take one side? . . . It’s perfectly stupid to be afraid to run an Ed on a controversial subject for fear of offending some people—God—what’s an Ed column for—if it doesn’t take a side & a strong one.—this Ed was perfectly fair—it recognized that all labor leaders aren’t Lewis & the C.I.O.—out for their own good. If these dictatorial statements are intended to be orders, they are hereby countermanded & declared null & void—Labor Eds will be run & National Eds on controversial subjects will likewise be run.” Another time, commenting on a rip-roaring anti-Lewis editorial by Weinberger, J. Sinclair Armstrong, the editorial chairman, wrote in the comment book, “Purely an armchair attack, composed with no knowledge of labor, no attempt to hide the ingenuous bias with which it reeks. It is impossible to have your editorial message effective unless the pill of bias is coated with a little bit of the sugar of reason.” Weinberger all his life has tended toward the majestic, overstated attack on the heathen which demonstrates intelligence and fire, but not depth. He sees the world in black and white.
In his personal relations he was the opposite of combative—loyal, dutiful, gracious, assiduous. His college friends, even the ones with whom he sometimes bitterly disagreed, speak about him today with pure affection. Few felt intimate with him—he kept his feelings to himself and had no hobbies except reading—but they respected him, expected great things from him, kept in touch. Most of them have stayed with the drift toward liberalism of the eastern patrician class. Morris Earle, who lives in rural Vermont, is running for Congress for the second time on a “small is beautiful,” nuclear-disarmament platform—but when he’s in Washington, he calls on Weinberger in the Pentagon, and defense is not discussed.
This sense of loyalty and decorum extended also into Weinberger’s choices about his life. He had an odd combination of wildness, almost, in the way he thought about the world and caution in the way he plotted his own course. In his senior year, garlanded with honors—Phi Beta Kappa, a magna cum laude for his senior thesis on the Farm Credit Administration—he was awarded a fellowship to study in Cambridge for a year, with generous time off for travel around Europe, but, seized with what he now calls misplaced prudence, he turned it down and immediately entered Harvard Law School. He had decided to go to law school, he says, “because I knew my father wanted me to.” He planned after that to work for a year in New York and then return to San Francisco and join his father’s practice.
It was obvious in the spring of that year, 1938, that war was coming. Weinberger says that he was eager to join up—in 1939 and 1940 he talked to Royal Canadian Air Force recruiters (they rejected him for his poor depth perception),—and that he burned with indignation against prominent American isolationists like Charles Lindbergh and Joseph P. Kennedy. Anticipating that Caspar would want to serve in the war, Herman Weinberger urged him to finish law school and then to take a desk job in Washington that he had lined up for him. The final arrangement was that Weinberger did finish law school, and then, in the fall of 1941 (before Pearl Harbor), he joined the infantry. The following summer, in Australia, he married Jane Dalton, a nurse on his troop ship to the Pacific Theater. He served in New Guinea, won a commission, joined the staff of General Douglas MacArthur, and left the Army as a captain. In 1944 Herman Weinberger died in San Francisco. When the warended, Caspar and Jane and their two-year-old daughter, Arlin, came home. He was law clerk to a federal appeals judge for two years, and in 1947, the year his son, Caspar, Jr., was born, he joined a leading San Francisco law firm, Heller, Ehrman, White, and McAuliffe.
ALMOST IMMEDIATELY WEINBERGER BECAME INvolved in local Republican politics. He and several friends, veterans and young lawyers upset by Harry Truman’s victory in the presidential campaign, formed a group called the Grand New Party to take on the old, hidebound San Francisco Republican machine run by Herbert Hanley. In 1950 the Grand New Party’s slate ousted Hanley’s and took over the Republican County Committee. When a seat in the state assembly opened up in 1952 in a Republican district—the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco—Weinberger, after getting the permission of the skeptical senior partners at Heller, Ehrman, ran for it and won.
He made his name in the legislature by taking on another heavy, Artie Samish, the chief lobbyist for the liquor industry and the de facto ruler of the state Board of Equalization, which controlled liquor licenses. Weinberger proposed setting up a state liquor-control department to put the Board of Equalization out of the licensing business, and in the 1954 elections that proposal passed as a constitutional amendment. It was not a lone-wolf crusade on Weinberger’s part—it was a good Republican issue, backed by the leadership—but it took hard work and a willingness to make enemies. Weinberger told me that he had learned about defense “exactly the same way I did when I went to the legislature and to my considerable surprise was assigned to investigate the liquor regulatory system. You do what you do when you take on a new client or prepare for trial. You just read everything you can find and talk to everybody you can find and try to absorb as much as possible.” The pattern was established very early, and he has stuck to it all his life.
In his third term he decided, audaciously, that in 1958 he would run for attorney general—a big job, a steppingstone to the governorship; Earl Warren had been attorney general before becoming governor (and later Chief Justice), and the current attorney general was Pat Brown, himself about to move on. A bitter conservative—moderate split in the California Republican Party, which would rend it for eight years, was just beginning. It was a war between two cultures. The moderates’ stronghold was San Francisco, an established, cosmopolitan city well steeped in the tradition of good-government nonpartisanship that had dominated California politics since the teens. The conservatives were strongest in places that had grown by 150 and 200 percent in population since the war, especially Orange County, in the south. Their troops were migrants to California, often from the Midwest or the South, people who felt they had achieved a magical degree of opportunity by throwing off the shackles that bound the eastern half of the country. The John Birch Society, though its headquarters were in Massachusetts, reached the pinnacle of its influence in Orange County. Weinberger and all his political associates in San Francisco were moderates—Weinberger so fervently that some of his friends from those days were surprised when I told them that he had been a conservative in college.
He thought that he would have a clear shot at the Republican nomination for attorney general. But Senator William Knowland, a conservative, abruptly decided to run for governor, and Governor Goodwin Knight, a moderate not eager to run against Knowland, reacted by running for senator. In the fiurry of rearranged plans that followed, a conservative Los Angeles congressman named Patrick J. Hillings filed against Weinberger. The early returns put Weinberger comfortably ahead, but when the Southern California ballots came in, he had lost.
Friends of Weinberger’s say that he was quite bitter about his defeat, and that he blamed it on Richard Nixon. Hillings had promised Weinberger that he wouldn’t run for the attorney-general nomination, and his decision to run after all had Nixon’s tracks all over it. Hillings was an ally of Nixon’s, and Nixon’s people in Southern California (especially his infamous tactician, the rough-playing Murray Chotiner) had helped direct the campaign. It had been dirty at times; the right-wing radio commentator Fulton Lewis, Jr., had called Weinberger “the People’s World candidate,” referring to a Communist newspaper, and friends remember anti-Semitic leaflets playing on the name Weinberger appearing in the San Joaquin Valley. Not naturally a risk-taker, Weinberger went deeply into personal debt to finance a race that he thought he had wrapped up (in November the whole Republican ticket lost badly). He never ran for public office again, and he soon moved out of San Francisco, his political base, to Hillsborough, a luxurious suburb down the peninsula, in San Mateo County. From then on his political career was as an organizer, an administrator—a minister, serving others.
