Profile: John Tower
John Tower was a participant or observer in the following events:
Vice President Nelson Rockefeller (see December 19, 1974 and After) is instrumental in keeping Senate Democrats from finding out too much about the intelligence community’s excesses. When the New York Times reveals the existence of a decades-old illegal domestic surveillance program run by the CIA (see December 21, 1974), President Ford heads off calls from Democrats to investigate the program by appointing the “Rockefeller Commission” to investigate in the Democrats’ stead. Senate Democrats, unimpressed with the idea, create the Church Committee to investigate the intelligence community (see April, 1976). Rockefeller is adept at keeping critical documents out of the hands of the Church Committee and the press. When Senator Frank Church asks for materials from the White House, he is told that the Rockefeller Commission has them; when he asks Rockefeller for the papers, he is told that he cannot have them because only the president can authorize access. One Church aide later calls Rockefeller “absolutely brilliant” in denying them access in a friendly manner. “He winked and smiled and said, ‘Gee, I want to help you but, of course I can’t—not until we’ve finished our work and the president approves it,’” the aide recalls. Senator John Tower (R-TX), the vice chairman of the committee, will later reflect, “We were very skillfully finessed.” But even Rockefeller, who has his own history of involvement with the CIA, is taken aback at the excesses of the CIA, particularly its history of assassinating foreign leaders. Rockefeller will eventually turn that information over to the Church Committee, giving that body some of the most explosive evidence as yet made public against the agency. [US Senate, 7/7/2007]
John Tower. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]President Reagan appoints former Senator John Tower (R-TX) to head a commission to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. The so-called “Tower Commission” will issue its final report three months later (see February 26, 1987). [PBS, 2000] Tower left the Senate in 1985 and attempted to win the position of defense secretary for Reagan’s second term. Instead, Reagan appointed him to lead the US team of arms reduction negotiators in Geneva. Tower also became very rich very quickly lobbying for a variety of defense contractors. Between his overt lobbying for the defense industry and his notoriously libertine lifestyle—even consorting with prostitutes known to be KGB agents—Tower was unable to secure the position of defense secretary. But he is a Reagan loyalist, and well-known to the White House from their thorough vetting of his background and private life; perhaps this makes Tower a good administration choice to lead the investigative commission. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 85-86]
Dick Cheney’s official photo as Secretary of Defense. [Source: US Department of Defense]Former Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) becomes secretary of defense under President George H. W. Bush. [US Department of Defense, 11/24/2005] Cheney is the second choice; Bush’s first consideration, former Texas senator John Tower, lost key Senate support when details of his licentious lifestyle and possible alcoholism became known. Cheney was the choice of, among others, Vice President Dan Quayle and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who both feel that Bush needs someone in the position fast, and the best way to have someone move through the confirmation process is to have someone from Congress. Although Cheney never served in the military, and managed to dodge service during the Vietnam War with five student deferments, he has no skeletons in his closet like Tower’s, and he has the support of Congressional hawks. His confirmation hearings are little more than a formality.
Cheney Leaves the House, Gingrich Steps In - Cheney’s House colleague, Republican Mickey Edwards, later reflects, “The whole world we live in would be totally different if Dick Cheney had not been plucked from the House to take the place of John Tower.” Cheney was “in line to become the [GOP’s] leader in the House and ultimately the majority leader and speaker,” Edwards will say. “If that [had] happened, the whole Gingrich era wouldn’t have happened.” Edwards is referring to Newt Gingrich (R-GA), the future speaker of the House who, in authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein’s own reflections, “ushered in fifteen years of rancorous, polarized politics.” While Cheney is as partisan as Gingrich, he is not the kind of confrontational, scorched-earth politician Gingrich is. According to Edwards, no one can envision Cheney moving down the same road as Gingrich will.
Successful Tenure - As the Pentagon’s civilian chief, many will reflect on Cheney’s tenure as perhaps his finest hour as a public servant. “I saw him for four years as [defense secretary]. He was one of the best executives the Department of Defense had ever seen,” later says Larry Wilkerson, who will serve in the Bush-Cheney administration as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. “He made decisions. Contrast that with the other one I saw [Clinton Secretary of Defense Lester Aspin], who couldn’t make a decision if it slapped him in the face.” Cheney will preside over a gradual reduction in forces stationed abroad—a reduction skillfully managed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell.
Bringing Aboard the Neoconservatives - Cheney asks one of Tower’s putative hires, Paul Wolfowitz, to stay; Wolfowitz, with fellow Pentagon neoconservatives Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Zalmay Khalilzad, will draft the Pentagon’s 1992 Defense Planning Guide (DPG) (see February 18, 1992), a harshly neoconservative proposal that envisions the US as the world’s strongman, dominating every other country and locking down the Middle East oil reserves for its own use. Though the DPG is denounced by President Bush, Cheney supports it wholeheartedly, even issuing it under his own name. “He took ownership in it,” Khalilzad recalls. Cheney also brings in his aide from the Iran-Contra hearings, David Addington (see Mid-March through Early April, 1987), another neoconservative who shares Cheney’s view of almost unlimited executive power at the expense of the judicial and legislative branches. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 87-95]
Entity Tags: Lester Aspin, George Herbert Walker Bush, David S. Addington, Dan Quayle, Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, Jake Bernstein, Lawrence Wilkerson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Tower, Newt Gingrich, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Mickey Edwards, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Lou Dubose, Paul Wolfowitz
Timeline Tags: US Military
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