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Context of 'June 18, 2003: Former Defense Secretary Says Diego Garcia Base ‘Critical’ to US Secuirity; Lack of Inhabitants ‘Preferable’'

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A small August 24, 1974, story in the Washington Post about the Pentagon ensuring that former President Nixon could not unilaterally use military forces to retain power in the case of an impeachment (see August 22, 1974) becomes blazing page one headlines around the country. The stories center around quotes from Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, who says that he worried about two unlikely possibilities. First, Nixon might order military units to block Congress from the “constitutional process” of removing him from office, or some other official might try to oust Nixon in something of a coup d’etat. Second, the nation might suddenly face a crisis calling for immediate military action, and Schlesinger and General George Brown, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would have to justify their decision to take such action. “Pentagon Kept Tight Rein in Last Days of Nixon Rule,” the New York Times reports. President Ford is outraged at the story, and sees the leaker of the story—Schlesinger or someone else—as having committed a profoundly disloyal act, not just against Nixon, but against the nation and the military. Ford meets with Brown, who tells him that the story is bogus. “There was no alert,” Brown says. “I’ve checked at headquarters. There are no recorded messages coming out of [Schlesinger]‘s office. Furthermore, if there had been a call, it would have been referred back to the National Military Command Center here at the Pentagon. We have no record of that. I’ve checked every record and it’s all pure fabrication.” Ford learns that the story indeed originated with Schlesinger, who held a lunch meeting with reporters on August 23. Deputy Secretary of Defense William Clements asks Schlesinger, “Why did you say all this?” Schlesinger’s response, according to Ford’s memoirs: “I don’t know.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 182-185]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, James R. Schlesinger, William Clements, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, George Brown

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, an avowed opponent of arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union (see Early 1974, June 20, 1974 and After, and November 23, 1974), is fired as part of President Ford’s so-called “Halloween Massacre” (see November 4, 1975 and After). The outgoing Schlesinger complains that the Ford administration is “soft” on negotiating with the Soviets, and warns that the entire idea of detente—a gradual thawing of relations between the two superpowers—is inherently a bad idea. Schlesinger becomes something of a cause celebre on the right, with Governor Ronald Reagan (see Early and Mid-1976) claiming that Schlesinger’s dismissal is because Ford is afraid to admit “the truth about our military status”—in other words, afraid to admit Reagan’s contention that the USSR has significant numerical advantages in the countries’ respective nuclear arsenals. Ford replaces Schlesinger with the head of the Office of Economic Opportunity, Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld was an advocate of leaving Vietnam, but, if anything, is even a more determined advocate for US nuclear superiority and an opponent of any arms agreements with the USSR. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 78-79] Within weeks of taking over the Pentagon, Rumsfeld begins his own efforts to undermine the SALT II arms talks (see December 1975 and After and Early 1976).

Entity Tags: Ford administration, Donald Rumsfeld, Ronald Reagan, James R. Schlesinger

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Commenting on the US military base at Diego Garcia, former US Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger tells CNN: “It is critical to American security and has steadily grown more critical. Indeed, it is one of the wisest investment of government funds that we have seen over the last three or four decades.… It’s always preferable not to have inhabitants around. It reduces any risk of intelligence operations against the base and the possibility of sabotage.” [CNN, 6/18/2003]

Entity Tags: James R. Schlesinger

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

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