In the fall of 1959 Weinberger was a co-chairman of the Northern California Nixon for President Committee. In the spring of 1960 he was elected vice-chairman of the Republican State Central Committee, with Nixon’s blessing. After Nixon lost the presidency in 1960, Weinberger and other moderates called on him to urge him to run for governor, as the only man who could bring the party back together. But the rifts widened. A Los Angeles conservative named Joseph Shell ran against Nixon in the 1962 Republican primary, and threatened to oppose Weinberger’s supposedly automatic elevation from vice-chairman to chairman of the state central committee, complaining that Weinberger was a front man for Nixon. When Weinberger did become chairman, he had to preside over Nixon’s defeat, and then over the bitterest intra-Republican campaign of all, the race between Nelson Rockefeller and Barry Goldwater in the California presidential primary in 1964. Everyone knew that Weinberger was a Rockefeller man, though he never formally declared himself. Joseph Martin, an old friend of his from the Grand New Party days, resigned as the Republican national committeeman from California in order to support Rockefeller publicly; Weinberger remained state chairman.
Heller, Ehrman had made Weinberger a partner after the attorney-general race. He practiced all during his state chairmanship, mostly as an anti-trust litigator, but the law never held his interest. He did a dozen different things, by working long hours and perfecting the ability to digest material quickly. He would have an associate brief him on a case in the taxi on the way to the courthouse, and then would be able to stand up in court and repeat perfectly all the arguments he had heard. He reviewed books for the San Francisco Chronicle. He wrote a column twice a week on state politics, which appeared in several newspapers in California. He was the host of a weekly public-affairs show called Profile: Bay Area, on the television station KQED, and again he was able to plunge into briefing materials about his guest just before the show and put on a flawless performance. He was the treasurer of the Episcopal diocese of California, a vestryman in his church, a part-time law professor, and a member of many civic boards. In the house in Hillsborough—white with two stories and gables, a touch of New England among the bungalows and eucalyptus trees—he built up an extensive library. He was quite well known, a famous moderate Republican, but his energies were not fully engaged. A friend remembers seeing him at their twenty-fifth Harvard reunion, in 1963, and thinking, Cap hasn’t yet quite found his spot.
In 1966 it seemed that the split in the Republican Party would continue into the next governor’s race, in which the Republicans hoped to unseat Pat Brown. The conservative candidate was Ronald Reagan, who had emerged from the ashes of the 1964 Goldwater campaign a talented, popular political speaker. He had been passionately for Goldwater and had opposed the federal Civil Rights Act. He refused to criticize the John Birch Society, and spoke constantly about the dangers of communism. The moderate candidate was George Christopher, a former mayor of San Francisco and an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor. Weinberger supported Christopher—he served as his campaign chairman in Northern California—on the grounds of old friendship and as part of the continuing battle to beat down the right.
Reagan, though, was different from Goldwater—he could tap the raw emotions of Southern California conservatism without seeming to sink into them—and in victory his mood was conciliatory rather than vengeful. After he had beaten Christopher, he immediately reached out to the moderates and brought them into his campaign. Weinberger was on the published list of Reagan advisers in the fall campaign; and after Reagan beat Brown, Weinberger was a leading candidate for the most important appointive job in state government: finance director. Reagan’s early supporters—the group recently known as the Kitchen Cabinet, then as the Millionaire Backers—vetoed Weinberger, having still not forgiven him for supporting Rockefeller and Christopher, and the job went to a management consultant named Gordon Paul Smith. But Reagan seemed to bear no rancor toward Weinberger from the old wars. A year into his governorship, after Smith had embarrassed Reagan by handling his budget-cutting program in a clumsy way, Reagan replaced Smith with Weinberger.
Weinberger got a reputation for learning every line of the budget and cutting assiduously. He gave no quarter— he even cut the budget of his brother, Peter, by then a minor official in the Reagan administration. When, in 1968, the California government showed a surplus and returned some of it to the taxpayers, it was credited to Weinberger. In fact he was partly just lucky. During Smith’s tenure Reagan had raised state taxes, and the revenue from the increase made the surplus possible. Reagan’s final fiscal accomplishment was to institute payroll withholding for the state income tax, an idea against which Reagan had initially had a strong instinctive prejudice, believing it was an attempt by government to hide its taxing activities. Just after being appointed, Weinberger said he was “flexible” on the subject, but knowing the force of Reagan’s feelings, he never pushed it. He was the kind of official who doggedly carried out his superior’s wishes without much questioning them; he did not, it seemed, see it as part of his job to tell Reagan that he was wrong. After Weinberger had left the state government, his much less seasoned successor as finance director, an automobile dealer named Verne Orr (now secretary of the Air Force), made a presentation about withholding to Reagan, and Reagan agreed to support it.
In December of 1968, when Nixon named Reagan’s lieutenant governor, Robert Finch, to his Cabinet as secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, a friend of Weinberger’s suggested to Reagan that he give Weinberger the job of lieutenant governor. No, said Reagan, it’s too soon—meaning that the wounds of 1964 had not yet fully healed. By the summer of 1969 Weinberger was taking a different path upward, and was in job negotiations with the Nixon Administration. On October 2 he was named chairman of the Federal Trade Commission.
THE FIRST GROUP OF RALPH NADER’S RAIDERS, LAW students working in the summer of 1968, had produced a devastating report on the FTC, showing it to be a sleepy, lazy agency run by a club of Tennessee country boys operating under the patronage of Senator Estes Kefauver, who was from Tennessee and was the chairman of the Senate subcommittee on anti-trust. The American Bar Association responded to the Nader report by undertaking one of its own, which, in a more restrained fashion, reached the same conclusion. For the Nixon Administration, reforming the FTC was a wonderful opportunity: the agency’s charter included all the consumer issues that had become great causes of the moment, and the mess there was a Democratic one. Nixon himself had requested, and then praised, the ABA report, and, clearly, Weinberger’s job was to clean house.
Weinberger right away took Nader to lunch and told him that he wanted to hire a Raider to help with the reforms he planned. Nader suggested William Howard Taft IV, a young man of both sincere conviction about the FTC and impeccable Republican lineage. Taft has been Weinberger’s right-hand man in every government job since. Then Weinberger plucked out of the FTC bureaucracy a lawyer named Basil Mezines, a Republican who had been demoted ten years earlier from a management job, and made him his executive assistant. He and Mezines began to get rid of the old crowd; nearly fifty lawyers left in a matter of months, and many more later.
Kefauver was already gone from the Senate, and the protector of the old FTC gang was a Tennessee congressman named Joe Evins, who was on the House Appropriations Committee. The tough firings, the division chiefs, Weinberger took on himself, and he had to defy Evins directly to do it; at the FTC every important official had a sponsor on Capitol Hill. The director of field operations, “Tennessee” Charlie Moore, was so confident of his position that, as the story went within the FTC, he actually walked into Weinberger’s office and said, You can’t fire me. But Weinberger fired him; the following year, in retaliation for this and other insults, Evins cut the FTC’s budget by $875,000. What seems most significant today about Weinberger’s tenure at the FTC is less what he did than the way he did it. His modus operandi has stayed exactly the same: Get the brief. Set a course right away. Be tough with the opposition. Never waver. Make the President look good.
After just seven months, in July of 1970, Weinberger left the FTC to become the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, newly created to be a bigger, more vigilant version of the old Bureau of the Budget. George Shultz, the OMB director, worked in the White House, Weinberger with the budget staff in the Executive Office Building, next door. Weinberger’s job was to be a stop against federal spending, to keep it in line, and he was as zealous as he had been at the FTC. An official who knew about his career in California was amazed when a small appropriation to buy federal land around Lake Tahoe came up—a great Northern California environmentalist cause, and one with a powerful sponsor in Congress, Representative Harold Johnson—and Weinberger unhesitatingly cut it. He did exactly what he was supposed to do. He never argued with the White House; he executed. When Shultz left to become the secretary of the Treasury, in 1972, Weinberger replaced him and named Frank Carlucci as his deputy.
