Caspar Willard "Cap" Weinberger
– March 28
), was an American politician
and Secretary of Defense
under President Ronald Reagan
from January 21
, until November 23
, making him the third longest-serving defense secretary to date, after Robert McNamara
and Donald Rumsfeld
. He is also known for his roles in the Strategic Defense Initiative
program and the Iran-Contra Affair
Weinberger was born in San Francisco
, the younger of two sons of Herman Weinberger, a Colorado
, and the former Cerise Carpenter Hampson, an accomplished violinist
whose parents were immigrants
. Weinberger was named "Caspar" for a friend of his mother's; his father began calling him "Cap", a nickname that stuck into adulthood. Weinberger was a first cousin
of the nationally-broadcast radio
personality Don McNeill
of Don McNeill's Breakfast Club
; their mothers were sisters. The Weinbergers were a middle class
family; not until years later did Caspar learn that his father had encountered some difficulties paying the family's expenses during the Great Depression
. Weinberger had a sickly childhood and required close nurturing from his mother; in time, like his boyhood idol, Theodore Roosevelt
, he overcame his poor health and innate shyness as a youngster.
Weinberger's paternal grandparents had left Judaism because of a dispute at a Czech synagogue. His mother was of Christian heritage. He was reared in a home with no denominational ties, but in time became an active Episcopalian and often expressed his faith in God. When he enrolled at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Mrs. Weinberger rented an apartment nearby for the first semester that Weinberger and his older brother, Peter, attended Harvard. She then returned to her husband in San Francisco. Weinberger received his bachelor of arts, magna cum laude, in 1938 and a Juris Doctor degree in 1941, both from Harvard. He edited the Harvard student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, and recalls in his memoirs entitled In the Arena: A Memoir of the 20th Century two specific interviews of which he was most pleased: one with the highly decorated soldier Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., and another with Alabama-born actress Tallulah Bankhead.
He entered the United States Army as a private in 1941, was commissioned, and served with the 41st Infantry Division in the Pacific. At the end of the war he was a captain on General Douglas MacArthur's intelligence staff. Early in life, he developed an interest in politics and history, and, during the war years, a special admiration for Winston Churchill, whom he would later cite as an important influence in his life. From 1945-1947, Weinberger worked as a law clerk for a federal judge before joining a San Francisco law firm.
He won election to the California State Assembly
in 1952 and reelection in 1954 and 1956. As the Chairman of the Assembly Government Organization Committee, Weinberger was responsible for the creation of the California Department of Water Resources
and was instrumental in the creation of the California State Water Project
. Although unsuccessful in his 1958 campaign for California Attorney General
, Weinberger continued to be active in politics and was chosen by Nixon in 1962 to become chairman of the California Republican Party
. Nixon's unsuccessful gubernatorial primary rival, Joe Shell
, then the State Assembly Minority Leader from West Lost Angeles, opposed Weinberger's selection because at the time Weinberger was considered a liberal Republican even though he was known for his hard-line anti-communist views.
Governor Ronald Reagan named him chairman of the Commission on California State Government Organization and Economy in 1967 and appointed him State director of finance early in 1968. Weinberger moved to Washington in January 1970 to become chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. He subsequently served under President Richard Nixon as deputy director (1970-72) and director (1972-73) of the Office of Management and Budget and Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare (1973-75). For the next five years, Weinberger was vice president and general counsel of the Bechtel Corporation in California.
Secretary of Defense
Although not widely experienced in defense matters, Weinberger had a reputation in Washington as an able administrator; his powers as a cost cutter earned him the sobriquet "Cap the Knife." He shared President Reagan's conviction that the Soviet Union
posed a serious threat to the United States, and that the defense establishment needed to be modernized and strengthened. Belying his nickname, at the Pentagon
Weinberger became a vigorous advocate of Reagan's plan to increase the Department of Defense
budget. Readiness, sustainability, and modernization became the watchwords of the defense program. In his early years at the Pentagon, Cap Weinberger was known as "Cap the Ladle" for advocating large increases in defense spending.
As Secretary of Defense, Weinberger oversaw a massive rebuilding of US military strength. Major defense programs he championed included the B-1B bomber and the "600-ship Navy". His efforts created economic and military-industrial pressures that were associated with the beginning of Perestroika and the beginning of the end of both the Cold War and the Soviet Union. While these events were clearly substantial and world-changing, they came at the cost of helping to triple the national debt. Weinberger pushed for dramatic increases in the United States' nuclear weapons arsenal and was a strong advocate of the controversial Strategic Defense Initiative, popularly known as Star Wars, an initiative which proposed a space-based missile defense shield.
In response to the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, President Reagan assembled his national security team and planned to target the Sheik Abdullah barracks in Baalbek, Lebanon, which housed Iranian Revolutionary Guards believed to be training Hezbollah fighters. However Weinberger said there would be no change in the US's Lebanon policy and aborted the mission, reportedly because of his concerns that it would harm US relations with other Arab nations.
Though he claims to have been opposed to the sale on principle, Weinberger participated in the transfer of United States TOW
anti-tank missiles to Iran
during the Iran-Contra Affair
. By 1987, the disclosure of the Iran-Contra Affair and increasing difficulties with Defense budgets weighed on Weinberger. Weinberger resigned on November 23
, citing his wife's declining health. He specifically denied that he was opposed to the INF Treaty
, scheduled to be signed in Washington in December 1987. In fact, he took credit for proposing the substance of the treaty early in his term at the Pentagon.
Following his resignation as Secretary of Defense, legal proceedings against Weinberger were brought by Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh. A federal grand jury indicted Weinberger for several felony counts of lying to the Iran-Contra independent counsel during its investigation. Weinberger received a Presidential pardon from outgoing President George H.W. Bush on December 24, 1992.
Appearing on The Charlie Rose Show on 6 October 2008, The Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki referred to a speech by Caspar Weinberger onboard a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War, that "the U.S. will uproot the Iranian people".
Involvement in the Jonathan Pollard Case
Prior to the sentencing of Jonathan Pollard
, then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger submitted a 46-page classified memorandum to the judge, the contents of which were not shown to Pollard's attorneys. Weinberger called for severe punishment, and the memo, still classified, is widely cited as a major reason that the judge ultimately sentenced Pollard to life in prison without parole
Weinberger had been Secretary of Defense for six years and ten months, longer than any man except for Robert McNamara
and Donald Rumsfeld
. After Weinberger left the Pentagon, he joined Forbes, Inc., in 1989 as publisher of Forbes magazine
. He was named chairman in 1993. Over the next decade, he wrote frequently on defense and national security issues. In 1990, he wrote Fighting for Peace
, an account of his Pentagon years. In 1996, Weinberger co-authored a book entitled The Next War
, which raised questions about the adequacy of US military capabilities following the end of the Cold War
While residing on Mount Desert Island, Maine, Weinberger was treated for and died from complications of pneumonia at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. He was eighty-eight years of age.
Shortly after his death President George W. Bush in a public statement said:
- Caspar Weinberger was an American statesman and a dedicated public servant. He wore the uniform in World War II, held elected office, and served in the cabinets of three Presidents. As Secretary of Defense for President Reagan, he worked to strengthen our military and win the Cold War. In all his years, this good man made many contributions to our Nation. America is grateful for Caspar Weinberger's lifetime of service. Laura and I send our condolences and prayers to the entire Weinberger family.
Then United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated:
- Cap Weinberger was a friend. His extensive career in public service, his support for the men and women in uniform and his central role in helping to win the Cold War leave a lasting legacy... He left the United States armed forces stronger, our country safer and the world more free.