It’s a tale of big guns and a big gun. It’s a Bush family melodrama, a story of personal connections, possible backstabbing and multiple intrigues, a Washington soap opera. And it’s all about an 80-ton mobile artillery system dubbed the Crusader.
Last week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in something of a sneak attack, announced he wanted to cancel the $11 billion program. This was major news. The Pentagon almost never deep-sixes a major weapons program. The Army, whose baby this is, was understandably shocked. The Crusader was eight years in development. The Pentagon had decided last year to keep the program going, even though some critics–in and out of the military–had complained the heavy gun, which fires a 155 mm shell, was a Cold War relic of not much use in contemporary warfare.
Immediately after Rumsfeld targeted the Crusader, the Army initiated a rearguard operation against Rumsfeld by lobbying members of Congress to save the Crusader. The SecDef was not pleased. “I have a minimum of high regard for that kind of behavior,” he growled. He ordered the Army inspector general to investigate–and caught in the crosshairs was Thomas White, the already-beleaguered secretary of the Army. White had been quoted by an ally, Senator James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma (where the Crusader would be built), as saying he was “in a fight to save [the] Crusader within the building,” meaning the Pentagon.
This was not a good time for White to be on the wrong side of Rumsfeld. In earlier installments of As the Pentagon Turns, we learned that White, a former Enron executive, was responsible for one of the bankrupt company’s most problematic (financially and ethically) divisions, failed to divest his Enron stock in a timely manner and misled members of Congress about it, and reportedly used official aircraft for non-official business. [See the previous “Capital Games” column: “W’s Biggest Enron Liability: The Case Against Thomas White”.] White seems to have survived the flaps over his travel and his less-than-truthful statements to Congress, but the Justice Department supposedly is still investigating White for insider trading concerning his Enron holdings. He is on the ledge–and he just pissed off the guy who can pull him in.
White also had the bad sense–and bad manners–to win the latest tussle on the Crusader. During a late night mark-up on May 1, the House Armed Services Committee–which was reviewing the $52 billion budget hike for the Pentagon–added a provision to the military authorization bill to preserve $475 million in funding for the Crusader. It undid Rumsfeld’s proposed cancellation. This was not a shocker. Members of Congress, mindful of the jobs produced by arms contracts, are often more reluctant to cut weapons than the Pentagonists. The civilian in charge of the Pentagon–that would be Rumsfeld–was bested by the Army and Congress. Then on May 6, a senior Pentagon official, speaking for Rumsfeld, reiterated Rumsfeld’s position: “The Crusader is dead.” And the next day, Rumsfeld voiced his support for White: “He’s doing a good job. He has my confidence.”