Cutting spending was Weinberger’s overall cause at OMB; his no-holds-barred devotion to it found expression in impoundment—directing the executive-branch agencies not to spend money that Congress had appropriated, because it would make overall spending too high. Past Presidents had used impoundment, but in a minor way— for instance, on the rare occasions when Lyndon Johnson had impounded money, he had first checked personally with the congressional sponsors of the projects. The Nixon Administration impounded on a grand scale, and without forewarning. In the White House in the early discussions of impoundment there was concern that it might be illegal, and William Rehnquist, then an official at the Justice Department, was solicited for an opinion; after Rehnquist gave impoundment his approval, Weinberger was its guiding spirit. In the year that he was director of OMB, he impounded $11.2 billion.
Typically, once on course he was fervent to the point at which he shocked people. Senator Sam Ervin, of North Carolina, once called him for hearings on impoundment and had Alexander Bickel, the great constitutional scholar from Yale Law School, question him. Bickel suggested that the President did not have the power, under the Constitution, to overrule congressional appropriations by fiat. “That assumes that the essential residual power does reside in the Congress, and that is a matter that I think the courts ultimately have to resolve,” Weinberger said. A moment later he went himself one better: “There can even be an argument made that the courts themselves have no power to interfere with the President or with the executive power.” In his ardor to carry out his assignment, in other words, he was willing to declare null and void the equality of the three branches of government. The Budget and Impoundment Act of 1974, which established the Congressional Budget Office and made impoundment illegal, was a tribute-in-reverse to Weinberger.
He was not a budget expert in the Stockman league, but as always he was able to absorb briefing material and then repeat it in public with utter conviction. When he had to appear on a television show to explain something about the budget, he would spend several hours with the career people at OMB, and watching him perform, they would be amazed at how perfectly he repeated what they had told him. Being convincing meant more to him than being accurate. Once, an official who had briefed him before a press conference heard him get a figure wrong, and buttonholed him and said, Cap, that number you said was three billion dollars was really five billion—I think you should correct yourself. He got a cold stare. Weinberger did not like to appear to temporize.
He was not a great friend of the defense budget; budget directors never are. In interviews he loyally condemned the cutting aspirations of the Democratic doves, but two of the three budgets he worked on—for 1972, and the one decided when he was director, for 1974—showed modest decreases from the preceding year when adjusted for inflation. He and Shultz fought the Pentagon over the B-l bomber, and it was leaked around Washington that they had successfully killed it in the name of fiscal restraint. But David Packard, the deputy secretary of Defense, got an audience with Nixon and threatened to resign if the initial funds for it were not restored, so back into the budget they went. (Weinberger today cites the initial funding of the B-l as evidence of his devotion to defense even then.)
Once, Weinberger was invited by the American Enterprise Institute to speak at a forum on defense spending. He listened to OMB defense experts for three hours, absorbed their briefing, and went on to deliver an impressive, detailed argument for the Nixon Administration’s defense policy. Though the Soviets were building up their nuclear arsenal, he said, a response from us would be “both expensive and ineffective.” Our emphasis on multiple warheads and on sea-based missiles, along with the SALT treaty, would make us stronger and safer. Spending had to be held down, because “the more we take from the common wealth for its defense, the smaller it becomes.”
IN NOVEMBER OF 1972 NIXON NAMED WEINBERGER SECretary of Health, Education and Welfare. From Nixon’s point of view, HEW had been a problem from the start. Because of the times, the department was a pressure point; it was hard to find a secretary who would provide an opening to the liberals, as one had to in that job, but also remain loyal to the White House. Nixon’s first two HEW secretaries, Robert Finch and Elliot Richardson, had both, in the slang of the White House staff, “married the natives” after being sent there. Finch had enforced integration in the South too ardently and kept on a renegade secretary of education, and then developed an incapacitating disorder in his arm; Richardson was suspected of having had private dealings with the Senate Finance Committee which had contributed to the defeat of Nixon’s Family Assistance Plan. (Weinberger, describing to a friend the lesson to be drawn from Finch’s troubles, said, You must realize that in American politics you must first of all be tough as hell—with the unmistakable implication that Finch might not be but he, Weinberger, certainly was.) For any Republican, HEW is a thankless job, but it was a big one, sweetened for Weinberger by the addition of the title of counselor to the President. Weinberger once told a friend that Nixon had had him out to Camp David and said. How would you like to be secretary of Defense? and then, after a moment in which Weinberger’s hopes had soared (Defense being one of the very biggest jobs, especially for a Republican), had said, No, I think I’ll send Elliot over there. So Weinberger went to HEW
His charge from Nixon was to figure out a new welfare policy, a goal Nixon had had in mind since the demise of his Family Assistance Plan, which would have replaced an array of programs with a simple guaranteed annual income. Because Watergate began to absorb all of the White House’s energies, Weinberger had plenty of time to think about welfare before making up his mind. He spent that time listening to two sets of briefings arguing completely different positions. The analysts at HEW’s Division of Planning and Evaluation were for a guaranteed income, but Weinberger had brought with him into the department the architect of Reagan’s welfare reforms in California, who regarded a guaranteed income as a national disaster.
The two sides fought for Weinberger’s mind, and gradually the Planning and Evaluation briefers pulled him away from his instinctive bias toward the California position. They delivered the coup de grace by bringing in Milton Friedman, with his impeccable conservative credentials, to join the last of eight briefings on their side. Shortly afterward Weinberger committed himself to a new welfare program, called the Income Security Plan. It didn’t make much difference; President Ford rejected the plan. Next time around, in the Pentagon, Weinberger went back to picking up the signals from above, exposing himself to one side only, and inalterably setting his course without a minute for reflection.
IN THE FALL OF 1975 WEINBERGER LEFT GOVERNMENT to become special counsel to the Bechtel Corporation, where Shultz had become president the previous May. His reason for leaving was described by some as his wife’s poor health, by others as his desire to improve his financial situation. Certainly, his five years at Bechtel made him a rich man. He bought a new house in Hillsborough, and his compensation package was so good that his income in 1981, after he had left Bechtel, was more than $650,000; even last year he made $285,680. But he was not fully engaged at Bechtel, as he had been not fully engaged in his law practice. Friends heard that he missed government, that he felt that nothing in business could compare with the scope of the issues and the importance of the decisions in Washington. After Reagan’s victory in 1980 he seemed almost joyful, knowing he would go back in at last.
Weinberger had always been completely loyal to Nixon, but he had made it clear to his friends that he had never liked him. During Watergate he made the requisite statements about its not amounting to much (“essentially ephemeral matters,” he told reporters); once, in May of 1974, a photograph of Nixon and Weinberger went out on the wires, billed as Weinberger “urging” Nixon not to resign. To friends he indicated his disdain for the whole affair. A former employee once asked him if he had ever heard the story that Nixon had said he understood Weinberger less than anyone who had ever worked for him, and Weinberger said scornfully, I’m glad. His attitude toward Reagan, though, was different. Weinberger had kept in close touch during his years in Washington; at OMB the staff would see him looking fatigued on Monday mornings from weekends in Sacramento. Reagan had attended his swearing-in as secretary of HEW. Weinberger kept a picture of Reagan on his desk. Privately he would make the case that Reagan was a genuine statesman, enormously underrated. He had a clear vision of the world and a way of making events move his way. Weinberger would speak eagerly about restoring discipline to government under Reagan. A friend visited him at Bechtel during the campaign and found him putting the finishing touches on a blistering attack on Carter’s deficit spending, brimming with the old zeal about bringing government under control.
STRENGTH THROUGH SPENDING
THERE WAS A GOOD DEAL OF CONFIDENT TALK about efficiency and management in the Pentagon during the very early days of the Administration. In the White House, when doubts were gently raised about the size and speed of the defense increases—could the largest bureaucratic organization in the free world spend that much well?—they were met with assurances that reforms would occur in the Pentagon. Tight management was Weinberger’s whole reputation; Reagan himself said in March, “Cap Weinberger is anything but a big spender. ... I can assure you that Cap is going to do a lot of trimming over there.” Weinberger immediately put Carlucci in charge of studying managerial reforms, and Carlucci in turn told his Carlucci, Vincent Puritano, a civil servant who had followed him from OMB to HEW to the CIA to the Pentagon, to devote most of his time to it.
Their approach was to try to eliminate bureaucratic traditions that encouraged fraud and waste, rather than deciding which programs were wasteful and cutting them. In particular, they wanted to get rid of the game-playing that had grown up in procurement and budgeting—the little tricks the services and the defense contractors use to protect their budgets and programs, like stretching out procurement even though that hugely increases the unit cost of weapons, or understating the cost of weapons just to get them in the budget, or underestimating inflation even though it will have to be made up for later.
As the services told it, the prevalence of these practices was really the fault of Robert McNamara. He centralized power in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), a move that in the services’ view disrupted the traditional military notions of honor and chain of command, and encouraged expensive weapons systems by placing strict limits on force size but not on budgets. (This was in addition to McNamara’s greatest sin, as the services saw it—getting them into the Vietnam War and not letting them win it, thus making the military the scapegoat for the weakness of the political system.) In retaliation the services’ impulse to play dirty became much stronger, and one result was cost overruns on a whole new order of magnitude.
The management reforms, then, would stress the procurement of major weapons systems through tamper-proof multi-year contracts instead of less-efficient year-by-year ones, but they would also return power over procurement to the services. For example, the Defense Resources Board, which Harold Brown, Carter’s secretary of Defense, had created to oversee the development of the budget, had had six members—the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and five officials from OSD. Now the three service secretaries and several others were added to it. The services gained a strong voice, and the board became not an instrument that Weinberger could use to control procurement but, in the words of one person who attends its meetings, “a debating society.” Today, after another expansion, it has twenty-three members. Planning and budgeting flow upward from the services to OSD, rather than the reverse. The procurement reforms were issued as a package of thirty-one “Carlucci initiatives,” and Congress approved those that required legislation in the summer of 1981.
Then the smooth course of the Weinberger Pentagon quickly got rough. Late in the summer of 1981 Reagans tax cuts were passed in a more generous form than had been proposed and it began to be clear that the Administration’s estimates of short-term economic growth had been too optimistic. Stockman realized that the budget was not going to balance in 1984, as he had promised it would. In August he undertook the task he had put off in January—learning the defense budget. He began to put together a series of cuts, $30 billion over three years—diluting the March increase by one third—and to sell them around the Administration, without telling Weinberger.
On August 17, in a suite at the Century Plaza Hotel, in Los Angeles, where Reagan was staying, there was a daylong meeting on defense. The morning session dealt with the MX missile, and the afternoon was devoted to a discussion, which was supposed to be perfunctory, of the defense budget. Here Stockman presented Reagan with his cuts, which caught Weinberger completely flat-footed. Stockman had lined up a group of officials—including James Baker, the White House chief of staff; Edwin Meese, counselor to the President; Murray Weidenbaum, the chief economic adviser; and Donald Regan, the secretary of the Treasury—who all indicated their approval. Stockman said that he wanted only to slow the buildup that had started in the spring, not cut strength; the alternative was to cut domestic programs that helped poor widows and other unfortunate people, or to send a signal of large future deficits that would cause Wall Street to lose confidence in the Reagan Administration, with devastating economic consequences.
Presumably, Weinberger could have gone along, but nothing would have been further from the pattern of his life—the absolute certitude once his mind was made up, the willingness to take on anybody. Aides frantically passed him notes, suggesting arguments to use. Representative Patricia Schroeder, of Colorado, had proposed a minor cut in the defense increases of the spring and summer—was Stockman saying that Mrs. Schroeder, a liberal Democrat, hadn’t gone far enough? Alexander Haig, then the secretary of State, and Bobby R. Inman, then the deputy director of the CIA, joined the battle on Weinberger’s side. It was agreed that the group would discuss the matter again the next week.
At the next meeting, held on August 27 at a hotel in Santa Barbara, near Reagan’s ranch, Weinberger produced a series of charts comparing Stockman’s plan with his. Each chart had two pictures dramatizing in third-grade fashion the Pentagon view of Stockman’s cuts; for manpower there was a big soldier and a little soldier. Each big picture was labeled “President’s Budget,” and each little picture “OMB Budget.” Weinberger said that Stockman’s cuts would force him to eliminate one Army division and two tactical air wings, and to cut readiness by 15 percent— this at a rate of growth in defense spending of seven percent a year after inflation, the highest ever in peacetime. He scornfully dismissed Stockman’s arguments about Wall Street—were stocks going to be the determinant of how fully we met our commitment to defend this nation? After the meeting the Stockman forces were still confident of victory, perhaps thinking that the President would be insulted by how simplistic Weinberger’s presentation had been. Baker even told reporters that $30 billion would be cut from defense. But Weinberger then requested a private meeting with Reagan, also in Santa Barbara, using a chip that even the highest-ranking Cabinet officer hoards carefully. Afterward Reagan announced that the cut would be only $13 billion over three years, and only $2 billion in the first year.
That episode was the end of the honeymoon for Weinberger and the defense buildup. From then on it was clear that the Administration was running up huge deficits, and for more than a year the unemployment rate was also very high, creating an image of the nation going into economic collapse to feed the defense monster. At every moment since, the defense budget has been under strong attack. Each Christmas the OMB lops off a few billion before the budget is submitted, in late January. Then the budget committees, House and Senate, try to make cuts while setting their budget ceilings, in the spring. Then the two armed-services committees, friendlier forums, produce authorization bills, cutting more. Then come the budget and armed-services conferences. Then the floor votes, where there are always a few renegade amendments. Then, in the fall, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, and more cuts (especially by Representative Joseph Addabbo, of Queens, New York, the muchhated—in the Pentagon—chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee). Meanwhile, the skirmishes over the following year’s budget are just beginning. And all year long there is sniping with the White House staff and attacks from the press. One day last spring I was riding in an elevator at the Senate Office Building with someone who spotted a friend of his, an aide to Tower, and asked him how it was going. He shook his head resolutely. “You’ve got to protect the number every day,” he said. “They never stop going after it.” That is the mood.
