April 25, 1996 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

ED042596e: Clinton's War on the Armed Forces

President Clinton has said, "the era of big government is over." But so far, it looks like it's over for only one area of government -- national defense.

The administration is looking for a 6 percent cut in the 1997 defense budget. While that may not seem like much, it will further starve an already hungry armed forces wizened by nearly a decade of consecutive budget cuts.

Consider this: The president wants to cut procurement -- purchasing of parts, machinery and equipment our troops use in the field on a daily basis -- by $3.4 billion. Yet, when adjusted for inflation, procurement is at its lowest level since the beginning of the Korean War. It hasn't been trimmed -- it's been hacked with a meat cleaver, by more than two-thirds in the last 10 years.

Now some of you may be thinking, "Hey, the Cold War is over. Communists are now nothing more than cabana boys in third rate dictator-run countries like Cuba. What could be wrong with a major downsizing of our military? The United States doesn't need to be a super power when there is no other super power to worry about."

The only problem with this line of thinking is that while the magnitude of danger may be less -- no one threatens us with total annihilation the way the Soviet Union once did -- the volatility of danger is much greater. Rogue nations working to obtain nuclear and chemical weapons -- Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Libya -- don't care if the United States is a super power. All they care about is bullying their way onto the world stage -- and they're getting the weapons to do it.

In recognition of this, the Clinton administration itself has said that the United States needs to be able to fight and win two regional wars simultaneously. Yet, the White House has failed to provide the funding that would enable the Pentagon to meet this goal.

In addition to procurement, the Pentagon's "operations and maintenance" budget is being bled to death -- siphoned off into areas not related to combat readiness. Peacekeeping operations in Bosnia, Haiti, Rwanda and Somalia between 1992 and 1995 have cost American taxpayers some $6.6 billion. None of these missions contributed one iota to U.S. security.

In short, the American military is being weakened by starvation. Consider: In 1995 the Pentagon was not allowed to buy a single new tank. By the year 2005, every tank in the Army will be older than the soldiers driving them.

It wasn't too long ago taxpayers were told that Pentagon chiefs favored hammers costing hundreds of dollars and toilet seats that should have been gold plated for what we paid for them. There was no excuse, of course, for such excess.

But essential investments in the day-to-day operations of our fighting men and women -- and combat readiness -- should not be confused with the waste of the past.

President Clinton does the armed forces a disservice when our soldiers and sailors go without essential training because equipment is broken and there are no parts to fix it. Pentagon chiefs are now regaled with stories of maintenance crews "cannibalizing" other pieces of equipment to make Band-Aid repairs on equipment that has worn out.

The Clinton administration wouldn't have committed the United States to being able to fight and win two regional wars simultaneously if military planners didn't consider such a scenario -- say in Korea and the Middle East, for example -- a distinct possibility. But if the Pentagon isn't given the training, equipment, spare parts and supplies it needs, it can't fulfill this mission.

Or, our fighting men and women can be thrown into the middle of a conflict without the proper support, and we can just hope for the best.

Is this the administration's military strategy?

Note: Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.  is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
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