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A Warm Farewell for a Cold Warrior

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher makes her way to the Fort Myer Memorial Chapel at the cemetery.
Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher makes her way to the Fort Myer Memorial Chapel at the cemetery. (Photos By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

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By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, April 5, 2006

They laid Caspar Weinberger to rest yesterday beneath an old oak tree on an Arlington National Cemetery hilltop with a view of the Pentagon he once led.

Their faces emerged as if from the history books, or from yellowed newspaper photos: Margaret Thatcher, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Ed Meese, Frank Carlucci, John Poindexter, Jack Kemp, James Schlesinger and other Cold Warriors of the late 20th century.

And though they were mourning Weinberger, the Reagan defense chief who died last week at age 88, they were also celebrating what they see as his -- and their -- signal triumph: the end of the Soviet Union. Judging from the wizened faces, white hair and walking canes, there will not be many more such reunions.

"His goal was an era of hope and peace, one in which the people of Eastern Europe lived free, one in which the Berlin Wall no longer divided families but instead existed only in memory, or its shards sold as souvenirs," eulogized Donald Rumsfeld, who both preceded and followed Weinberger as defense secretary. "Today we live in that world, a world made safer and freer by Cold Warriors like Cap Weinberger." The usually cool Rumsfeld choked up as he added: "May God bless the country he so loved and served so well."

Colin Powell, who as President Bush's secretary of state didn't agree with Rumsfeld often, concurred on the meaning of Weinberger. Ronald Reagan, Powell said in his eulogy, "needed a champion to rebuild the armed forces of the United States to show the Soviets and the world how strength can lead to peace, and that champion was Cap Weinberger."

Both men were, in a sense, remembering a simpler time, before the binary logic of mutually assured destruction gave way to the messy nuances of asymmetrical warfare. When Weinberger ruled the Pentagon, there was an easily defined enemy, and the free world held the United States in high esteem.

In their dueling eulogies (they cited some of the same anecdotes), Rumsfeld and Powell each saw in Weinberger a proponent of his own world view. Powell, recalling Weinberger's nickname "Cap the Knife" for his budget cutting, said he was also "Cap the Compassionate" in the Nixon administration, championing Head Start and health insurance. "Above all, he loved what [America] stood for and he loved what we represented to the rest of the world," Powell said. It had the sound of an implicit rebuke of Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney, who was seated in the front row.

Rumsfeld preferred to remember the unyielding Weinberger. "For many years, a quote from Winston Churchill hung in Cap Weinberger's office," he said. "It said: Never give in -- never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in." Rumsfeld left out the rest of Churchill's famous phrase: "except to convictions of honor and good sense."

The other eulogist, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R), representing Weinberger's adopted home state of Maine, also invoked the Cold War. In Maine, she said of California-native Weinberger, "you never get top billing unless you were actually born there, and even if you were pivotal in the downfall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War."

With Rumsfeld participating, the Pentagon took over many of the arrangements for the funeral or, in military parlance, "Internment Service for FSECDEF Caspar Weinberger." Family members did not speak at the ceremony. And the military's tight control over attendance left the Arlington chapel, which holds 300, about a third empty.

Lady Thatcher, who did not speak because of illness, heard Powell describe her as Weinberger's Churchill. Powell, who was a military aide to Weinberger, recalled his boss's persnickety side ("He hated split infinitives . . . he even insisted we send back thank-you letters for thank-you letters"), his calm ("He loved to take naps, usually in the middle of meetings") and even his tolerance of a driver who picked him up drunk on Thanksgiving and wished him a "Happy Easter." The two words that sullied Weinberger's career -- "Iran-contra" -- got only an oblique mention by Powell, who spoke of "the one moment of his despair."

The military declined to share its guest list with reporters, but the list of pallbearers included some of the top officials from Reagan's presidency: Joint Chiefs chairman John Vessey, national security adviser William Clark, energy secretary John Herrington, deputy defense secretary Will Taft. Spotted in the crowd were Reagan's Navy secretary, John Lehman, publisher Steve Forbes and Reagan Pentagon officials Richard Perle and Fred Ikle.

There were relatively few with more recent government service: Powell deputy Richard Armitage, Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace and three senators. This was, after all, not a time to think about today's problems -- none of the three eulogists even mentioned the word "terror" -- but to celebrate yesterday's victory.

"Today, some think back on the Cold War as if victory in that war was inevitable; that was not the case," Rumsfeld said. It was Weinberger, he said, who "helped restore pride in our country's uniform and helped win the Cold War."


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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