- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2001

In the wake of two recent, controversial Bush administration decisions with far-reaching national security implications, Democratic legislators have called for congressional hearings.
Unfortunately, the focus of these initiatives could become an attack on the integrity and ethical conduct of the presidents senior political adviser, Karl Rove. This would appear to be a mistake for two reasons. First, Mr. Rove appears to be an honorable man and a dedicated public servant.
Second, there is a real problem with both the administrations recent approval of the sale of the Silicon Valley Group (SVG) to a foreign buyer and its announcement that the Navy would not be permitted to use Vieques Island for critical combined arms training after 2003. But that problem is the evident subordination of national security interests to political considerations, not unethical behavior. If the latter is what partisan congressional investigators choose to pursue, they may miss altogether what should trouble all of us and fail to take whatever corrective actions might yet be possible.
Rep. Henry Waxman, California Democrat, and ranking minority member on the House Government Reform Committee, has asked that panels chairman, Indiana Republican Rep. Dan Burton, to launch an inquiry into Mr. Rove in connection with the SVG sale. Mr. Waxman did so in response to published reports that Mr. Rove may have had a conflict of interest since he was lobbied a few months back by Intel Corp. representatives anxious to have an interagency group known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) approve SVGs purchase by a Dutch competitor called ASML. At the time, the presidents adviser held at least $100,000 worth of Intel shares.
My sense is that, to the extent Karl Rove played a role in the administrations ultimate approval of the SVG decision over objections from the Pentagon, it was not because he was swayed by personal pecuniary considerations. Rather, many senior members of the Bush team and, for that matter, members of Congress are anxious to do what Intel wants simply because they recognize that this huge company and its friends in Silicon Valley have become one of the most important new sources of campaign contributions and political influence.
The trouble lies with what Intel wanted. Intel is a principal consumer of electronic chip-manufacturing machines utilizing a technology known as lithography. Thanks to many millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer investments in the Silicon Valley Group, its lithography machinery was among the best in the world. Moreover, it had pioneered breakthroughs in the field that promised to allow SVG to dominate the industry in the years ahead. Importantly, SVG was also the last manufacturer of lithography machines in the United States.
SVGs European rival, ASML, saw an opportunity to take out its competitor and proposed to purchase it and a subsidiary called Tinsley Laboratories that manufactures precision optics used in spy satellites and for other defense-related purposes. Although the Defense Department belatedly recognized that it would be contrary to U.S. national security interests to have no American supplier of such equipment, Intel which views itself as a multinational, not a U.S., company pushed very hard, and ultimately successfully, to have the Pentagons recommendations disregarded by the White House.
A similar political override took place last week with respect to Vieques. Both Republicans and Democrats alike have appreciated that Hispanic Americans represent an increasingly influential and potentially decisive electoral group. (Surprisingly, even savvy Anglo politicians frequently fail to appreciate, however, that this community is far from monolithic in their views. For example, Cuban- and Mexican- Americans and others from Latin America share a common language but frequently have little else in common with Puerto Ricans.) Hence, Bill Clinton pardoned convicted Puerto Rican terrorists and pandered to the opponents of Navy and Marine training on Vieques.
Faced with the Clinton legacy on Vieques specifically, the prospect of a possible repudiation in a referendum of the islands residents to be held in November and anxious to curry favor with Hispanics, the Bush team decided the Navy would have to find someplace else to exercise by 2003. There is, however, no reason to believe the military will in fact get two years to find someplace else. Neither is there anyplace else in prospect that will enable the sort of realistic training done at Vieques over the past 60 years, without which American personnel sent into harms way may suffer needless casualties and/or fail to accomplish their missions. The new Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, has announced his intention to hold hearings on this decision and will presumably zero in on its political aspects.
Just as Congress could usefully examine the folly of allowing industries vital to U.S. security to be sold off to entities that may prove to be unreliable suppliers and/or willing providers of such technology to potential adversaries so it could helpfully conduct a rigorous evaluation of the assumptions underpinning the Vieques decision. In particular, legislators ought to assess whether Navy Secretary Gordon Englands claim that his service will find an "acceptable alternative" (as opposed to a place, or places, capable of providing the same training benefits as Vieques) is supportable and, if so, whether such lesser training is adequate.
In addition, Capitol Hill should address whether the precedent being set by the transparently politicized decision to get out of Vieques will have a highly detrimental ripple effect around the world and perhaps even in the United States itself. After all, what is to stop others seeking an end to military exercises in their backyards from demanding equal treatment with the Puerto Ricans?
In short, Congress could do a valuable service to the national interest and security if it helps the Bush administration to keep politics out of military-related public policy decisions. The way to do this is not to pursue witch hunts against the likes of Karl Rove, but to establish unmistakably that such decisions should not be made in his office but in the Defense Department in consultation with the presidents national security adviser.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.


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