A tarnished top brass.

Published May 4, 2001 8:51PM (EDT)

Bush league

In a recent piece in the Times of London, Andrew Sullivan compares President Bush to Dwight Eisenhower. And the New York Times recently reported that Bush has had a bust of Ike installed in the Oval Office. But he clearly isn't heeding the great bald one's warning to avoid "unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."

At the urging of Pentagon boss Donald Rumsfeld, Bush has named three corporate executives to head three branches of the armed forces -- and two of them come from the largest weapons-building companies in the world. Former Lockheed Martin executive Gordon England has been tapped as Navy secretary; James Roche, a vice president at Northrop Grumman and retired Navy captain, is Bush's pick for Air Force secretary; and Thomas White, an Enron Energy Services vice chairman and former Army brigadier general, was named Army secretary.

Lockheed and Northrop, of course, build everything from fighter planes to weapons systems. They are the ones who will benefit from a ginned-up defense budget, particularly if it's for building new weapons systems like the anti-ballistic missile system Bush endorsed earlier this week. According to information from the Center for Defense Information, Lockheed Martin is the largest defense contractor, with $15.1 billion in defense contracts during the last fiscal year. Northrop ranks No. 5 at $3.1 billion

William Hartung, director of the World Policy Institute's Arms Trade Resource Center, said the revolving door from government into the defense industry began to spin faster during the Clinton years. "Clinton had [former Defense Secretary] Bill Perry and others who were consultants to industry. Those appointments raised a few eyebrows at the time," he says. Still, Hartung says he was "definitely taken aback" by the Bush appointments. "The conflict of interest problem is rather significant. These guys were running divisons of major defense contractors."

But the appointees fit with the basic ethos of the Bush administration -- a place where such conflict of interest questions are not in fact significant. Just look at the head of the president's energy policy -- Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney has beaten the drum repeatedly for more oil drilling and exploration, a policy that would mean millions for Halliburton Corp., where Cheney served as CEO until Bush tapped him to be his running mate.

And Rumsfeld has said he wants to run the armed services essentially the same way the new-fangled corporate White House that we have heard so much about is run -- meetings start on time and there's no such thing as a casual Friday. The National Journal recently quoted a "Pentagon insider" who said Rumsfeld's team "calls the people from Capitol Hill 'Hillbillies,' and doesn't want them in top jobs." So instead of tapping former Rep. Tillie Fowler, R-Fla., for the Army job, Rumsfeld went with Enron's White.

"The Army's top generals thought it was a done deal," the Journal writes of the Fowler appointment. "But a defense official in position to know said this 'Hillbilly' was rejected in favor of a corporate type who had met a payroll." Fowler could not be reached for comment for this article.

Rumsfeld's approach has apparently made the career military brass uneasy, according to the Journal's sources. "None of the uniformed guys know what to expect" from Rumsfeld, the Journal reports.

Of course, it never hurts to have guys who have met a payroll, and given big bucks to the party's campaign coffers. Enron gave $2.4 million last campaign cycle, and was one of Bush's top 10 campaign donors.

Lockheed gave $2.4 million during the last cycle -- 40 percent of which went to Democrats and 60 percent to Republicans, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. They also forked up $60,000 for the "Lott Hop" fundraiser at the GOP National Convention and have promised $1 million to endow the University of Mississippi's "Trent Lott Leadership Institute." Guess which Senate majority leader also warms a seat on the Armed Services Committee?

Of course, the company also co-sponsored a bash for Louisiana Democrat John Breaux, who also sits on the committee.

For its part, Northrop Grumman chipped in a scant $682,000 last cycle -- 40 percent going to Democrats, 60 percent to Republicans.

And what has the company gotten for its investment? Not just a seat on the gravy train, but a hand on the steering wheel.

Daily line

"That's a question you need to address to DOD."
--White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, after being asked how the Defense Department managed to announce an end to military contacts with China, which the administration later dismissed as a mistake.

Bush buzz

Ever since the administration successfully negotiated with China for the release of the crew of the American spy plane, Bush and company can't seem to say "China" without making a mess. Last week it was the president's pledge to defend Taiwan against potential mainland aggression. This week it's the mixed-up memo from the Defense Department that would have ended Pentagon contacts with the Chinese government. The White House stepped in quickly to say the memo was a mistake, and that military contacts with China would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

The administration is still spinning the incident heavily, trying not to embarrass Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Instead of blaming Rumsfeld for getting his signals crossed on the president's policy -- as, say, the administration has done repeatedly with EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman -- the White House seems determined to paint the incident as a bureaucratic mix-up.

"The Defense Department fully addressed the issue, after a memo went out suggesting one item that was not under the secretary's understanding. That was not consistent with the guidance that the secretary gave," explained Fleischer. "DOD very quickly last night explained what the secretary's position was." The explanation didn't come quickly enough to stop the Defense Department from briefing congressional members on the new policy, however. Though Fleischer was sure that Rumsfeld was not to blame for the error, he wouldn't comment about who was. "That's a question you need to address to DOD."

Meanwhile, the Chinese government hardly seems grateful for Bush's pained attempts to stay on relatively good terms. China released statements Thursday calling Bush an "egoist" who is picking a fight in order to look like the big man on the global campus. Bush did his part to keep the war of words going, criticizing China's lack of religious tolerance during a speech at the American Jewish Committee on Thursday night.

But while the president still wants to look tough on China, he doesn't want any more battles with environmentalists. So he's decided to take a middle path on a Clinton order to keep designated national forests free of roads. Rather than overturning the order outright, Bush is doing the conservative thing, passing off responsibility for more of the decision-making to state and local officials while keeping the rules in place, for now. He's reopening the matter for review, thus reserving the right to throw the whole policy out at a later date.

It was another rough day for the president in Congress. Though the House worked into the wee hours of the morning to finish sorting through the president's budget, members quit without voting when it was discovered that there were pages missing from the plan. A vote is not expected now until Tuesday.

On the Senate side, Democrats are determined not to give Bush's judicial appointees any relief from the red-tape hell that Clinton nominees were put through. To show their displeasure, Democratic senators walked out of a Judiciary Committee hearing, effectively tabling pending Bush nominations, including that of solicitor general nominee Ted Olson. The White House, trying to placate the opposition, let it be known that it's considering resubmitting the nomination of African-American judge Roger Gregory to sit on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. So far, the Democrats seem unmoved.

Even Sen. John Breaux, D-La., is talking down Bush, who once courted him for a Cabinet post. A day after the president announced his Social Security reform commission, Breaux said that any privatization plans that Bush has for the entitlement program will likely be dead on arrival in Congress.

And don't miss former President Clinton and his kind and cutting words for Bush, relayed by a host of unnamed friends-of-Bill. The ex-president reportedly called Bush a "a formidable force" and a "strong-willed and focused politician." But he gave Bush low marks for dealing with Democrats, implying that the new bipartisanship is all show. "He gives you a nickname, and doesn't call you back," Clinton said.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., might have been able to deliver her husband's comments in person, but not even her beloved New York Yankees could draw her or most other New York Democrats out for Friday's White House ceremony honoring last year's World Series champs.

That Democratic cold shoulder might surprise Paul Gigot, who slams the president in Friday's Wall Street Journal for selling out to the left on education. Gigot argues that, by letting the voucher provisions get cut out of his education plan, Bush is choosing to take a public relations victory over true reform. "But despite all the bipartisan back-slapping to come, a rare reform chance is on the road to being squandered," he writes. "Presidents who signal that they'll sign anything usually end up doing exactly that."

Friday schedule: Bush presents the commander in chief's trophy and appears with Yankees at the White House Friday morning (his sixth major league baseball event). After that, the president will celebrate Cinco De Mayo (one day early) on the South Lawn, along with "NYPD Blue's" Esai Morales and other Latino luminaries. He then goes to the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall, where he will stay for precisely five minutes, and then heads straight to Camp David.

