- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 23, 2000

MILWAUKEE The state of America's armed forces took center stage in the presidential campaign yesterday as Vice President Al Gore denounced George W. Bush's assertion that the next president "will inherit a military in decline."
"That's not only wrong in fact, it's the wrong message to send our allies and adversaries across the world," Mr. Gore told 15,000 delegates of the Veterans of Foreign Wars the same group addressed the day before by the Texas governor.
Mr. Bush told the 1.9-million-member veterans group Monday that President Clinton and his vice president have presided over a two-term slide in Pentagon morale and resources.
"America's soldiers must have confidence that if asked to serve and sacrifice, the cause will be worthy and our support for them total… . As president, I will rebuild the military power of the United States," he said.
Mr. Gore yesterday defended the Clinton-Gore administration's military record.
"I love this country, and I will make sure our military continues to be the best-trained, best-equipped, best-led fighting force in the world," he said.
As Mr. Gore delivered his speech, senior defense officials said the Clinton administration is preparing to seek increases in U.S. military spending totaling $16 billion or more over six years beginning in fiscal 2002. The officials said the preliminary numbers show the budget increase as high as $26 billion.
Echoing the words the day before from Mr. Bush, Mr. Gore said: "We have to make sure our military personnel have the 21st-century training they require to remain the finest in the world. I will insist that we follow this simple rule: We must never send our service men and women to do what they are not equipped to do. And we must always equip them to do what we ask them to do."
And Mr. Gore promised, without specifics, to deploy new weapons systems.
"Today, we are on the threshold of manufacturing and deploying the next generation of military weapons weapons that are critical to meeting new needs on new fields of battle. The next president must ensure that the new generation of weapons moves from the drawing board into the arsenals of our democracy," he said.
In April, Mr. Gore accused Mr. Bush of "pursuing a global 'Star Wars' missile defense system that could provoke a new arms race with Russia and cost the American taxpayer untold billions." Mr. Bush supports deployment of a missile-defense shield to protect America from attack by rogue countries.
Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett said Mr. Gore's "very reactionary and defensive speech" indicates that "Governor Bush was accurate in his assessment that the Clinton-Gore administration has left our military underprepared and overdeployed."
"Al Gore says he's committed to helping veterans, but this administration has continually offered budgets that made huge cuts in veterans programs," he said.
In another tack on the same subject, Mr. Gore made a move yesterday to showcase the different military backgrounds of the two candidates. The vice president served in Vietnam for four months as an Army journalist, while Mr. Bush served as a jet pilot in the Texas Air National Guard.
Mr. Gore's campaign began to air a biographical ad titled "1969" that emphasizes the vice president's military service. The ad, showing in 18 battleground states, features photos of Mr. Gore in his Army uniform.
A narrator says: "1969, America in turmoil. Al Gore graduates college. His father, a U.S. senator, opposes the Vietnam War. Al Gore has his doubts, but enlists in the Army."
The ad details Mr. Gore's stint as a reporter at the Nashville Tennessean, his 30-year marriage to his wife, Tipper, and highlights of his service in Congress and as vice president.
The ad says that Mr. Gore "broke with his own party" to support the Persian Gulf war and he "fought to reform welfare with work requirements and time limits."
Mr. Gore did not try to overhype his military service in his speech to the VFW.
"I don't pretend that my own military experience matches in any way what others here have been through," Mr. Gore said.
"When I enlisted, I became an Army reporter in Vietnam. I didn't do the most, or run the gravest danger. But I was proud to wear my country's uniform." He used the same line in his nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles earlier this month.
Mr. Gore also noted that he had served on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said he would fight for better military housing and another raise in military pay. The VFW gave Mr. Gore a standing ovation, as it had for Mr. Bush.
The Gore campaign hopes the vice president's military service, though limited, will matter to the VFW's members, many of whom remain angry with Mr. Clinton for avoiding service in Vietnam.
A bumper sticker on sale at the VFW convention says: "My friend took Bill Clinton's place in Vietnam. His name is on The Wall."
"You're comparing a guy who went to one who dodged. It's extremely important," said a retired Air Force sergeant from Texas who declined to give his name.
During his speech before the VFW group, Mr. Bush laid out a plan heavy on numbers and specifics. He said he would:
Order the "orderly and timely" withdrawal of troops from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, saying the administration has committed the nation to military confrontations that lack a direct national interest.
Increase military pay raises by $1 billion or about $750 per active-duty service member over the $75.8 billion increase Mr. Clinton signed into law this month.
Review overseas deployments and seek political solutions that allow an orderly and timely withdrawal from hot spots like Kosovo and Bosnia.
"Overall commitments around the world have tripled while our forces have been reduced by nearly 40 percent," Mr. Bush said. Since Mr. Clinton took office in 1992, "full readiness" among Air Force combat units has declined from 85 percent to 65 percent, he said.

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