- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Al Franken has written a new fairy tale about the Clinton administration’s record on defense. His new book supposedly outlines whoppers told by conservatives. But it only serves to highlight what a big idiot Franken himself is. He starts with the nutty idea that because the United States won the war in Afghanistan in late 2001 and early 2002 with a defense establishment inherited from the Clinton administration, it was “Clinton’s military” and thus the democrats should get credit for toppling the Taliban. Neither reason nor logic are high on the list of characteristics one would associate with Franken, and this bit of nonsense doesn’t do anything to change that reputation. The military inherited by the Bush administration was not just the Clinton administration’s legacy. A Republican Congress added some $75 billion in additional resources to the Clinton defense budgets between 1995-2000, funds that prevented the development of serious readiness problems within the U.S. military, especially given the deployment of U.S. forces overseas during the 1993-2000 period — a total of 44 times.

In addition, there is a lag time during which the full impact of Clinton-era defense decisions would actually affect the deployed U.S. military. At a Center for Strategic and International Studies conference I spoke at in 2001, the center’s president — former Clinton era-defense official admitted that the procurement portion of the final Clinton five-year defense plan was under-funded by at least 40 percent, and if allowed to continue at the proposed funding level, would have resulted in a military unable to effectively deploy even in those areas where it is now engaged. Underfunded programs included the F-22, the C-17, missile defense, tankers, space assets, Navy shipbuilding and the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

During the Clinton administration, massive numbers of ships, planes, tanks and people were eliminated from the armed services, far in excess of the proposed cuts promised by candidate Clinton during the 1992 campaign. In “Putting People First,” the then- serving governor of Arkansas proposed reducing the final defense budget of the Bush administration by some $60 billion over 5 years. At the time, with the end of the Cold War and the triumph of the West over the Soviet Union, such a reduction was not viewed with much alarm — even within the defense department. However, it was widely assumed that the Clinton folks, if elected, might very well end up trashing the defense establishment to a far greater extent than the cuts promised in the 1992 campaign.

And indeed, in 1993-9, the Clinton administration cuts hundreds of billions of dollars from the previous administration’s last proposed budget, including the addition of tens of billions in additional non-defense expenditures that further reduced funding available for necessary military projects. Some years later, Sen. Sam Nunn, the retiring ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, estimated that overall defense budget cuts from 1986 through 1996 totaled some $1 trillion, when compared to the funds required to maintain a steady-state military force. During the Clinton administration, the U.S. went on what many experts call a procurement holiday. The Joint Chiefs had frequently stated the need for an annual procurement budget of at least $60 billion, a requirement echoed by former Secretary of Defense William Cohen. Former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown said DOD needed $50 billion in additional spending a year. However, in order to placate its anti-defense Hill allies, the Clinton administration proposed defense budgets that misrepresented procurements in the out-years. The actual funding being proposed would either be reduced in real terms or barely keep pace with inflation.

Mr. Franken obviously knows none of this, and despite the use of over a dozen Harvard University research assistants, can’t even get the simple things right. In his book he asserts that the first proposed Bush budget didn’t even take affect until October 1, 2002, when in fact the Bush administration proposed an immediate supplemental for fiscal 2001, the year starting October 1, 2000, at the end of the Clinton administration, in order to begin the process of providing necessary and additional funds for the Defense Department.

Mr. Franken also asserts, wrongly, that the Bush administration in 2001 opposed transferring funds from missile defense to other forms of Homeland Security and as a result shortchanged our security here at home, with the result that the attacks of September 11 were not prevented. While it true the administration sought an increase in missile defense funding, those funds were not to be spent until October 1, 2001, weeks after the attacks of September 11. The Senate later proposed fencing of some $1 billion in missile defense spending that was set aside for either missile defense programs or other defense projects depending upon the discretion of the president. Needless to say, the missile defense funding in 2001 allowed the United States to deploy the Patriot systems of missile defense during Operation Enduring Freedom, savings the lives of scores of Coalition soldiers and Iraqi civilians, as well as the Arrow missile defense in Israel that protected that country and deterred Iraqi attacks.

Peter Huessy is president of GeoStrategic Analysis and senior defense associate at the National Defense University Foundation. These views are his own.

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