Former USS Cole CO Promotion Controversy
The Sacramento Bee has an in-depth article on the former CO of USS Cole, CDR Kirk Lippold, and the Senate's failure to approve his promotion to O-6 following the terrorist bombing of his ship in Yemen in October 2000. The article says that, despite the attack on him command, CDR Lippold was still approved for promotion in 2002, but when the list reached the Senate (after being approved by the Executive branch, including President Bush), his name was removed from the list approved by the Senate. (Here's an example of the approval process timeline.) The article says that Senator Warner of Virginia has been identified as the Senator who put the hold on the nomination.
That's all well and good -- the Senate has the responsibility to give their advice and consent on all officer promotions, and while I don't like the concept of Senators being able to put a private hold on nominations (I'd prefer they have to do it publicly) it's something that's always been done. Here's my problem with the article; check out this sentence:
"But now some are questioning whether the White House and Congress, in denying Lippold's Pentagon-approved promotion to the rank of captain, have nailed the right man."
The article goes on to say how other higher-ups have been promoted since the attack on the Cole. So how is the White House denying Lippold's promotion? President Bush signed off on it, or it wouldn't have been sent to the Senate. Is the writer suggesting that President Bush find some way to bypass the requirement to have the Senate approve officer promotions? I know that journalists like to blame the Administration for every bad thing that happens in the world, but this goes a little overboard. The article does try to put the blame on President Bush thusly:
"For 5 1/2 years, the Washington military and political establishment has not known quite what to do with Kirk Lippold.
"Early on, things looked bleak. For starters, he was confronting a Navy tradition of punishing any ship commander who hazards his vessel.
"Promotion is based upon a successful command tour," retired Adm. Harold Gehman, who investigated the role of Lippold's chain of command in the Cole attack, said in an interview. "They don't need any other reason than that not to promote you."
"Beyond that, an internal Navy report raised questions about Lippold's adherence to security procedures and the ship's training regimen.
"But Lippold's chain of command, up to the Joint Chiefs chairman and the secretary of defense, overruled the Navy report, finding that he could not have prevented the suicide bombing.
"The Pentagon shipped Lippold's recommendation for promotion to the White House in 2002. The president added his concurrence and sent it to the Senate for ratification. Publicly, no one wants to talk about what happened next.
"Sen. Warner, the Armed Services Committee chairman, has a special interest in the Cole attack: He was secretary of the Navy from 1972 to 1974, and the ship's home port at Norfolk Naval Station is in Virginia, the state he represents.
"Warner, though, denies that he blocked Lippold's promotion. "They can go ahead and bring that nomination up, and I've indicated to them I will fairly treat it," Warner said in an interview at the Capitol.
"But sources say Warner excised Lippold's name from the list of Navy promotions that the committee approved for Senate confirmation. All told, Warner has discussed Lippold's status during at least four personal meetings with senior Pentagon officials, according to the military sources, who refused to be identified out of fear of retribution from Warner or his aides.
"He threatened to open full hearings on the Cole attack and even summon relatives of the 17 dead sailors.
"Two years later, the Pentagon tried to resurrect Lippold's promotion. The Joint Chiefs of Staff met and reaffirmed the recommendation, in a remarkable person-by-person vote. The No. 2 man at the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz, made a personal pitch to Bush to intervene on Lippold's behalf. No action was taken. The Pentagon is unlikely to try again."
So, I suppose one could accuse President Bush of not picking a fight he probably wouldn't win with a friendly Senator on behalf of a controversial CDR. I'm sure that had he done that, we'd have seen articles about how Bush was trying to make the Senate irrelevant.