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View Point

By Neil Abercrombie

Saturday, September 16, 2000

It’s a bad idea to
politicize U.S. defense

IN the rush to find an issue with which to attack the Clinton-Gore administration, Republican candidates George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have assailed President Clinton for "running down" the U.S. military and allowing it to become a "hollow force." The Bush campaign has now mobilized a group of retired senior military officers to support that attack. Ironically, many of those same officers were elevated to high command positions by the Clinton administration and implemented the very policies they now decry.

This strategy, designed to win votes, completely distorts reality. While there are always problems that need to be addressed, the U.S. military is the preeminent force in the world today in any foreseeable circumstance. No other country even comes close to matching the United States in any category of military strength.

That gap was highlighted by recent news that Russia will downsize its military forces by one-third. A rough parity in nuclear warheads exists between Russia and the U.S., but many of Russia's are unusable. China's few land-based strategic missiles are of obsolete design.

The U.S. enjoys an overwhelming numerical advantage over Russia and China combined in surface combat ships. Russia's submarine fleet -- ballistic missile boats as well as attack subs like the Kursk -- is in pathetic condition and barely deployable. No other navy has even a single carrier battle group to match the eight battle groups centered on our Nimitz-class supercarriers.

The U.S. Army is better trained, better equipped, and more proficient than any other army of comparable size. Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki's long-range plan for a more agile force will ensure the Army's readiness and ability to carry out its 21st century missions.

Our Air Force enjoys an overwhelming quantitative advantage over any conceivable combination of adversaries in every type of aircraft and ordnance. Its reach is global and its qualitative edge, thanks to American technology, increases the margin of superiority by a full order of magnitude.

The U.S. Marine Corps provides our country with an incomparable amphibious capability that no other nation can rival, let alone match.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union, the major military threat to U.S. security greatly diminished. At that time, there was widespread consensus that the end of the Cold War would result in a peace dividend. Both Republicans and Democrats agreed that decreasing defense spending was appropriate given the huge deficits run up by the Reagan and Bush administrations. The mountain of debt owed by the federal government was hampering efforts to revive the economy.

THAT is why then-President Bush and Secretary of Defense Cheney cut defense spending, beginning in the late 1980s. In fact, defense spending decreased 14.9 percent during the four Bush administration budgets from 1989 to 1993. So it is a bit surreal to hear candidates Bush and Cheney attacking the Clinton administration on the issue, especially since, as secretary of defense, Cheney orchestrated those cuts.

The U.S. military is addressing challenges in recruitment and retention, readiness and aging equipment. Funding in every one of these areas has been increased. There is ample room for differences of opinion in any discussion of defense policy. However, wild, partisan accusations of the "hollow force" variety do a disservice to the nation and to the men and women in uniform who make up the finest military in the world.

While real deficiencies must and are being identified and corrected, imagined ones can only serve to decrease morale, degrade readiness, and encourage those who wish us ill to make false assumptions about our capabilities.

Hawaii Congressman Neil Abercrombie is a senior member
of the House Armed Services Committee.

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