Saturday, November 4, 2006

Each year, this column recognizes the heroic accomplishments of an individual who — like Horatius, the ancient Roman credited with saving his city against an enemy army by singlehandedly defending a strategic bridge — has rendered invaluable service to his country’s security, often against insuperable odds. This year, the coveted Horatius at the Bridge Award does not pay tribute to a single act of particular distinction. Instead, in 2006, it honors a lifetime of achievement by Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican, on behalf of his nation and its defense.

I first encountered Mr. Weldon in the early 1980s when he was a freshman member of the House of Representatives and I was a deputy assistant secretary of defense responsible for one of the most interesting of Cold War portfolios: the U.S.-Soviet relationship’s two policy flashpoints — nuclear forces and arms control.

With characteristic bluntness and disinterest in pleasantries, the congressman got right to the point. He wanted to know why the Kremlin’s Krasnoyarsk radar was not a clear-cut violation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. At the time, some in the Reagan administration were desperately trying to find some pretext for not saying so. I told him that, in my judgment, it absolutely was.

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Weldon took to the floor of the House of Representatives and secured that body’s approval of a congressional resolution judging that missile defense-related radar to constitute a material breach of the ABM Treaty and calling for it to be taken down. If not unheard of, such an act of decisive leadership on the part of a first-term member of the minority party is exceedingly rare. It was, however, just the first example of such vision, courage and legislative derring-do on the part of Horatius Weldon.

Other examples include the following:

As he rose through the ranks to become vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Mr. Weldon has been a consistent and vociferous critic of the defense budget cuts implemented, sadly, by both Republican and Democratic administrations. As he foresaw, taken together, they have left our military with inadequate force structure, equipment and trained personnel to meet many, let alone all, of today’s pressing requirements.

In the mid-1990s, Curt Weldon was a senior member of the Cox Commission and was a driving force behind its rigorous examination — and damning indictment — of Chinese espionage, technology theft, and political infiltration and influence operations in the United States. This study provided early, and too-little-heeded, warning of the threat Communist China has become in the decade since.

With typical rigor and years before most of his colleagues were paying attention, Mr. Weldon mastered the evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, ties to terror and was abetted in his megalomania by the Kremlin. He wowed innumerable congressional hearings and other audiences with show-and-tells involving ballistic missile gyroscopes the Russians had been caught illegally providing the Iraqi despot, equipment that would inexorably help make him an ever-greater threat to our forces and friends in the region.

Speaking of ballistic missiles, we have a defense against such weapons today (albeit a limited one), largely thanks to Curt Weldon’s tireless advocacy of the need for such protection for more than two decades. He helped secure an official, independent “second opinion” about the missile threat made necessary by the Clinton administration’s manipulation of intelligence assessments; ensured that its much more alarming — and accurate — findings were briefed in a rare, closed session of the House; and translated the resulting sentiment into veto-proof, bipartisan congressional majorities for a declaration of policy that effective missile defenses must swiftly be deployed.

Perhaps Mr. Weldon’s most significant contribution, however, is one born of his long experience both with military matters and homeland security. (Interestingly, the latter has been informed by his lifelong role as a “first-responder” in his eastern Pennsylvania hometown, as well as his service as vice chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.) No one has done more than Curt Weldon to warn the nation against the potentially “catastrophic” threat of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack and to encourage official and private sector efforts to mitigate it. He has sought another closed-session of the House to apprise his colleagues, who remain largely uninformed of this megathreat, and to rouse them to the sort of decisive action they previously took on missile defense.

On rare occasion, I have found myself disagreeing with Mr. Weldon. Even then, one could not help but admire the passion, command of the facts and take-no-prisoners advocacy that have made him such a formidable legislator — and fearsome opponent.

America is more likely than ever to need Curt Weldon at the bridge of the House of Representatives in the event, come next year, that it winds up being ruled by a party and leadership that have been wrong on virtually all the major national security issues of our time. Not surprisingly, wrong-headed Democrats have in the past usually found their way blocked by the formidable, courageous and visionary Horatius Weldon. May they continue to do so.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. held senior positions in the Reagan Defense Department. He is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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