The Conservative movement has, for the last several months, started to remind me of the Donner Party. In a time of crisis, they begin to eat their own. The infighting has been going on for months and has occasionally touched the national security establishment, such as Congressional Republicans holding up the nomination of then-Republican Congressman John McHugh to be Army Secretary over issues that would not be within his purview in that post. Increasingly, Republicans are beginning to direct their ire at their own Defense Secretary, Robert Gates.
Such is the case with Quin Hillyer, a conservative shill who has had a career of writing for such illustrious publications as the Washington Examiner (you know, the rag that gets handed out for free at DC Metro stops, because no one would waste a dime on it) and the Sun Myung Moon-owned/subsidized Washington Times. Hillyer's venue of choice yesterday was the American Spectator, where he twisted facts and made leaps of logic to cast the Defense Secretary as a corrupt bureaucrat on the hunt for a private sector job.
First, some backstory. Back in 2003, the Air Force was on the verge of awarding a no-bid contract to Boeing to lease 100 aerial refueling tankers. The contract was squashed when it was discovered that the chief contracting officer on the deal was also negotiating for a job at Boeing. In 2008, the contract was awarded to the parent company that manufactures Airbus aircraft, but that bid was also scrapped after Boeing accused Northrop (Airbus's parent company) of foul play in the contracting process. The Pentagon is in a new round of bidding as we speak.
Hillyer has some pretty outlandish arguments in his accusation that the fix is in for Boeing to get the contract, such as calling the basis for overturning the Northrop contract "reed-thin," while the New York Times notes that:
A scathing report by the Government Accountability Office accused the Air Force of breaking its own contracting rules. One example: the Air Force told Boeing it wouldn't give credit for a bigger jet and then gave extra credit for just that to Northrop Grumman.
But my favorite is conservative Hillyer's absurd, cannibalistic attack on Bush-appointed Defense Secretary Bob Gates:
Gates just so happens to have a house, where he plans to eventually retire, just outside of Seattle, where he also has family ties and where Boeing rules the roost. (How much do you want to bet that Gates ends up as a Boeing "consultant"?)
Not that wild, unfounded speculation is anything out of the ordinary for the conservative movement, but its especially hypocritical given the information that Hillyer gives us a few paragraphs down:
U.S. Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby of Alabama -- where the Northrop plane would be assembled in Mobile -- have vociferously protested, with Sessions even introducing an amendment to block all funding for the tanker program until the Pentagon releases all the pricing data from the last round of competition. "How can we expect the playing field to be level if one company was given sensitive information about the other's bid?" asked Sessions, a conservative stalwart, as quoted by the Mobile Press-Register. "If that is the case, the best way to rectify the situation is to demand that information be shared in both directions."
Funny how Hillyer scathes Robert Gates for owning a home in the same metropolitan area where a company that does business with the Pentagon does its manufacturing (That's right. Manufacturing. The actual company headquarters is in Chicago. I guess Hillyer thinks Gates is gunning for a job on the Boeing assembly line.), but he fails to note that he himself is a former employee of the very same Mobile Press-Register, giving him ties to the town where Northrop will be manufacturing their proposed aircraft. Using Hillyer's logic, we can assume that his ties to the area combined with his advocacy for the company (something Gates never did for Boeing) leaves no other consequence beyond Hillyer ultimately winding up on the Northrop dole.
But, of course, that sort of speculation would be ridiculous, much as the speculation offered by Quin Hillyer is wildly off the mark. In truth, Robert Gates is implementing a fairer, more transparent bidding process that will make sure the Pentagon gets it right this time:
President Obama and his administration have pledged to reform the way the Pentagon buys billions of dollars worth of weapons, and the tanker program will be their biggest test. The initial purchase is $35 billion for 179 planes, but the contract could be extended for decades and eventually cost $100 billion for 400 or 500 planes -- making it one of the most expensive deals in the Pentagon's history. ...
This time, Pentagon officials say they are running a fair and open, "best value" competition in which bids are to be judged on 373 mandatory features. They will sensibly look at both the tanker's immediate production cost and long-term operating costs. And they are insisting on a fixed-price contract in the development phase, which could rein in expenses. Independent review teams will examine how well the Pentagon is handling the bidding process. While complicated, the new approach seems sound and far less vulnerable to abuse.
But I suppose, just as white wine should not be imbibed with red meat, facts shouldn't be consumed when conservatives eat their own.