Lawmaker Accuses Weapons Firm of ‘deceptive Campaign’ for F-15s

A pro-Israel lawmaker this week attacked the McDonnell Douglas Corp. for waging a “deceptive campaign” to win congressional support for the sale of 72 F-15 advanced fighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia.

The nation’s largest defense contractor has mounted an intensive lobbying effort, based on the claim that thwarting the sale would throw tens of thousands in the aerospace industry out of work.

At a news conference Wednesday, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) called the effort ” the most sophisticated, far-reaching campaign” to promote an arms sale he has ever witnessed as a U.S. representative. But he said its central message, that the F-15s would be a virtual jobs program for American workers, is “outrageous” and that the McDonnell Douglas job figures are inaccurate.

“The truth,” said Berman, surrounded by representatives of arms control groups, is that “worldwide demilitarization and conversion to a peacetime economy would create far more jobs than (having) the United States continue as the premier arms pusher to the developing world.”

“We’re talking about a sale that would help destabilize a region where we’ve just had a war,” said the lawmaker, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on international operations. The jobs argument is “a substitute for a meaningful administration policy” on economic conversion, he said.

Inside sources detect few signals that the Bush administration is planning to move forward with the aircraft sale anytime soon, but not because it poses a conflict with its arms policy.

In fact, the administration claims sales of such sophisticated conventional weapons to allies in the region are necessary to help defend themselves against “legitimate security threats.”

$1,88 BILLION SALE GOING THROUGH

Only last month, the administration notified Congress of a $1.88 billion sale in military support supplies to Saudi Arabia. The sale is proceeding in the absence of formal congressional disapproval.

But members of Congress strongly oppose the F-15 sale, arguing that it would only fuel the arms race in the volatile Middle East region.

“The sale of additional F-15 aircraft to Saudi Arabia is incompatible with any meaningful arms control policy,” members of the House of Representatives wrote President Bush in April.

“How will we deal with efforts by Russia and China to arm Iran when we’re doing the same thing in the rest of the region?” Berman asked Wednesday.

An F-15 sale would also trigger a confrontation between the administration and Jewish voters concerned about risks to Israel’s security, in an election season in which the Jewish vote has become increasingly important.

But Berman this week seemed less focused on the likelihood of a sale than on seizing the McDonnell Douglas campaign as an opportunity to puncture the argument that military programs are jobs generators and to showcase the need for a comprehensive economic conversion policy.

Joining Berman was Greg Bischak, director of the National Commission for Economic Conversion and Disarmament, who disputed McDonnell Douglas’ claims of the jobs at stake in the F-15 sale.

The company has argued that 40,000 aerospace jobs could be saved if the sale goes forward, with an additional 46,000 jobs saved as an indirect byproduct of the sale.

Bischak said the estimate is undercut by McDonnell Douglas’ own admission that only 7,000 people work on the F-15 directly for the company at its St. Louis and Tulsa plants.

Using the company’s own methodology, he said, “indirect effects total 8,120 jobs, for a total of 15,120 jobs. So what happened to the other 70,880″ they have claimed?

Bob O’Brien, director of the company’s public relations, defended the numbers and the premise of the jobs argument.

“It’s not a scare story; it’s a simple fact We’ve already started laying people off and will begin to do so at an accelerated pace” if the sale does not go forward, he said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

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