Cheney: A Popular Choice

DICK Cheney looks like someone who would make a good neighbor. By radiating mildness while remaining his own man, the congressman from Wyoming has earned the respect of many people in Washington, making him almost certain to win Senate confirmation as defense secretary. But Mr. Cheney also admits that he has only general knowledge about the issues the military faces. Thus, his real challenge will begin the day he walks into his palatial new Pentagon office and confronts an institution with a $300 billion budget and no shortage of officers who think they know the best way to spend it.

Giving up a safe House seat to preside over painful budget cuts and probable reform of the defense acquisition process is not an easy choice. ``I did agonize,'' Cheney says.

In these times of tight budgets, negotiating with Congress will be one of the top priorities. Among the issues likely to arise are what type of new land-based mobile nuclear missile to buy and whether work on antisatellite weapons will continue.

Such work would likely be one of Cheney's strengths. As a member of the Republican House leadership and Intelligence Committee he has had to think about broad national security questions. While a member of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, he has generally avoided the harsh partisanship that makes Democratic enemies.

The nominee for the No. 2 Pentagon post, former General Motors vice-chairman Donald Atwood Jr., has worked extensively on weapons programs, particularly electronics. Thus, the Bush Pentagon team may have a politically oriented secretary who sets broad policy and a technical deputy secretary who handles program details.

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