A CABINET SECRETARY IS ALWAYS MORE THAN A PURE administrator. The most important jobs especially contain an element of theater, of performing on the stage of Washington and the world. The program must be sold to the Congress and the President, to the public, to the press, to allies, even to the department itself. Every secretary finds a balance between administration and theater. Weinberger’s predecessor, Harold Brown, devoted himself almost completely to management; Weinberger, committed to defending a program that he hadn’t planned but that the President wanted, operated more and more on the theatrical side. He had a dramatic concept to put forth—the re-arming of America (a favorite phrase of his) in its hour of perilous weakness—and he did it by moving into the realm of perceptions.
Early signs that Weinberger would be attentive to—and skeptical of—the programs soon faded. As the Pentagon worked through the first full-year Reagan Administration budget and began formulating its plan for strategic forces, he would sometimes bore in with questions about a program, seeming eager to make judgments: Why did the new DDG-51 destroyer cost so much—nearly $2 billion? Would the B-l really be able to penetrate Soviet air defenses, and why did it cost so much? But these programs stayed right on track, and as time passed Weinberger questioned what he was told less. He was far more interested in the public arena. He traveled frequently, visiting thirtyfive countries in his first two years in office. He was extremely accessible to the press. He often appeared on television, almost never turning down an opportunity to be on one of the Sunday public-affairs shows. He accepted speaking engagements all across the country, and then had his staff also schedule local television appearances and meetings in the places he visited. Weinberger has a speechwriting staff of eight; Harold Brown’s was considerably smaller.
Every day in the secretary’s suite at the Pentagon began with a senior staff meeting at 8:30 (Weinberger would have been at work for some time already, usually having arrived at seven or even earlier); every staff meeting began with a discussion of the “yellow bird,”a package of photocopies of clippings from the day’s papers, put together by the Pentagon public-affairs staff during the night. Fairly often there would be a story saying that a weapons system didn’t work, or that there was some other problem. Weinberger would turn to the person whose responsibility the problem was and ask, Is this true? The Chicago Tribune reported that Navy ships were short on ammunition—true? One assistant secretary answered, Yes, it’s true; it’s not easy to build ships as fast as we do and also keep them stocked. Then John Lehman said that it would be taken care of, and that was that. There were stories that the new Aegis anti-missile system on the cruiser Ticonderoga had failed its first tests—was there a problem? Richard DeLauer, the deputy secretary for research and engineering, said. Yes, there’s a problem. But Lehman said that it would be worked out, and the meeting moved on. Weinberger fought more assiduously against the perception of problems in the Pentagon than he did against the problems themselves. He was genuinely upset about the spare-parts horror stories—the claw hammer that cost $435, the screw that cost $92—because they detracted from the legitimacy of the buildup. Several times in meetings when the difficulty of selling the defense budget came up, he said. Would that we could take this money and just go buy a television station.
Press reports became a way to short-circuit the bureaucratic process, because Weinberger paid such close attention to them. A story came out in The Washington Post about the excesses of military retirement compensation, an issue that had languished for months, and instantly Weinberger ordered a report on it from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The assistant secretary in charge of the National Guard and Reserves, Lawrence Korb, launched a big push for a budget increase; General John Vessey, Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, produced a clipping from The Minneapolis Star about a National Guard armory overflowing with ammunition, and the issue was dead. In 1981 Carlucci had spent an hour with Franklin C. Spinney, a Pentagon analyst who had developed a sweeping critique of the unreliability and underfunding of the big weapons systems. But when Spinney began testifying on Capitol Hill the following year, the question in the meetings was not Is Spinney right? but How do we deal with the Spinney problem? After embarrassing accounts of the deficiencies of the Army’s Division Air Defense anti-aircraft gun appeared, Weinberger became deeply concerned about the gun, even scheduling a monthly meeting at which he would be apprised of its progress. But on the less controversial systems he. usually took his subordinates’ word. Bad tests? We’re doing more, Mr. Secretary, we’ll fix the problems, we’ll make it work, a few bugs early on. Who’s feeding that reporter anyway?
The meetings were important, because Weinberger, a formal, orderly man, saw even some very high officials in the Pentagon only then and never privately; but in every way they were a forum designed not to foster real debate but to focus attention either on the hostilities of the outside world or on internal bureaucratic matters. One person who regularly attended the morning staff meetings remembers that during a year of crises all over the globe, obvious emotion was shown only once, and that was over a jurisdictional squabble of the most minor sort: General Robert Barrow, the commandant of the Marine Corps, pounded the table and said I’m sick and tired of having my people used for health testing by OSD!
The officials who had the strongest impact on Weinberger’s agenda were Iklé, Lehman, and Perle, which was odd in that none of them seemed to be exactly Weinberger’s type. Perle, for instance, disliked rising early, and never went to the staff meetings; also he was more loyal to the anti-Soviet cause than he was to Weinberger. Lehman, a jaunty, cocksure young man who liked to be photographed at the helm of a Navy fighter jet, treated Weinberger with mild irreverence, calling him Cap (Taft, in front of other people, always called him Mr. Secretary) and engaging in mild high jinks at the staff meetings—tossing around a sonar buoy, for instance. But in the 1983 budget Lehman got two Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, at $3.5 billion each (he had wanted three, but what he got was still a coup, especially since each carrier brings with it a battle group of eighteen ships, for a total cost of $18 billion). Perle was able to bring Weinberger around to his position on arms control, according to which we would stop negotiating missile launchers with the Soviets, as we had in the SALT talks, and start negotiating throw-weight, in which they were far ahead. Once, in a meeting at the White House shortly before the first Strategic Arms Reduction Talks, in 1981, Perle and Iklé passed Weinberger notes, urging him into a tougher and tougher stance, until finally Reagan himself said, Why would I want to send negotiators with nothing to negotiate?
WEINBERGER’S EMBRACE OF THE CONSERVATIVES’ views did not, however, extend to the bitterness the conservatives (and the military) felt toward the culture of the eastern liberal Establishment. Weinberger loved that world and considered himself a part of it. He gave generously to Harvard and spoke there often; even when he was shouted down and protesters threw blood on him, last fall, he bore it courageously and remained absolutely loyal to the school. One day in the staff meeting the discussion turned to an article about an antinuclear group, and Iklé, trying to dismiss it as unimportant, said, Oh, they’re just those liberals from Harvard. Weinberger half-rose from his chair, deeply offended, and admonished Iklé never to talk that way about Harvard again. Teams from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government were given unusual access to people in the Pentagon to prepare case studies for use in teaching. Pentagon executives were sent to the Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program. Someone cut from the budget a small research contract with Harvard; Weinberger quickly restored it.
The secretaryship had brought Weinberger back into the plummy world he had first encountered as an undergraduate, but now the sense of being an outsider was gone. When he talked about his life, he often mentioned Harvard and the Army, and rarely the years in California. He had sold his house in Hillsborough, and so for the first time in his life was by residence completely an easterner; he lived in a large house in Kalorama, a formal, genteel section of Washington, and in Somesville, Maine, on Mount Desert Island, for generations a favorite resort of rich but unostentatious old families. In 1983 a story appeared in Reader’s Digest recounting an anecdote about Weinberger: as a Harvard student, it seems, he went to Katharine Hepburn’s house in Connecticut, and after a touch football game made the mistake of taking a shower in a bathroom that was being kept immaculately clean for the use of Howard Hughes, who was then dating Hepburn. As the story was told by friends—Hepburn coming upon Weinberger in the shower—it had a note of affectionate amusement at Weinberger’s social awkwardness. But when it was told from the Pentagon, there was a subtle shift in emphasis—the message was that these were the circles in which the young Weinberger had traveled. In his mid-sixties he had finally completely arrived.
