In the wake of two recent, controversial Bush administration decisions with far-reaching national security implications, Democratic legislators have called for congressional hearings.
Unfortunately, the focus of these initiatives could become an attack on the integrity and ethical conduct of the president's senior political adviser, Karl Rove. This would appear to be a mistake for two reasons. First, Mr. Rove appears to be an honorable man and a dedicated public servant.
Second, there is a real problem with both the administration's recent approval of the sale of the Silicon Valley Group (SVG) to a foreign buyer and its announcement that the Navy would not be permitted to use Vieques Island for critical combined arms training after 2003. But that problem is the evident subordination of national security interests to political considerations, not unethical behavior. If the latter is what partisan congressional investigators choose to pursue, they may miss altogether what should trouble all of us - and fail to take whatever corrective actions might yet be possible.
Rep. Henry Waxman, California Democrat, and ranking minority member on the House Government Reform Committee, has asked that panel's chairman, Indiana Republican Rep. Dan Burton, to launch an inquiry into Mr. Rove in connection with the SVG sale. Mr. Waxman did so in response to published reports that Mr. Rove may have had a conflict of interest since he was lobbied a few months back by Intel Corp. representatives anxious to have an interagency group known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) approve SVG's purchase by a Dutch competitor called ASML. At the time, the president's adviser held at least $100,000 worth of Intel shares.
My sense is that, to the extent Karl Rove played a role in the administration's ultimate approval of the SVG decision over objections from the Pentagon, it was not because he was swayed by personal pecuniary considerations. Rather, many senior members of the Bush team - and, for that matter, members of Congress - are anxious to do what Intel wants simply because they recognize that this huge company and its friends in Silicon Valley have become one of the most important new sources of campaign contributions and political influence.
The trouble lies with what Intel wanted. Intel is a principal consumer of electronic chip-manufacturing machines utilizing a technology known as lithography. Thanks to many millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer investments in the Silicon Valley Group, its lithography machinery was among the best in the world. Moreover, it had pioneered breakthroughs in the field that promised to allow SVG to dominate the industry in the years ahead. Importantly, SVG was also the last manufacturer of lithography machines in the United States.
SVG's European rival, ASML, saw an opportunity to take out its competitor and proposed to purchase it and a subsidiary called Tinsley Laboratories that manufactures precision optics used in spy satellites and for other defense-related purposes. Although the Defense Department belatedly recognized that it would be contrary to U.S. national security interests to have no American supplier of such equipment, Intel - which views itself as a multinational, not a U. …