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"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."
Sir Winston Churchill

4.19.2007

What Clinton Did to the U.S. Military

Worse than what he did to Monica:

The problem with America’s military is not that the Navy and Air Force got too much money (that is not true) or that the services have bought too much high tech equipment (they actually haven’t bought nearly enough). The problem is that all three of the services have been systematically underfunded since the beginning of the Clinton administration. The stress we now see in the Army is the logical and foreseeable result of underfunding by President Clinton throughout the 1990s, an inadequate response by the current administration, and the effects of four years of grinding combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A brief history is warranted. (For more detail, see my article on the military in the March 5, 2007, issue of National Review.) Ronald Reagan understood a fundamental truth: Defense policy is foreign policy, because influence in the world depends on force plus resolution, in addition to a nation’s economic might. So President Reagan increased defense spending by double digits in his first two years in office, reversing the underfunding of the Carter years. The result was a recapitalized military with equipment that used the latest technology. That military was the foundation of America’s successes in the 1980s and ’90s: the collapse of the Soviet Union, the victory in Desert Storm, and the end of genocide in Bosnia.

When Bill Clinton assumed power in 1993, he returned to the policies of the Carter years. He dramatically underfunded our military. During Operation Desert Storm, the active Army had 18 divisions — each with 10,000 to 20,000 soldiers; the Clinton administration cut it to its current size of 10, despite clear, bipartisan warnings from Congress and newly retired Chiefs of Staff that the Army could not carry out the national military strategy on a sustained basis at that level of strength. There were similar cuts in the Air Force and Navy.

Even worse, the Clinton administration did not buy enough equipment even for the reduced force. His administration took a “procurement holiday.” It cut modernization budgets and bought anywhere from 50-90 percent fewer “platforms” — ships, planes, and vehicles — than the military needed to maintain its capital stock. These decisions were driven by short-term budget concerns rather than objective evaluations of military requirements. For example, the administration usually justified cuts in personnel numbers on the grounds that a transformed military needed fewer troops, but then failed to fund the modernization programs that were necessary for transformation.

President Bush has increased military funding, but not enough to make up for the underfunding of the 1990s. After 9/11, the administration should have increased force structure and vastly increased acquisition funding. Instead, this year the government is funding the regular military budget (not counting day-to-day war expenses) at 3.3 percent of GDP, a very low level historically.

The result is a force that, across the board, desperately needs more troops and more modern equipment. The Army is the focus of attention now, and certainly Army training is suffering, though morale, recruiting, and retention are much better than Time suggests. But the larger problem with the Time article is that it judges preparedness in terms of the capabilities needed by one service in the current conflict. The only effective way to prepare a military is the way Reagan did it — by honestly evaluating and funding all the capabilities that will be needed to deal with every substantial threat over the foreseeable future. Had the Clinton administration used that standard, or had the Bush administration promptly and decisively changed course after 9/11, many of our troops would not be on their third or fourth rotation, and they would not have to make ongoing Herculean efforts to sustain a deteriorating fleet of weapon systems and support vehicles.


As a logistics officer in the Air Force during the Clinton years, I can attest to the accuracy of this article. We routinely were asked to plan on 10% less budget than the prior year, then underfunded to even that reduced budget level. The Air Force habitually kept one of each type of a squadron's aircraft as a "cann bird"---you would strip it for parts as needed to keep other planes mission capable until parts could be procured and the plane returned to airworthiness. Thanks to Clinton budget cuts, we routinely had 2 and 3 cann birds.

We also started never-before-seen innovations such as my "cann truck"---out of a fleet of 11 fuel vehicles I had to put 2 up on blocks and strip them for parts just to be able to keep 9 vehicles available to fuel jets.

Do you know of any other government agency than the Clinton-era Pentagon which had to cut its budget year-over-year and do such things as cannibalize equipment for spare parts in order to fulfill its mission? Did the DMV ever have to stop laminating driver's licences because they couldn't get their laminator repaired? Did any schools shut down because they couldn't afford to repair their furnace?

The military machine George W. Bush inherited once he was finally inaugurated in 2001 had been gutted in equipment, personnel, and skill sets by his predecessor. Moreover, Clinton deployed the U.S. military to all sorts of exotic locales (Bosnia, Haiti, Somalia, etc) while not reducing other commitments. In fact, the military throughout the 90s closed stateside bases and outsourced stateside functions in an effort to maintain overseas commitments. That was where we became stretched too thin, not in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Don Rumsfeld gets blamed for pushing the light footprint, but what choice did he have? Short of instituting the draft, which is nothing more than a way for nostalgic hippies to run to Canada like Daddy did during Vietnam, there is no real way to reverse the hollowing-out of the military while fighting an active war short of completely changing your tactics. Ronald Reagan rebuilt our military strength after Carter destroyed it, but it took him 6 years and a lot of political capital to do it and he didn't fight a major war the entire time.

Our troops have always and continue to perform beyond all reasonable expectations. The fact that we do not now have enough troops to properly pacify a country the size of California and beset on two sides with enemies masterminding, funding, and supporting an insurgency is due not to our soldiers' lack of capability but our leaders' lack of responsibility.

What I do fault George W. Bush for in all this is in not pulling our troops out of Bosnia, Germany, and other overseas locations not tied to the War on Terror. That could and should have been done and would have had the salient effect of making our effete European subjects defend their own damned welfare states for a change.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Lanz said...

Popular to blame it all on Clinton, but not entirely accurate. As I recall, the drawdown was begun under Bush 1. The Gulf War delayed something that was already planned. It was the classic mistake of democracies . . . a war had just ended (the Cold War) and we drew down our military too far and too fast, leading directly into the next set of "problems" which are still playing out.

8:50 PM  
Blogger Teflon said...

Lanz-

Bush the Elder began the drawdown following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. However, his drawdown turned around with Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990-1.

It was Clinton who reduced the number of Army divisions from 18 down to 10. It is the Army which is too small to conduct its mission.

Might not Bill Clinton have a wee bit of blame given his egregious policy of slashing military spending to meet Congressional balanced budget requirements, preserving all that juicy pork needed to reelect Democrats? Meanwhile, Clinton INCREASED our international military commitments.

George W. Bush didn't invent "nation-building"---that was Bill Clinton's baby.

7:08 PM  
Anonymous Harry Ippolito said...

Who is that is pushing a one world government?

And who wants to head up the UN.

The UN that is nothing but the blood suckers of the American tax payers

8:24 PM  
Anonymous karen said...

Very, very good- guess who's going to get a copy/paste of this little gem of a post???

Not that it'll do me much good.

7:51 AM  
Blogger Teflon said...

Harry-

You won't find me defending the Bush Administration's near-complete cave to all things UN, but let's also keep in mind that a) Dubya sent John Bolton over there to rattle Kofi's corrupt cage, which the Democrats (including the Clintons) vigorously opposed, and b)the UN engagement was the price of Colin Powell's support of the Iraq War.

That Powell whored himself for Kofi's crowd should be no suprise to anyone who's followed the former's career---Powell's always been more concerned with America's military fighting too much than with us not fighting when we ought to.

Needless to say, the Democrats (especially Bill Clinton) are complete hypocrites when it comes to the UN. They use UN "engagement" to keep the U.S. out of conflicts we should fight, then completely ignore them for ones where we have no national interest at all, such as Clinton's "go it alone" decision in Bosnia.

6:00 PM  

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