January 16, 1997 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

ED011697: Still Not Serious About Foreign and Defense Policy

Americans hoping the second-term Clinton administration will get serious about foreign and defense policy are in for a big disappointment.

In fact, as the 105th Congress prepares to tackle America's problems, lawmakers should heed the warnings of experts like former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who says in his new book, "The Next War" (Regnery Publishers), that after four years of neglect the U.S. military is not prepared to deal with another situation like the Gulf War. Indeed, a growing chorus of experts believes America's next war will be much messier for U.S. forces -- more casualties, with a significantly decreased prospect of ultimate victory.

Why? Because unlike President Reagan, whose restoration of America's military enabled us to win in the Persian Gulf, and President Bush, whose foreign policy aplomb formed and held the Gulf War political coalition together, President Clinton allows foreign policy crises to take him by surprise. Assuming (dangerously) that the world is a safe place now that the Cold War is over, he lurches from one crisis to the next, handling each on an ad hoc basis without any serious foresight or consistent philosophy to govern his actions. Should the Korean peninsula or the Middle East explode into a major conflict -- a distinct possibility during the next four years -- this approach could result in horrific consequences, both for U.S. forces and for America itself.

Is the charge "lack of seriousness" too harsh? Hardly. The president has repeatedly presented defense budgets that don't even pay for the military plan he sent to Congress, the so-called "Bottom-Up-Review." What are lawmakers supposed to think about that? The president has repeatedly committed U.S. forces to causes having nothing to do with the vital interests of the United States. He has failed to keep the military-acquisition pipeline running at sufficient levels to insure that our forces have all the equipment, munitions and spare parts they need for future conflicts. He continues to resist cuts in foreign aid, even though it has been shown that such aid doesn't help developing nations become self-sufficient. And he has allowed radicals in Congress to use the military as a laboratory for political correctness and social revolution.

In short, the Clinton administration has starved America's military financially, employed it recklessly and undermined it morally. In foreign policy, his vacillation and mixed signals have encouraged tyrants like Saddam Hussein to resume their antics and caused allies like Japan and Israel to reassess whether they can count on America in a crisis. Who knows what our enemies -- or our friends -- will do when the bullets start flying? No one.

Most Americans have no idea that since the Gulf War, U.S. military forces have been cut by approximately 40 percent. At the same time thousands of troops, who should have been training with the high-tech weaponry that makes the difference between victory and defeat on the modern battlefield, have been shooting it out with warlords in Somalia, playing "palace guard" in Haiti, or serving as custodians of a dubious peace arrangement in Bosnia.

But nothing betrays the White House's lack of seriousness more than its sanction of the attack on the military from social engineers bent upon using it as a venue for change. Just as military tradition has always held it would, placing women into many previously all-male areas of the military has caused serious problems. The scandals one constantly hears about nowadays in news reports -- cited as proof of rampant sexism in the military or society at large -- are simply what military experts have always predicted would happen if men and women were placed at close quarters with one another in prolonged, desperate situations. You'd think some social engineers had never heard of -- or had any first-hand experience with -- the birds and the bees!

If the White House were serious about the military mission -- to fight and win wars -- it would understand that when the bullets are flying, "social equity" falls way down the priority list of concerns. To make a military force "look like America" is more absurd than making a football team reflect the gender proportions of America -- and then expecting it to win the Superbowl. Anyone proposing such a thing would be accused of not being serious about winning the game.

Despite the fact that the president is ultimately in charge of foreign and defense policy, there is a lot the 105th Congress can do about this lack of seriousness. Lawmakers should call a halt to the process of imposing political correctness on the armed services and confirm as senior Pentagon officials only those who show an interest in preserving the integrity and combat effectiveness of the U.S. military. Members of Congress also should end the practice of using the military for non-traditional, constabulary and peacekeeping missions having nothing to do with U.S. vital interests. And they should find a better balance between the current level of forces, the mission those forces are supposed to accomplish, and the defense budget. Right now, all three are completely out of sync.

Someone has to impose order on the current defense and foreign policy chaos. Since the Clinton administration isn't willing, the job is up to Congress.

About the Author

This essay by Thomas Moore is adapted from the new policy guide "Mandate For Leadership IV: Turning Ideas Into Actions," 1997, Washington, D.C., 760 pages.