Tower and Arms Lobby: Too Close for Comfort : The Nominee May Claim a Conversion, but His Actions Speak Louder Than Words

William E. Jackson Jr. is a senior fellow at the Fulbright Institute of International Relations at the University of Arkansas. From 1978 to 1980 he served as the executive director of the U.S. General Advisory Committee on Arms Control.

Why reject John Tower for secretary of defense if President Bush values him so dearly? Why not accept Tower's pledges that he is, at 63, a reformed man in his life style, ready to carry out policy and procurement reforms quite at odds with his record as a U.S. senator of 25 years?

It is written in the 50th Federalist that"if men were angels, no government would be necessary." That could be read to mean that if men were angels, there would be no need for a Senate check--under the advice-and-consent clause--on the nominees of Presidents. It is the constitutional duty of the Senate to stand in the middle of the road when the President sends a really bad nomination down Pennsylvania Avenue.

There must be certain boundaries of propriety, and not just simple legality, when it comes to nominations to high office. Nevertheless, the personal life of a nominee is relevant to a confirmation if, and only if, there is a pattern of behavior or a set of habits that cast doubt on his ability to carry out the responsibilities of the job.

A history of alcoholism becomes a relevant consideration, therefore, and has been raised by Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and others.

Yet there are other important considerations. Certainly Tower's great knowledge of defense issues and weapon systems is an important qualification. But, in a time of a severe budget crunch and defense contracting scandals, is it as important as management skills? Intangible qualities like discriminating judgment, probity, discretion and detachment must be weighed.

Every secretary of defense since 1961--Robert McNamara, Clark Clifford, Melvin Laird, James Schlesinger, Donald Rumsfeld, Harold Brown, Caspar Weinberger and Frank Carlucci--has brought different skills and experiences to the job. Yet there is one notable common thread in their backgrounds: Every one of them represented a greater detachment from the "defense culture"--a more independent perspective--than the current nominee. Tower has critically referred to the "culture of the building" (the Pentagon) and said that it has to be changed. The Senate should beware of conversions on the road to Damascus. Tower's entire record over three decades indicates that he is part of the problem, and not the solution. I refer to his membership on the Senate Armed Services Committee, representing one of the largest defense-contractor constituencies (Texas). It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that he seldom met a weapon system that he didn't like. While chairman of the committee in 1983 and 1984, he stonewalled attempts to reorganize the Pentagon and was identified with parochial service interests. It is a joke to describe him as a champion of weapons-procurement reform in those years.

In 1985-86 Tower chaired our delegation at the strategic-arms-reduction talks in Geneva, then turned around in 1986-88 to advise defense contractors on the possible effect of arms-control agreements on their business.

It has been well documented that Tower lobbied--for fees in the range of $1 mil-lion--for several major defense contractors like LTV Aerospace, Martin Marietta, Rockwell International, Textron and British Aerospace.

Tower told his confirmation hearing that he or his staff analyzed for the "senior management" of Martin Marietta the implications of START talks for "future product development" (like the Strategic Defense Initiative or the MX and Midgetman missiles). For Rockwell he provided "senior management" with his views on the future of the B-1 strategic bomber, and his staff analyzed the implications of arms negotiations on the future of SDI and the mobile Midgetman.

While insisting to the committee that "I gave value" to corporate clients, Tower denied giving "enlightened" advice on probable outcomes of the arms-control negotiations.

Yet Tower was in a unique position to provide such time-sensitive advice to his corporate clients on highly secret negotiations involving the nation's strategic arsenal. Major cuts in the overall aggregate of bombers and missiles were being discussed in Geneva, in addition to a ban on mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles. Did he advise as to whether a proposal banning all mobile missiles was just a negotiating ploy? What actions did the contractors take in regard to adjusting their plans to focus on weapon systems likely to survive the cut in Geneva?

It defies credibility to argue that Tower did not provide enlightened advice bearing on management decisions.

During the presidential campaign, Nunn and Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) put the candidates of both parties on notice that public confidence in Defense Department nominees was absolutely essential: "It is imperative that nominees should have and should be seen to have the public interest as their only goal. Actions which call into question this commitment are unacceptable."

What example will be rewarded if Tower is confirmed? To be an interesting character is not sufficient reason to be secretary of defense.

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