He often went out at night to black-tie functions (they were listed endlessly on his daily schedules, with the notation “will try,” “will try,” “will try”). In social life he had a jaunty demeanor that conveyed both the grave danger of the times and his indomitable high spirits. When he saw a former employee—perhaps a bureau chief at OMB, the kind of person Cabinet secretaries usually forget—he always had a warm, personal greeting. He made time for old friends, or even friends of old friends. Ralph Nader, who hadn’t seen Weinberger since their lunch in 1970, asked for an interview for a scathing book an associate of his was writing, called Reagan’s Ruling Class; Weinberger gave it.
He loved the symbolism of military morale and resolve. Outside his suite of offices stood a young guard in fulldress uniform, all day, at rapt attention, installed there supposedly for security reasons. He ordered officers in the Pentagon to stop wearing business suits to work and go back to uniforms. He often visited military installations, and spent time with the troops as well as the officers, sometimes wearing an infantryman’s shirt or a helmet or, on ships, one of the billed caps that the Navy gives visitors, embroidered with the name of the ship and his military name, SecDef. Just as Reagan had made it a minor project to rehabilitate the reputation of Calvin Coolidge, whom he regarded as an unjustly tarnished predecessor, Weinberger undertook the rehabilitation of his old commanding officer and hero, General Douglas MacArthur. He liked telling an anecdote about being a young captain on MacArthur’s staff in the Pacific. One night, full of awe and trepidation, he had waked the General to tell him about an intelligence report, and MacArthur, in his bathrobe, had asked what he thought and then said. Very well, that’s what we’ll do; carry on, Captain Weinberger. Reagan dedicated a MacArthur Corridor in the Pentagon, an occasion at which Weinberger was especially charming and solicitous toward Mrs. MacArthur, talking at length with her during a ceremony in Norfolk and later receiving her in his office at the Pentagon.
Weinberger was completely loyal to Reagan. He wore presidential cuff links and a tie clip with the President’s signature across the bar. Reporters grumbled about him, because he always answered questions with stock replies, which he often repeated word for word from interview to interview and delivered with his eyes shut tight and his large right hand pinching the bridge of his nose. He never let his guard down. He was a tough infighter with other departments, but as soon as a policy became the President’s, it became his too. Reagan’s speech in 1983 on space-based missile defense had been produced in the White House science adviser’s office, with very little advance notice given the Pentagon. But a short while after Reagan delivered the speech, an official was amazed to hear Weinberger, seated at a dinner next to David Packard (who as a former deputy secretary of defense was a member of the club, and someone to whom one’s real feelings could safely be signaled), selling the speech’s policies with burning conviction.
The job called forth all his old determination. Always in the past he had settled into the role of the fierce advocate of what was right, facing down his enemies—the liquor lobby, the Birchers, the Tennessee gang at the FTC. In the Pentagon the enemies were those who would cut the defense budget, and with them Weinberger was as unbending as ever. In hearings he would say that every penny was needed, that if one wanted to cut, one would have to write off the Mideast, or Korea, or the Caribbean. He always made the same arguments, using the same phrases: “the threat that we face,” “the decade of neglect.” When members of Congress criticized the Pentagon, he would tell them that they were damaging national security and helping the Soviets.
He constantly described the stand he was taking as unpopular, implying an equation of unpopularity with virtue. He used words like facile and comfortable to describe his opponents’ positions, and difficult, long, and disagreeable to describe his own. He told me that we had let our defenses lapse because “nobody was willing to make the strong, unpopular fight against it.” Though he obviously felt the sting of the constant criticism of defense spending, he had always experienced attacks as a part of holding high office; naturally, in his highest office he experienced the strongest attacks.
So along with the wartime levels of spending went wartime rhetoric. For fifty years Weinberger had admired Winston Churchill; now Churchill became the patron saint of the buildup, because of his warnings in the thirties about the need to strengthen the British military. Churchill’s thundering inscription in The Gathering Storm—“Theme of the Volume: How the English-speaking peoples through their unwisdom, carelessness, and good nature allowed the wicked to rearm"—could have been Weinberger’s motto. He made a point of speaking at the small college in Missouri where Churchill had given his Iron Curtain speech, and he took particular care with the speech, which was about Churchill’s greatness.
There was one part that he wrote by hand with no help from the speechwriters. In it he praised the range of Churchill’s talents, his ability to see the whole picture and to inspire people all over the world; today, he wrote, so many people are just able to focus on one small subject. Then came a passage that offers a sense of his true feelings about the details of this and that weapons system or strategy, belying his official position that the buildup is the result of careful study of those details: “We are perhaps in danger of becoming a nation of ascetic systems analysts, without the glowing fire and the vision and the ability to inspire that Churchill possessed in such full measure.”
AS THE DEFICITS MOUNTED AND THE RECESSION GOT worse, the OMB and Congress began to cut more, and the services began to play their old games again. In 1982 sixteen programs were put into multi-year procurement; the number has since decreased. A Kennedy School of Government case study of multi-year procurement describes in painful detail the resistance of the services, especially the Air Force, to it. There are really two defense budgets, one for outlays (actual spending) and one for what is called total obligational authority (TOA)— spending to be carried out over several years. When Congress debates defense spending, it is debating TOA. Multi-year procurement requires a higher TOA in the first year of a buy so that there will be enough money to pay off the contractors in case a program is canceled in the next budget. The Air Force, unwilling to cut anything in its budget, tried to go by a formula that put off most of its TOA to other years; when that failed, it just stopped putting important programs into multi-year procurement.
There began to be program stretch-outs and inflation reestimates (inflation is down, but the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate for defense-procurement purposes is 1.5 percent higher than the Pentagon’s). Through three years of cuts the Pentagon has not canceled a single major program. Planned increases in the force structures of the Army and the Air Force were postponed in order to keep the procurement intact. Training was cut. Maintenance was cut. Both Congress and the Pentagon mournfully pointed out these developments, but neither would do anything about it—they were in a game of chicken. Almost no member of Congress ever willingly allows a defense contract in his own district to be cut; the Pentagon recognized this fact and knew that it would keep procurement safe. If someone on the Hill liked to cut defense, the Pentagon was happy to oblige—or to seem to. Senator Carl Levin, of Michigan, often complained about military waste; the Army cut production on the M-1 tank—made by General Dynamics, in Levin’s state—and watched Levin increase it again. Congressman Addabbo found Navy fighter planes made by Grumman Aerospace in his district cut, and restored them. People in the Pentagon professed to hate the constant trench warfare on the Hill—fought by “micro-managers” on the committee staffs who wanted to decide how fast to run every production line—but Weinberger absolutely did not believe that the answer was to submit budgets that would seem to have a chance of passing.
