- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Caspar Weinberger, who died yesterday, was a lifelong Anglophile who embraced Winston Churchill as “one of my great heroes” for forlornly warning in the 1930s that Europe must re-arm against the German threat. Throughout his distinguished seven years of service as Ronald Reagan’s defense secretary, Mr. Weinberger warned of “some rather deadly parallels” in the threat from the Soviet Union.

While Britain and the rest of Europe effectively ignored Churchill’s plaintive pleas, helping to set the stage for World War II, Americans responded to Mr. Reagan’s warnings by electing him president. Mr. Weinberger, who earlier served in the Reagan gubernatorial administration during the 1960s, was promptly selected to be the architect of the largest American peacetime military build-up in history. That strategy culminated in American victory in the nearly five-decade-long Cold War.

Barely six weeks into Mr. Reagan’s first presidential term, Mr. Weinberger delivered to Congress the administration’s first defense budget, which: resurrected the B-1 bomber; greatly expanded the procurement of fighter aircraft for the Navy and Air Force; virtually doubled the purchase of sea-launched cruise missiles; significantly increased the production of tanks and other Army weapons systems; and reactivated World War II battleships as a first step toward building the fabled 600-ship Navy, which would eventually feature 12 aircraft-carrier battlegroups and dozens of the world’s most powerful ballistic-missile-carrying submarines.

During Mr. Weinberger’s tenure, America spent $1.7 trillion on national defense (or $3 trillion in today’s dollars). By any fair-minded calculation, it was a bargain. Less than a month after Mr. Weinberger left the Pentagon in November 1987, the world witnessed the first fruits (many others would follow) of his seven-year tenure. On Dec. 8, 1987, Mr. Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which required the destruction of about 425 single-warhead intermediate-range U.S. nuclear missiles based in Western Europe and 650 triple-warhead intermediate-range Soviet SS-20 nuclear missiles capable of striking Europe and Asia. Following steady Soviet deployment of SS-20s beginning in the 1970s, NATO began installing the U.S. missiles in Europe in late 1983. Self-styled peace groups on both sides of the Atlantic, including congressional Democrats who preferred the Soviets’ self-serving nuclear-freeze offer, pilloried Mr. Weinberger and Mr. Reagan for the missile deployment in Europe. History has recorded who was right.

Known as “Cap the Knife” during his budget-cutting days in the Nixon administration, Mr. Weinberger became “Cap the Saber” in 1981, indispensably helping the president rattle the nation to the cause of its defense. When the Soviet Union imploded in 1991, it did so with a very able assist from Caspar Weinberger. Winston Churchill would have been very proud.

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