- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2001


No sooner had word leaked out that the administration would submit a defense budget that temporarily held the line on spending, than some conservative defense leaders and analysts were ready to declare that Bill Clinton's defense policies had received a third term.
Overnight, President Bush's national security team, led by Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, went from conservative darlings to being charged as co-conspirators in the Clinton administration's neglect of the military.
So what exactly did the administration say it was going to do? Temporarily hold the line on spending, undertake a review of the military's needs to meet the threats of today and tomorrow, and then proceed with a retooling. And it turns out that there will indeed be a much-deserved raise for the troops.
This in no way deviates from Mr. Bush's commitment to rebuilding the military, supporting the troops, identifying new strategic priorities or establishing a lighter and quicker fighting force. Nor does it change the administration's intention to deploy a layered, global missile defense at the earliest opportunity.
It was probably unrealistic to expect that eight years of benign (and in some cases intentional) neglect could be identified, prioritized and fixed in less than a month.
To be sure, fixing the Clinton military is a daunting task. Consider some of the problems Mr. Rumsfeld must immediately address: demoralized troops, severe shortages of parts, open-ended "peacekeeping" missions, radical social agendas, lack of adequate training, under-funded research and development, missile defenses years behind schedule, new and growing asymmetrical threats, resurrecting promising technologies mothballed during the 1990s, etc.
Given this situation, it is completely reasonable and proper for Mr. Bush to order a review of both the strategic environment and of the military's most pressing needs, lest we end up with more pork and less meat. Mr. Bush reiterated this strategy in Norfolk on Monday commenting that "our defense vision will drive our defense budget."
The objective of these reviews should be to guarantee that our troops are equipped with the most sophisticated training and tools to protect the nation's interests, deter our enemies and, if called on, win the next war.
We should not worry when our leaders strive to understand the scope of a problem before they devise a solution. As conservatives, we believe in reducing government waste. If, as was reported in the early 1990s, the Army was spending $200 for a hammer or $500 for a new toilet seat, there is cause for review. We should worry when they attempt to fix something before they know whether it is really broken, or even needed.
Mr. Bush has clearly demonstrated that he will keep his campaign promise to rebuild and retool the military and to move forward with a missile defense system that will protect the United States and its allies. Unlike former President Clinton, the new administration appears to be planning ahead and is willing to modernize our military and restore America's confidence to utilize our existing equipment and develop a defense system that will protect us against the new threats to our nation.
To the naysayers on the right, we believe Mr. Bush deserves the benefit of the doubt; after all he chose the two men, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, who would have been at the top of any conservative's "defense dream team" six months ago.
Let the nouveau peaceniks, who, like Bill Clinton, loathe the military, criticize the new commander in chief. They've had enough practice at demoralizing our troops and tearing down our military readiness.
Rather than jumping to conclusions about the reason for reviewing the military budget, conservatives should cheer that this president takes the matter so seriously; it is a refreshing and welcome change.

Tom Mead is the executive director of Americans for a Strong Defense.

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