The one strong advocate within the Pentagon of proposing smaller budgets that the Hill would not make Swiss cheese of was Paul Thayer, who replaced Carlucci in January of 1983. (Carlucci left to take a much-higher-paying job at a Washington subsidiary of Sears.) Thayer, as the chairman of the board of LTV Corporation, had been a member of an organization of businessmen that had called for eliminating the deficit; he was also a former fighter ace (and by virtue of that, one of the few active-duty military veterans other than Weinberger among the civilian defense experts who ran the Pentagon). Among the high command in the Pentagon, he was unusually skeptical of the sophisticated new weapons. He occasionally took fighter planes up for a spin, and as a result he judged that the F-15 should be cut back in favor of the lighter, cheaper F-16. Also he instructed Lehman to eliminate one program to upgrade a Navy fighter plane, the A-6, in favor of another, the F-14; Lehman ignored him, and went to the Hill to restore the A-6 funds. Weinberger and Thayer were not close—Weinberger had wanted to replace Carlucci with Taft, but the White House had refused his request. Sometimes in the morning staff meetings Weinberger drily noted press accounts of Thayer’s speeches and trips, implying that his profile was a little high. When Thayer left because the SEC was investigating him on charges of improper use of inside information on stocks, Weinberger did not attend the going-away dinner for him in the secretary’s dining room. The day Thayer resigned, Weinberger arranged for a personal meeting with Reagan to ask that Taft become the deputy, and this time his request was granted.
The budget submissions remained large. In 1982, when Congress cut $19 billion from the fiscal 1983 budget (already cut by Reagan and the OMB), Weinberger refused to provide any guidance about what to cut, though the services quietly circulated cut lists on the Hill. Three former secretaries of Defense, Harold Brown, James Schlesinger, and Melvin Laird, publicly criticized his intransigence— something unheard of in the polite world of defense experts—but he wouldn’t budge. In 1983 Tower asked him for a cut list, and he wouldn’t provide one; Congress cut the budget that year by $15 billion. When asked whether he could have gotten more by cooperating, he would say, Oh, no, they’d just use a cut list as a starting point and cut more. This year Reagan made a deal with Senate Republicans to cut defense by $14 billion, and Weinberger did finally send in a list. The new number held in the Senate, barely—three challenges to it lost by one vote—and of course the House’s number was substantially lower.
The three years of cuts when added together sounded savage, especially considering what OSD did to the services’ requests, and OMB to OSD’s, before the budgets even went to the Hill. But there was plenty of padding and disguising. Over three years the Pentagon was able to cut billions, because fuel costs were lower than projected. In this year’s cut list the Air Force saved $1 billion through an item called “outlay controls,” and the three services together saved $1 billion through “financing/transfers” and $1 billion by re-estimating foreign-currency exchange rates. There was a submarine cut that Senator Lowell Weicker, of Connecticut, a nonfavorite of the Pentagon, was likely to restore because it was built in his state. There were many stretch-outs and slowdowns. The Navy cut the cost of the F-18 fighter by eliminating electronic equipment it needed to perform its mission; in an earlier round, it had accelerated the planned decommissioning of twenty-two old ships to save money in the short term, in order to preserve the funding for one new one. The effects of the cuts, then, were not really losses but postponements— of increases in forces, training, and sustainability, and even of procurement itself, as long as it remained in the pipeline.
IN WHAT WAY DO THE RESULTS OF THE BUILDUP MAKE sense? They make sense most easily if one assumes, as many in the Pentagon do, that at some time in the future there will be another quantum leap in defense spending, the result of either a triggering event or a wholesale reordering of the priorities of the federal government. The training hours and ammunition stores and so on can be built up then; meanwhile, the heavy procurement must be put on track, because it is the one part of defense that can’t be done quickly. “We’ve got to get the platforms now,” one man told me. “There’ll be no war in the next three or four years anyway. Somehow, when there’s a problem, w’e’ll get the rest of the money. Even if Gary Hart got elected President, he’d take office and find three carrier hulls already laid. There’d be nothing he could do about it.” Senator Tower told me, “Defense is mandated in the Constitution. Other spending is not. Social Security is not in the Constitution. The arts and the humanities and aid to higher education aren’t. Defense is the primary and sole responsibility of national government. These other things are not. Cut things the government’s not mandated to do.”
It appears that if defense spending does not take that quantum leap, we will come to some kind of reckoning, probably in the late eighties, when the spending for the new procurement will become heaviest. In fiscal 1985, $97 billion in defense spending is obligated by prior commitments. The Administration is projecting defense outlays for fiscal 1989 at $409 billion, and of that amount $176 billion is already obligated. Given the way procurement costs exceed estimates, the squeeze of past obligations will probably be even tighter than it looks, and if further huge budget increases don’t materialize, there will have to be big cuts in the readiness and operating accounts, or even in forces. And because the new generation of weapons is much more sophisticated than the last one, training, spare parts, stores of munitions, and repairs will become much more expensive too, and hence more difficult to fund properly.
In military strategy it is the same story—only with budgets on a whole new order of magnitude will the spending begin to cohere logically. In the late seventies the phrase “strategy-forces mismatch” became a battle cry within the Pentagon. It meant that we were unwilling to spend enough to meet our stated defense posture; a strong rationale for increasing spending was to bring the mismatch to an end. But now the strategy has expanded past the capability of the forces again. The justification for the Navy’s two new aircraft-carrier battle groups is that they will be needed to go on the offensive against Soviet ports in the event of a global war. Lehman talks about sending carrier battle groups to take on the Soviet northern fleet in Murmansk and the Pacific fleet in Vladivostok. Virtually every prominent defense expert but Lehman thinks that this is a fantasy, because of the vulnerability of carriers to landbased missiles and planes—in the Falklands an Exocet missile sank the British carrier Sheffield—but there is no other strategic rationale for the new carriers. Experts inside and outside the Navy say that, in reality, the strategy of carriers going on the offensive within range of the Soviet shoreline would require twenty-four carriers, or thirtytwo, or thirty-five, not fifteen. An expert named George W. S. Kuhn argues in a report published by the Heritage Foundation that a shortage of funding for other ships in each battle group, required to protect the fifteen carriers, is a serious problem—according to the strategy, the carriers require sixty-one new escorts by 1992, and only twenty-five are planned through 1991. So the Navy already has some degree of strategy—forces mismatch.
When the idea of a worldwide offensive is applied to the Army and the Air Force, they too fall far short. The estimates of the forces that would be needed run from twentyfive divisions up to forty for the Army, and up to forty active-duty tactical air wings for the Air Force. In the sixties our military doctrine called for a “two-and-a-half-war strategy,” meaning that our forces were sized to fight simultaneously a war in Europe, a war in the Far East, and a smaller engagement elsewhere. Nixon, after establishing warm relations with China, scaled the strategy back to one and a half wars. The Reagan Administration abandoned the oneand-a-half-wars plan; there was some talk about fighting wars simultaneously in Europe, the Pacific, and the Mideast. Weinberger now says, more vaguely, that we must be prepared “to meet any contingency.”
Another example of the failure of the buildup to meet a strict test of logic is how it compares with the Soviet activity that is its justification. The conventional-arms statistics are virtually as frightening today as they were when Hughes started briefing Weinberger. The Soviets have many more tanks than we do, and vastly more Army divisions, and more attack submarines. The U.S. Navy has made submarine procurement a relatively low priority; we have increased the number of our large carriers from twelve to fifteen, while the Soviets have on active duty only one small carrier, lacking even a catapult to launch jets. The Soviet figures become much less scary, however, when they are examined critically. Most of their growth in Army divisions has been along the Chinese border; their divisions are much smaller than ours; many of their ships are designed for rivers or the Caspian Sea; there is a severe shortage of spare parts for their tanks. Recently the CIA, which had estimated the real rate of increase in Soviet defense spending at four percent a year since 1976, came up with a new estimate of two percent a year, and NATO recently lowered its estimate of the number of ready Warsaw Pact divisions in Europe from 173 to 115.
