Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus may be cast in the role of the political fall guy as the search for answers in the Washington Navy Yard shootings continues.
National news organizations already were examining that angle on the story less than 24 hours after the tragedy. One line of inquiry has been whether or not the Navy implemented an unproven security system as a means to cut costs while another focuses on allegations that felons may have been able to gain restricted access to Navy facilities on a consistent basis.
The bottom line is that someone in a position of authority in the Navy will have to account for not only the actions of alleged shooter Aaron Alexis, but for his access to the supposedly secure military facility.
The death toll in the Sept. 16 shooting is now up to 13. Witnesses described a gunman opening fire from the fourth floor, aiming down at people in a first-floor cafeteria.
But the knee-jerk conclusion that Mabus is somehow culpable is suspect at best. But as in the aftermath of most events of this nature, the country is quick to seek someone to blame and that target is now aimed at the Obama Administration.
Was Alexis a mentally unbalanced disgruntled employee? How did he pass a background check that gave him a security clearance? Did Alexis get his clearance before Mabus became the Navy’s leader?
Clearly, members of Congress will be asking those questions – for the simple truth is that getting to Mabus on the Navy Yard shooting is a way for Republicans in the Congress to get at President Barack Obama. Obama has been bullish on Ray Mabus – and why not?
Mabus is the former Mississippi governor and Clinton administration ambassador to Saudi Arabia. After a fiery career as a crusading state auditor, Mabus served as Mississippi’s governor from 1988 to 1992. He served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1994 to 1996.
Despite the Clinton connection, Mabus was an early supporter of Obama.
After Mabus endorsed Obama in the spring of 2007, he said the Obama campaign sent him over the next year to speak in 24 states at more than 300 events in places in rural America “where a presidential campaign has literally never visited.”
After earning his undergraduate degree from Ole Miss, Mabus earned a graduate degree from Johns Hopkins and a law degree from Harvard. He served a two-year hitch in the Navy as a surface warfare officer aboard the cruiser USS Little Rock – honorably discharging as a lieutenant.
With support from both of Mississippi’s Republican U.S. senators, Obama named Mabus as Navy secretary in March 2009. Obama later tapped the Harvard-educated Mabus to oversee the restoration plan for the Gulf Coast after the British Petroleum (BP) Macondo oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
What Mississippians will recall from the term Mabus served as their governor was that despite some unpopular initiatives, Mabus was meticulous personally and politically. He did his homework and he usually had his political bases well covered.
The notion that the Navy Yard shooting was the result of benign neglect by the former Mississippi governor is one that’s frankly hard to swallow. But did the sequester – a government budget cutting debacle that was caused by the politics of stalemate in both the Democratic and Republicans parties – play a role in possible security lapses? Maybe.
At any rate, the next few weeks may prove a tough road for the former Mississippi chief executive from Ackerman.
SID SALTER is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.