Thursday, August 18, 2011

CASPAR WEINBERGER b. August 18, 1917

August 18, 1917-March 28, 2006 

as Ronald Reagan's 
Secretary of Defense 

Published in BUSINESS WEEK 
September 28, 1981 (p. 73) 

A product of San Francisco on the one coast and Harvard College and Harvard Law School on the other, with a stint in the Pacific Theater in World War II, Caspar Weinberger fairly quickly entered Republican politics in California.  In time he went to work for Governor Ronald Reagan in Sacramento and then for Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford in Washington.  He came to head the Federal Trade Commission (FTC); Office of Management and Budget (OMB); and Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW). 

But Weinberger's career peaked when Reagan named him Secretary of Defense right at the outset of his presidency, and he stayed for almost seven years; only Robert McNamara before him and Donald Rumsfeld before and after him lasted longer in the office. 

As Nixon's OMB director Weinberger gained a reputation as "Cap the Knife."  As Reagan's head of the Pentagon he was anything but.  It turns out what he was interested in cutting was not budgets generally but social programs in particular. 

My direct impression of Weinberger at the time was that he was much more Cap in the Candy Store than Cap the Knife -- or that he was an enabler for Pentagon procurement sometimes run amuck. 

It is quite interesting reading now how a range of observers seem to agree with this assessment.  One of the most interesting comes from the Pentagon itself, and can be found here

There are many other notable points in this long career.   Besides his role the defense buildup in general (and what it did to the budget), Weinberger was influential in the Reagan administration on the Soviet Union, the missile build-up, and SDI ("Star Wars") and the many crises of the day, and nearly undone by the Iran-Contra scandal (saved by a pardon by President George Bush).  Some informative sources besides the DOD one cited above can be found here and here and here

(A side note:  As the Pentagon biography talks about Richard Perle's work with Weinberger, you may want to have a look here.) 

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