The strategic “window of vulnerability,” according to those who believe in it, is still wide open. The MX missile was supposed to close the window by basing a new generation of ICBMs in such a way that the Soviets would have to fire many of their missiles on a first strike to be assured of knocking out one of ours; they would know that they didn’t have enough missiles to incapacitate our ICBM force on a first strike. Carter planned to put MX missiles on tracks in Nevada and Utah, where they would move from location to location; in the Reagan Administration the strong opposition of three Republican senators from those states, Jake Garn, Orrin Hatch, and Paul Laxalt, doomed that plan. Weinberger at various times has publicly favored basing the MX on merchant ships, on planes, in underground clusters, and on submarines; he convened two separate commissions on the subject, the second of which concluded that there never was any window of vulnerability. Now the Administration plans to base the MX in existing missile silos, and talks about the missile as being mostly a bargaining chip with the Soviets.
A final sign of the lack of a clear strategy in the buildup is the degree to which the spending reflects the agendas of the services. In the Pentagon the perennial problem of interservice rivalry and indiscriminate budget-building has continued under Weinberger or gotten worse. The Air Force is involved in five strategic-bombing programs simultaneously—the B-l, the Stealth, an upgrade of the B-52, and two versions of the air-launched cruise missile. The Navy has six different fighter and attack planes, and the Air Force three. The Army has seven air-defense weapons. As always, each service de-emphasizes those of its own programs designed to help the other services. The Air Force has stopped new production of the A-10 plane for close air support of ground troops; the Army, prohibited from owning fixed-wing combat aircraft, uses the Apache helicopter for that mission, though experts feel that the A-10 does it better and more cheaply (six Army helicopters were lost in the Grenada invasion). If there is one capability that experts believe we need to increase, it is lift—the ability to move troops and armor to fight in remote areas where we don’t have bases. By far the most efficient kind of lift is by sea; but the Navy, never enamored of moving the Army around the world, has spent comparatively little of its budget increases on this mission. The idea of a joint command for transporting matériel to a faraway front also fell victim to the Navy’s intransigence. A commonly suggested solution to such problems is to make the Joint Chiefs a supervisory group whose members have no individual ties to the services, but Weinberger has not supported this.
Leaving aside these questions of strategy and the holes to be filled in later with more spending, there is another kind of logic that might be claimed for the defense buildup: the logic of symbolism. Everyone talks about never using nuclear weapons, and says that they exist only to deter the use of force; the same kind of strategic thinking might also be applied to conventional weapons. So by spending more—never mind exactly what for—we have become stronger, because we have shown the Soviets that we have resolve. Therefore they will be deterred from aggressive behavior, and the world will be safer and America more secure. This view probably would not have appealed to Churchill—he was a great student of strategy and of weapons, he pushed for a unified command in order to curb the military bureaucracies, and he always spent for a clear military purpose—but it does cause the defense budget today to make neat sense, as it won’t when looked at most other ways.
Weinberger would never say so, but his every action indicates a belief that in defense appearance becomes reality—that employing the symbolism of strength does in fact make us stronger. One of the achievements of which he is proudest is a debate with the British socialist E. P. Thompson before the Oxford Union, in black tie, on the proposition “This house resolves that there is no moral difference between the U.S. and the USSR”; Weinberger won by a vote of those present. This was not leisure to Weinberger but important business, a sign to the world that ours is the right side. He has several times, with the encouragement of the services, strongly opposed the use of force—in Lebanon, in Central America, and in Libya. “It is perfectly true that I don’t want to use token forces and token shows of military authority in situations in which you do not plan to win,” he says. “Grenada is an example of how military force should be used. We had to go in to rescue a thousand students in a very difficult mission. Our principal contribution to Grenada was to insist that we go in with overwhelming forces ... to do it, to get it over with, and get out. ... I do not wish to be in the position of sending our troops into combat if we don’t have the will ... to win. Ideally, we should be strong so we won’t have to use force.” All four services participated in the Grenada invasion, and afterward the Administration asked fora supplemental appropriation of $72.1 million to cover the costs.
THIS SPRING, AFTER ALL THE BATTLES OVER THE DEfense budget, something seemed to change in Washington. Perhaps it was the improvement in the economy, which made the deficit appear less worrisome; perhaps it was that Weinberger was finally willing to negotiate cuts. On Capitol Hill there was a note of admiration for him that hadn’t been there before. In terms of the theater of Washington he had done brilliantly. He had accomplished his mission, tough as it was—gotten huge increases in the budget. He had ground down his enemies through sheer staying power. Every big charge against defense had fallen short. He had moved the center, so that the notion of seven-percent annual increases in defense spending after inflation, which Reagan had not dared put forth in his campaign, had become perfectly acceptable; the liberal Democratic position had become three percent a year. Within the Administration his stature had remained high, whereas that of many others—Meese, Haig, Allen, Weidenbaum, Stockman—had long ago diminished. Rumors started that after the election he would leave the Pentagon and get the ultimate prize, the State Department, or the ultimate consolation prize, the Court of St. James’s, with Tower taking over the reins at the Department of Defense.
There began to be assertions that America was stronger as a result of the increased defense spending, that its whole standing in the world had changed. Of course, this was a theme of Reagan’s campaign, but it came from other quarters too. The New Republic credited Reagan with “the rebuilding of America’s defenses.” The Wall Street Journal called the buildup “the President’s principal foreign policy achievement,” and on the Journal’s op-ed page, Morton Kondracke wrote, “The people no longer feel doomed to suffer Iran-style humiliations because of the loss of our post-World War II military superiority.” The perceived military crisis of 1980 had given way to a perceived resurgence in our strength and security, even though very little (except spending) had changed. The proud assertions continued: the Soviets had been put on the defensive. The alliance had held. Under Reagan, any show of Soviet strength or aggressiveness, such as the imposition of martial law in Poland, the shipment of arms to Central America and Syria, or the increase in the forces in Afghanistan, was seen not as a sign of our weakness but as proof of our wisdom in spending so much on defense.
As to where the spending will lead, there are two versions to be heard within the Administration. The scenario that Reagan and Weinberger put forward is that we are reaching a level of strength that will enable us to begin serious arms-reduction talks with the Soviets, and that these, along with the development of missile defenses in space, will enable the two superpowers to coexist peacefully and at lower levels of defense spending. Their projections into the 1990s show the increases beginning to level off, with the worst of the danger past. This spring, when Weinberger issued the latest edition of Soviet Military Power (on the day of a House vote on the defense budget), reporters asked him what he thought the Soviets’ intentions were. He answered, “Well, I think you go back to the original teachings that were published at the time the Soviet Union was founded, have never been disputed, and have never been amended—and that is world domination. It’s just that simple.” But when I asked him to look far into the future, he said he hoped that “we would have a general acceptance by the Soviets that world domination was something they could not achieve, they would no longer try to attempt.”
The other scenario, which can be heard around the Pentagon and elsewhere in the Administration, is this: Of course we are in an arms race with the Soviets. Of course it won’t end at the bargaining table. We can win it. Their society is economically weak, and it lacks the wealth, education, and technology to enter the information age. They have thrown everything into military production, and their society is starting to show terrible stress as a result. They can’t sustain military production the way we can. Eventually it will break them, and then there will be just one superpower in a safe world—if, only if, we can keep spending.