DEFENSE: Carter's Big Decision: Down Goes the B-1, Here Comes the Cruise

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According to aides, Carter decided after his election to set aside his campaign promise to kill the B-1 and consider the subject with a fresh eye and open mind. To give himself more time, he decided in January to go along with the date originally set by the Ford Administration for the final decision—June 30. As an interim step, he asked Congress to approve funds for five of the planes, three fewer than had been requested by Gerald Ford. Then, for the next several months, Carter immersed himself in technical details about the Bl. He consulted frequently with National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and Budget Director Bert Lance. But his closest collaborator was Defense Secretary Harold Brown, who talked with Carter dozens of times by phone and in person.

Final Countdown. Carter also met occasionally with outside advisers and members of Congress, listening to their arguments and sometimes offering tentative analyses of his own. He appears to have given no hints about which way he was leaning, though some visitors left with the impression that he was about to approve construction of a limited number of B-1s. Apparently those who were for the B-1 heard what they wanted to hear, while those who opposed it distrusted Carter and assumed the worst.

Carter began the final countdown on June 1, when he received an inch-thick pile of Defense Department memos and reports, bound together in a red folder and indexed with twelve gray tabs. The material made no recommendations but laid out—with the help of graphs, charts and maps—"three options:

1) Build between 150 and 244 B-1s.

2) Refit the newest models of the B-52—about 15 years old—to carry cruise missiles.

3) Modify wide-bodied C-5A Galaxies or Boeing 747s to carry cruises.

The National Security Council sent him a set of options with a slightly different slant. Carter had also accumulated a stack of newspaper and magazine clippings and memos on the B-1 from members of Congress, the Air Force and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Everything he read raised further questions, which he explored with Brown at four long meetings and several short sessions in the White House.

The President spent the final weekend at Camp David, reviewing his B-1 papers, including a check list of 49 pro and con arguments that he had written down on a yellow legal pad. He found especially meaningful a Brookings Institution study that concluded in February 1976 that the B-1 should be scrapped and B-52s should be armed with cruise missiles. When he returned to the White House on Monday morning, his "inclination" had become firm enough for Powell to predict privately that Carter would cancel the B1. Brzezinski and Lance were behind him. By late Tuesday, Carter told aides that he had made up his mind but would not reveal his decision until he had reviewed the case one more time the next morning with his Defense Secretary.

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