-- Alicia Montgomery


So who's right on energy, Cheney or Bush?

I'm confused. On Monday Vice President Dick Cheney told us the nation "can't conserve or ration our way out of" the energy crisis, that conservation is just a '70s-era "sign of personal virtue" that can't significantly curb our growing energy needs. Now President Bush has announced a bold plan to help California out of its energy nightmare and it's all about conservation, by reducing energy demand at federal facilities. Who are we supposed to believe? Will conservation help or not?

OK, I know California voted overwhelmingly for Al Gore, but Bush promised to be president of everybody, even the blue states. Yet his plan looks more like retaliation than an effort to problem-solve. Think of those federal workers in Fresno, climbing stairs instead of the escalators (they'll be shut down) in swampy 78-degree buildings. But who cares if they're stifling? Most of 'em voted for Gore, anyway. Let them take the stairs.

And while California lawmakers have blasted the plan as too little too late, it should even make Dick Cheney happy -- because it throws in a little nuclear power, too, thanks to a nuclear submarine that will be stationed off the coast, its generator plugged in to the state's overtaxed grid. Never mind that California voters are heavily anti-nuclear energy; the state even passed a law in those wacky '70s, prohibiting the construction of new nuclear reactors until the federal government comes up with a reliable waste-disposal plan.

But now we'll get some extra nuclear energy anyway and Bush says we don't even have to thank him.

"We want to be a part of any solutions" to California's dangerous power disaster, the president told reporters. But somehow California's Democratic leaders -- Gore supporters all, naturally -- aren't happy about the plan.

Bush won't even meet with the state's senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, to talk about the state's energy crisis. "The senator has written three separate letters to request a meeting with the president, and has been turned down every time," says Feinstein spokesman Howard Gantman.

"The president has shown no interest in meeting with us," Gantman says. "Whenever we do meet [with the administration on energy policy], it's sometimes with Cheney or just with Republican officials." Ironically, Feinstein asked Bush to issue a conservation order for federal facilities in California back in February, Gantman said, but received only "a perfunctory reply." The senator found out about yesterday's Bush announcement "from news reports," her spokesman says.

How much energy will be saved by Bush's plan? Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told AP that military facilities -- the biggest federal presence in California -- account for about 1 percent of the state's power use, and the plan should conserve one-tenth of that. Let's say the plan conserves double that amount, it will the save two-tenths of 1 percent of California's power needs.

I'm starting to think that, as usual, we should listen to the big guy, Dick Cheney. The federal government can't conserve its way out of a response to California's energy crisis. But then, seriously addressing the state's energy meltdown -- which could lead to upwards of 30 days of blackouts this summer, and cost California businesses many billions of dollars -- would involve restraining the profits made by price-gouging energy suppliers, and those were among the Bush-Cheney ticket's most generous backers.

Bush certainly isn't going to buck his biggest backers for a state that had the bad judgment to vote for Al Gore. For a president whose staff has been spinning him as the best-traveled president this early in his administration of any in recent memory, he hasn't even set foot in California as president. I think we should start taking it personally.

-- Joan Walsh

This day in Bush history

May 4, 1998: Texas Gov. George W. Bush gets his first front-page profile in the Washington Post, as speculation builds that he'll run for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination. "The unanswered question about Bush is whether he represents a return to the kinder, gentler conservatism of his father that often infuriated the party's right wing," writes Dan Balz, "or a new hybrid that reflects the ideological changes within the party without losing sight of the middle of the electorate."

Burning Bush

Links to the Web's best sites for hardcore Bush watchers, updated May 3.

Send questions, comments and tips to bushed@salon.com.

Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Daryl Lindsey, Alicia Montgomery, Fiona Morgan, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York

Take a look at the previous edition of Bushed!

By Salon Staff

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