- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2000

Gen. Henry H. Shelton, the broad-shouldered, jut-jawed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stands well over six feet tall and cuts an imposing figure. Having spent the last three years carrying so much political water for the commander in chief who once told an ROTC recruiting officer how much he "loathed the military," Gen. Shelton has needed the impressive girth his military training has provided.

Without the benefit of an official announcement, it now appears that Gen. Shelton's water-carrying duties have been expanded to include performing those chores for Vice President Al Gore. It's worth noting that, as a Harvard-educated political scion, Mr. Gore once wrote a letter to his anti-war daddy citing the U.S. Army as "the best example" of an American institution exhibiting "an inveterate antipathy for communism or paranoia … a national madness." This, the young Mr. Gore wrote, resulted "in its creating [or] energetically supporting fascist, totalitarian regimes in the name of fighting totalitarianism."

Last week, Gen. Shelton interjected himself into a political battle that has claimed the soldiers he is supposed to lead as its principal victims. In his acceptance speech in Philadelphia last week, Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush (drawing upon an undisputed report last November in which two active Army divisions classified themselves as unprepared to carry out their wartime missions) asserted, "Our military is low on parts, pay and morale. If called to duty by the commander in chief, two entire divisions of the Army would have to report, 'Not ready for duty, sir.' "

Within hours, the Army issued a statement declaring "all 10 of its divisions are combat ready and able to answer the nation's call." More than 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles, Gen. Shelton acknowledged that spending and resources had been cut 40 percent while worldwide commitments mostly peacekeeping operations during the past decade have increased 300 percent. Nevertheless, he insisted the Army "jumped right on top of [the readiness crisis]" and brought the divisions back into combat shape. Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon, who has spent his time illegally leaking the confidential personnel file of Linda Tripp rather than updating the nation on the status of the readiness crisis, also made himself available to the media to rebut Mr. Bush's charges.

Sen. John McCain, a member of the Armed Services Committee who knows something about the state of the military's readiness and who has butted heads with Gen. Shelton over this very issue, offered an insight different from the Army's politically convenient declarations. "In all due respect to General Shelton," who has been the most politicized Joint Chiefs chairman in decades, "I talked to captains, I talked to first lieutenants, I talked to chief petty officers," Mr. McCain told NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday. "They say they're overextended. They say that they're having difficulty keeping qualified men and women in the military. And recently we saw a study where the captains in the Army are leaving in the largest numbers."

The Army claims it has solved its readiness problems by deploying National Guard units for Balkan peacekeeping duties and returning the Army divisions to their normal duties. In fact, the Army plans to radically change how U.S. military forces are deemed to be ready for combat. Indeed, in a front-page story on the very day Gen. Shelton interjected himself into the political dispute over national defense, the New York Times reported that the Army plans to drastically increase its reliance on the National Guard to fulfill its most important mission maintaining the capability of fighting two major regional conflicts simultaneously. The Pentagon expects to assign four of the National Guard's eight divisions to participate in the Persian Gulf and Korea, the two "major theater wars" that are at the heart of U.S. military doctrine. Inside the Pentagon, the Times reported, "There remains lingering doubt about the ability of the Guard divisions to be ready for combat, especially in a major regional war" to say nothing of two major regional wars being fought simultaneously.

Beyond the horrors that such cockamamie strategies portend, there is the more immediate concern about Gen. Shelton's general disingenuousness over the defense budget. He continues to pretend that the six-year, $112 billion in supposed defense spending increases approved by the commander in chief somehow translates into an immediate increase in the defense budget. In fact, according to page 109 in the Historical Tables for the 2001 budget, the inflation-adjusted spending for national defense will remain below the level in fiscal 2000 for the next three fiscal years. Measured as a percentage of total economic output, national defense spending will be a meager 2.8 percent in 2003, the lowest level since 1940 (see page 103 in the Historical Tables). That was the year before Pearl Harbor.

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