Caspar Weinberger

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Caspar Weinberger

Caspar Willard Weinberger (born August 18, 1917) is best known as United States Secretary of Defense under President Ronald Reagan from 1982 through 1987, and for his related roles in the Strategic Defense Initiative program (popularly known as Star Wars), and in the Iran-Contra Affair.


Early life

Weinberger was born in San Francisco, California as the son of a lawyer. He received an A.B. degree in 1938 and a law degree in 1941, both from Harvard University. He entered the U.S. Army as a private in 1941, was commissioned, and served in the Pacific theater. 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.

Legal career

Between 1945 and 1947, Weinberger worked as a law clerk for a federal judge, and then joined a San Francisco law firm. He won election to the California State Assembly in 1952, and reelection in 1954 and 1956. Although unsuccessful in his 1958 campaign for California attorney general, Weinberger continued to be active in politics, becoming chairman of the California Republican Party in 1962.

Political career

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, subsequently serving as deputy director (1970-72) and director (1972-73) of the Office of Management and Budget, and as 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.

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 the president'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 DoD budget. Readiness, sustainability, and modernization became the watchwords of the defense program.

As Secretary of Defense, he oversaw the massive rebuilding of US military strength that contributed to the collapse of the former USSR. 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, which proposed a space-based missile defense shield.

Though he claims to have been opposed to the sale on principle, Weinberger participated in the transfer of United States TOW missiles to Iran during the Iran-Contra Affair. Weinberger was later indicted on several felony charges of lying to the Iran-Contra independent counsel during its investigation. Weinberger received a Presidential pardon from President George H.W. Bush on January 20th, 1993, just days before his trial was scheduled to begin.

By 1987, the disclosure of the Iran-Contra Affair and increasing difficulties with Defense budgets weighed on Weinberger. When he resigned on November 23, 1987, Weinberger cited his wife's declining health as the reason, but the press speculated that he was unhappy with the prospect of a successful conclusion of a U.S.-Soviet INF arms control agreement. 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.

Later career

Weinberger had been secretary of defense for six years and ten months, longer than any of his predecessors but Robert McNamara. After he left the Pentagon, he became publisher and chairman of Forbes magazine, where 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 U.S. military capabilities following the end of the Cold War.

Career highlights

External links

Preceded by:
Elliot Richardson
United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare
Succeeded by:
F. David Matthews
Preceded by:
Harold Brown
United States Secretary of Defense
Succeeded by:
Frank C. Carlucci

Template:End boxde:Caspar Weinberger


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