I’d originally sought a conversation with U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss to discuss the problems of the F-22, outlined a day earlier on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
But by the time we talked on Thursday, the defeat of U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar in Indiana was an unavoidable topic. Chambliss said he was, of course, “bothered” by the defeat of any Republican incumbent, and declared his friend to be “a gentleman and just a great statesman.”
“But when you look back, Dick had been here for 36 years, he did not own a house in Indiana, had issues relative to not going home often enough,” Chambliss said.
Lugar was also damned by FreedomWorks and the tea party movement for his bipartisanship – he had served as U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s mentor on foreign policy.
So there’s the natural question of whether Luger should serve as a warning for Chambliss, who has spent the last 18 months pushing for a bipartisan solution to the federal debt crisis.
Georgia’s senior senator said he anticipates primary opposition when he runs for re-election in 2014, but won’t take it as a penalty for speaking politely with Democrats. Rather, he’ll consider it feature of Georgia’s status as a one-party state.
“Just look at what’s going on in our congressional delegation right now. Every one of them, except Tom Graves, has one or multiple primary opponents,” Chambliss said. “We can all remember that Democrats had primary opposition on a regular basis, even incumbents. I think it’s only natural to think that that’s going to happen.”
But Chambliss is not worried. “I never sold my house,” he said.
Now, as to the F-22: On Sunday, “60 Minutes” featured two Air Force officers, in uniform, describing problems with the stealth fighter’s oxygen system that had caused them to refuse to fly the plane.
The interview was conducted in the presence of a member of Congress, to assure the pair of their protected status.
“I actually caught part of it live. I didn’t know it was coming on. It’s not a new issue – it’s been with us for a good while. Needless to say, it’s a serious issue, and being taken seriously by the Air Force,” Chambliss said.
“It’s not often that you active duty personnel exercise whistle-blower rights. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before,” Chambliss said. The senator said he anticipated no specific hearings on the plane’s problems.
The F-22 has been criticized as an expensive, Cold War beast that was ill-suited to the asymmetrical warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan – where it was not used. However, a U.S. flock of F-22s was recently sent to the United Arab Emirates – as a not-so-subtle message to Iran.
“I was coming back from Afghanistan last week – we ended up staying an extra day in Dubai, and had a chance to visit personnel there. We have just moved some F-22s to Dubai,” said the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Iran is equipped with a Russian-made missile defense system designed to go the Patriot system one better. “When you go into air space where you’ve got SA-20s, nothing we have in the inventory other than the F-22 can fly in there and take out those types of missiles without being shot down. So it’s still the Air Force’s main weapons system,” Chambliss said.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider