Originally created 02/11/00

McCain, Lott feud over Pentagon's 'pork-spending'



Supporters of John McCain, left, should demand he stop attacking Trent Lott, and begin collaborating with the Senate majority leader in expediting weapons systems the Pentagon does, most certainly, `want and need.'

McCain, Lott feud over Pentagon's `pork-spending'

(Editor's note: The author, Jim Guirard Jr., served as a chief of staff to former Sens. Allen Ellender and Russell Long, D-La.)

THE MEDIA has quite properly carried many stories featuring one of Sen. John McCain's flagship issues in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination -- his sharp criticism of "pork" spending in the Pentagon and elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy.

In general, McCain is to be applauded for highlighting all aspects of government waste, fraud and abuse. But in his chosen high-profile example of alleged Pentagon pork, the senator is dead wrong at best -- and perhaps a bit hypocritical at worst.

To the delight of most partisan Democrats and of the largely left-leaning media, the Arizona senator almost always singles out Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's recent success in obtaining $325 million for advance procurement of a new Navy-Marine Corps amphibious warfare ship, a modern "LHD" helicopter carrier.

He repeatedly portrays this particular slice of "pork" as an especially awful waste of money for a ship the Navy does not want or need.

THIS CHARGE is widely advertised as "straight talk" by a war hero senator who claims to be "the only candidate who really understands the military" and who supports the urgent rebuilding of the U.S. armed forces -- following seven years of Clinton-Rodham-Gore down-sizing, gender-engineering and neglect.

However, the facts of this Lott-led defense procurement indicate more self-serving McCain "spin" than accurate analysis -- as the following three compelling elements prove beyond doubt:

In a March 20, 1998 letter to Lott, R-Miss., (quoted several weeks ago by The Washington Times), then-Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak asserted that the Navy-Marine Corps leadership did, indeed, want and need the amphibious warfare helicopter carrier in question:

"AS TO MY view of the wisdom of procuring a new LHD versus refurbishing our oldest LHA, I believe procurement of a new LHD is a wiser investment for our nation ... The LHD is larger, has more carrying capacity and can better accommodate our new technology systems that have been fielded in recent years or will soon be added to our force. ..."

More recently and even more strongly, in a Nov. 17 statement on the subject, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher praised Lott's action:

"The Navy needs that ship. It is not an extraneous ship ... It is needed to replace our LHA force, which is coming to the end of their lives ... To delay that ship would cost the Navy a lot of money in the long term. Sen. Lott was trying to move the ship up for us and that is definitely welcome ..."

Then -- lo and behold! -- in a major Dec. 7 campaign speech John McCain himself (conveniently forgetting his repeated attacks on Trent Lott's support for early funding for this ship) sharply condemned the Clinton-Rodham-Gore Administration for not having acquired more of such modern war-fighting equipment in recent years:

"FOR TOO LONG we have neglected modernization ... Today the Air Force is operating bombers that are older than the pilots that fly them. We have Marines flying 30-year-old helicopters. Many Army howitzers are 35 years old, and the Navy's amphibious assault command ships average more than 35 years of age ... For the last ten years we have been living off the shelf ... We must begin immediately to buy the equipment on which our future security depends."

Perhaps McCain's South Carolina supporters, particularly those in the "retired military" community, should demand that their candidate admit his error, heed his own excellent advice (quoted above), stop attacking Lott, and begin collaborating with his Senate majority leader in expediting weapons systems that the Pentagon does, most certainly, "want and need" but is not permitted by the Clinton-Rodham-Gore White House to ask for.

FOR MCCAIN to do anything less would be for him to set aside his solemn oath to "duty, honor, country" in favor of self-serving politician "spin."