- The Washington Times - Friday, February 16, 2001


In the few weeks since Bill Clinton has left office, an astounding number of misdeeds by Mr. Clinton and his administration have come to light. The pardons and their related political contributions, the silverware and furniture, the office in Manhattan and now the revelations about the outrageous rents being paid in Little Rock for a warehouse have offended the sensibilities of most Americans.
With these scandalous events unfolding, it would be easy to overlook a minor event such as the letting of a contract to move a retired Navy ship. However, there is now emerging a scheme no less offensive than those listed above, but this scheme has been hatching below the radar so to speak and it has, so far, escaped the attention of the new Bush administration.
In a little noticed move in October 1999, the liberal democratic senator from California, Barbara Boxer, inserted a provision in the Fiscal Year 2000 Defense Appropriations bill providing funds to transfer the battleship USS Iowa from the Navy base at Middleton, Rhode Island to a Maritime Administration facility near San Francisco. This move was intended to make it all but inevitable that the USS Iowa would become a floating museum and tourist attraction for the City of San Francisco. The funding for the move was inserted into the Defense Appropriations bill in the midnight hour and was buried deep in the hundreds of pages of legislation.
Normally, this could be considered a minor and relatively harmless instance of congressional pork-barreling. However, the battleship USS Iowa and its sister ship the USS Wisconsin have been protected by law from being stricken from the Navy's fleet because an overwhelming majority in Congress believe that these two powerful ships need to be kept at the ready in case they are needed in a future war. Despite the U.S. Navy's mistaken desire to retire these ships permanently due to cost constraints, the Congress in 1995 included a provision in Public Law 104-106 that required the Navy to preserve the two powerful ships as mobilization assets. The stated reason was that they are the Navy's "only remaining potential source of around-the-clock accurate, high volume, heavy fire support."
Richard Danzig, Bill Clinton's secretary of the Navy until this past Jan. 20, sided with Mrs. Boxer (and against his own chief of naval operations) on this issue. In the closing days of the administration, he pushed through a contract for towing the Iowa all the way from Rhode Island through the Panama Canal to Suison Bay near San Francisco at a final cost that will almost certainly exceed the $3 million appropriated.
This action should be halted until the Bush administration has an opportunity to review the issue. Just like the Clinton administration's 11th-hour efforts to stuff the Federal Register with new and far-reaching regulations, the Navy secretary's attempt to move the Iowa to San Francisco was an attempt to make a last-minute political payoff at the taxpayer's expense. And, just as those last-minute federal regulations were stopped in their tracks by President Bush, so too should the order to move the Iowa be halted until the matter can be reviewed.
Mr. Bush has ordered a full review of America's defense posture, and the issue of whether to return the battleships to the fleet should be a part of that review. Until the review is complete, the battleship Iowa should stay in Rhode Island where it can be properly maintained as directed by Congress. The new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and many other senior members of Congress think that it makes sense to bring the battleships back to the fleet to close the dangerous shortfall in naval gunfire support capabilities that now exists. The commandant of the Marine Corps is also deeply concerned about this shortfall and has testified that "we Marines have been at considerable risk in naval surface fire support since the last battleships were retired."
The battleships Iowa and Wisconsin were retired in 1992 for cost saving reasons even though they were fully modernized in the mid-1980s by President Reagan. They were the first ships to fire Tomahawk missiles in Operation Desert Storm and they are, in fact, modern, survivable arsenal ships, much like the ships that Mr. Bush spoke of during the campaign. The Navy should be ordered to halt the move of the Iowa until the Bush administration can conduct a full defense review.Christopher M. Lehman served as a special assistant for national security affairs to President Reagan from 1983-1985.

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