- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2000

To hear Al Gore and Joe Lieberman tell it, it was the Clinton-Gore administration that turned around the plunging defense budget it had inherited from President George Bush and Defense Secretary Richard Cheney.

There is a grain of truth in this argument, but only a grain. In fact, inflation-adjusted defense spending did begin to decline in 1990. However, what began during Mr. Cheney's tenure at the Pentagon as, in his words, "a reduction of 25 percent in force structure" in response to the end of the Cold War soon evolved into an accelerated evisceration of the U.S. military during the Clinton-Gore regime. Only after the Republican Congress forced the administration to increase defense spending in 1999 and again in 2000 did the trend reverse.

The Clinton-Gore administration has treated the defense budget as a cash cow for financing domestic discretionary spending and imprudently sliced U.S. military forces well beyond the 25 percent goal. The number of divisions in the U.S. Army, for example, has declined from 18 to 10. Army Gen. John Keane recently explained the dilemma: "The fourfold increase in the number of deployments, coupled with a 300,000-soldier reduction, is causing officers to have to do more with less." Not surprisingly, Army captains are fleeing the service in crisis-level droves. Also, as Rowan Scarborough of The Washington Times reported yesterday, the number of senior Army officers, including colonels and lieutenant colonels, who have declined to assume commands has skyrocketed in the past five years.

The Army isn't the only service to have been decimated. The number of wings in the Air Force has fallen from a Cold War peak of 26 to 13. Gen. Michael Ryan, the Air Force chief of staff, recently told Congress the service's typical aircraft was on average 22 years old. Meanwhile, a 1999 General Accounting Office report revealed that 25 percent of the remaining fighters were not mission-capable.

The U.S. Navy hasn't fared any better. The number of ships in the Navy has decreased from 579 under President Reagan to 316 this year. One reason the USS Cole was compelled to refuel in the Yemeni harbor was because the Navy does not have enough tankers. As a result, the lives of American sailors were placed in jeopardy in a port city that is a known haven for Middle East terrorists. Aircraft carrier battle groups have plunged from 15 to 11, and 20 percent of carrier-deployed F-14s are being cannibalized for spare parts.

Altogether, defense spending as a percentage of GDP has dropped from 4.8 percent in 1992 to 3 percent in 2000, the lowest level since the year before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The 2001 Clinton-Gore budget projected defense spending to fall to 2.7 by 2005.

The deterioration has been so profound that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a report in September concluding that the defense budget now needs to increase by $50 billion per year in order for the Pentagon to meet its commitments. In particular, thanks to the Clinton-Gore administration's starving the weapons-procurement account, the CBO report estimated procurement should be $90 billion per year, not the $53 billion spent in 2000.

The Clinton-Gore administration has violated its obligation to maintain the nation's defense posture. It has lived off the military build-up of the Reagan years, leaving its successor administration far bigger problems than a responsible commander in chief would. Given Mr. Gore's record, evidenced by the fact that he has been a big part of a very big problem, who can possibly believe he is the man to solve it?

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