- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2000

"Our military faces readiness problems, including falling recruitment, retention in critical skill areas [and] aging equipment that costs more to keep operating at acceptable levels of reliability." So said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the man Vice President Al Gore has selected as his running mate, last year.

In a policy speech before the Southern Center for International Relations in Atlanta Wednesday, Republican vice presidential nominee Richard B. Cheney fleshed out Mr. Lieberman's observation. Over the past decade, Mr. Cheney noted, commitments of U.S. military personnel have increased by 300 percent while the armed forces have been slashed by 40 percent. Compared to 85 percent of Air Force combat units deemed to be fully ready for their mission in January 1993, the month the Clinton-Gore administration entered office, only 65 percent meet that standard today a development that doesn't even take into account the fact that Air Force fighter wings have been chopped from 16 in 1993 to 13 today. Forty percent of the Army's helicopter fleet cannot perform its mission, despite the fact that active Army divisions have been reduced from 14 in 1993 to 10 today.

After the air campaign involving Kosovo last year, the Procurement Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee discovered that the Navy's inventory of cruise missiles had fallen to nearly half the number needed to fight two major theater wars, preparation for which the Pentagon has declared to be its primary goal. Even worse, the Air Force's cruise missile supply had fallen to 10 percent of the level military doctrine had required.

The military's readiness crisis is even worse than Messrs. Lieberman and Cheney have charged. As Rowan Scarborough of The Washington Times extensively reported Monday and Tuesday, internal military documents paint an even bleaker picture, notwithstanding unsupported public declaration from the nation's politicized military leadership to the contrary. Twelve of the Army's 20 training centers have been rated C-4 the lowest possible readiness level, which the Pentagon defines as follows: "The school/ installation/command requires additional resources to undertake the mission(s) for which it was designed. It may undertake portions of its mission(s) consistent with resources available. Training deficiencies will have a significant impact on Army readiness." Six of the remaining eight Army training centers were rated C-3, a level that was expected to begin to have "an impact on military readiness."

None of this should be surprising, given that one of the first decisions of the Clinton-Gore administration in 1993 was to double the five-year Pentagon cuts that were already projected following the end of the Cold War. The Clinton-Gore administration then compounded the impact of its military budget-cutting zeal by dramatically increasing worldwide force deployments.

Mr. Gore's predictable response has been to charge Messrs. Cheney and Bush with denigrating the U.S. military, thereby sending the wrong message to American allies and potential adversaries. Even Mr. Lieberman, despite his honest criticism of military readiness only last year, has adopted this deplorable head-in-the-sand tactic. Mr. Gore's eight-year record and Mr. Lieberman's irresponsible flip-flop raise questions about whether they are capable of leading a military whose problems they now blithely ignore.

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