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Jewish World Review March 15, 1999 /27 Adar 5759

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
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Undermining the military

( THE NEXT TIME SOMEONE SAYS that Bill Clinton is "doing a good job" as president, despite whatever personal failings he may have, ask just what specifically has Clinton done well.

The usual answer is that the economy is booming and we have peace. By this standard, Franklin D. Roosevelt would have to be ranked as the worst president of all time, since we had both the worst war and the worst depression on his watch.

Do the Clinton supporters believe that?

Once we move beyond the political superstition that good times are a result of good presidents, there are very few specific things done by the Clinton administration that have turned out well and a number that have turned out badly. The most fundamental duty of government -- to protect this country militarily -- has been very irresponsibly neglected and has created the potential for future tragedy.

All too typical of the Clinton administration's handling of military security was the president's disregarding of both military and intelligence officials who warned against providing China with advanced technology that could enable Chinese nuclear missiles to hit American cities. With military security, as with everything else, Clinton's focus is on "me" and "now." The Chinese military made financial contributions to the Democrats and got the technology they wanted.

Military security is never a "right now" thing. Skimping on military spending during the 1930s left us with obsolete equipment and ill-trained soldiers in the early 1940s, when we suffered devastating losses in battle during the first half of World War II.

By the same token, Ronald Reagan's much-criticized military spending during the 1980s made possible the 1991 high-tech war against Iraq, with very low American casualties, during the Bush administration. A major part of any president's legacy is military.

At any given moment, it is always easy for any administration to skimp on the military in ways that are not immediately visible -- on pay, training, equipment, maintenance. The money saved can then be handed out as welfare-state goodies to all sorts of groups, gaining immediate political support in return.

Resisting this dangerous temptation requires a president who looks beyond the moment to the future and who looks beyond his own political interests to the security of the country. Bill Clinton is the last person to look beyond "me" and "now." His military legacy is already becoming painfully clear.

Equipment, personnel, training and maintenance are all suffering from this administration's cutbacks in military spending. The percentage of F-16 fighters that were rated "mission-capable" under Ronald Reagan was 90 percent. That fell to 77 percent under Bill Clinton. Many of these planes are being cannibalized to get spare parts to keep other F-16s flying.

Military pay has been allowed to lag behind to the point where career enlisted men with families to feed have been forced to resort to food stamps.

Military training has been cut back to the point where even high-ranking officers complain, off the record, that they are worried about having to take ill-prepared troops into combat. Pilots complain that their ground crews too often are unfamiliar with the aircraft that they fly. The pilots themselves are getting less combat training.

Rand Corporation studies have concluded that pilots flying long hours of boring duty over Iraq or troops spending time on essentially non-military duties in places like the Balkans will need more retraining to bring them back up to the level of preparedness needed for real combat.

Some call these overseas "peace-keeping" duties "negative training." Yet these quixotic missions remain popular inside the Beltway, among the growing number of politicians and journalists who have never worn a uniform or dodged a bullet.

The Army, the Navy and the Air Force are all having trouble recruiting the people they need -- or retaining the people they have. Significantly, the only military branch that is meeting its recruiting goals is the Marine Corps, which is the only military branch that has resisted the trendy unisex basic training and other bright ideas imposed on the military by the Clinton administration.

People who want a military career are not looking for careers as social workers or as guinea pigs, much less as expendable fodder for ill-defined missions to enhance a presidential image.


03/10/99: Joe DiMaggio -- icon of an era
03/02/99: Facts versus dogma on guns
03/01/99: Losing the cultural wars
02/22/99: "Saving" social security
02/18/99: Too many Ph.Ds?
02/8/99: A national disaster
02/8/99: Economic fallacies in the media: Part II
02/5/99: Why economists visit dentists so often
02/2/99: Warning: Good news
01/29/99: What is at stake?
01/26/99:Moral bankruptcy in the schools
01/22/99: Who is going to convict Santa Claus?
01/19/99: Seeing through the spin
01/13/99: A trial is a trial is a trial
01/11/99:Trials and tribulations
01/08/99: Rays of hope
01/04/99: Random thoughts
12/31/98: The President versus the presidency
12/29/98: The time is now!
12/23/98: World-class hypocrisy
12/21/98: The spreading corruption
12/17/98: Politically "contrite"
12/16/98: Polls and partisanship
12/14/98: The "non-profit" halo
12/11/98: Corruption and confusion
12/03/98: The health care "crisis"
11/30/98: Knowing what you are talking about
11/23/98: The impeachment legacy
11/23/98: Random thoughts
11/19/98: Tales out of bureaucracies
11/16/98: Scholarships based on scholarship
11/12/98: Forward march
11/09/98: Moral outrage
11/05/98: Will the Republicans ever learn?
11/02/98: A voter's duty
10/30/98: The poverty pimp's poem
10/29/98: Random thoughts on the election
10/27/98: "Partisan" and "unfair"
10/23/98: Ed-u-kai-tchun
10/21/98: McGwire, Maris and the Babe
10/16/98: Lightweight Boxer
10/14/98: A strange word
10/09/98: Impeachment standards
10/08/98: Alternatives to seriousness
10/07/98: Heredity, environment and talk
10/02/98: A much-needed guide
10/01/98: Starr's real crime
9/24/98: Costs and power
9/18/98: Are we sheep?
9/16/98: Judicial review
9/15/98: Hillary Rodham Crook?
9/14/98: Taking stock
9/11/98: Moment of truth
9/04/98: Random thoughts
8/31/98: The twilight of special prosecutors?
8/26/98: "Doing a good job"
8/24/98: America on trial?
8/19/98: Played for fools
8/17/98: A childish letter
8/11/98: Hiding behind a woman
8/07/98: A flying walrus in Washington?
8/03/98: "Affordability" strikes again
7/31/98: Random thoughts
7/27/98: Faith and mountains
7/24/98: Clinton in Wonderland
7/20/98: Where is black 'leadership' leading?
7/16/98: Do 'minorities' really have it that bad?
7/14/98: Race dialogue: same old stuff
7/10/98: Honest history
7/09/98: Dumb is dangerous
7/02/98: Gun-safety starts with
parental responsibility
6/30/98: When more is less
6/29/98: Are educators above the law?
6/26/98: Random Thoughts
6/24/98: An angry letter
6/22/98: Sixties sentimentalism
6/19/98:Dumbing down anti-trust
6/15/98: A changing of the guard?
6/11/98: Presidential privileges
6/8/98: Fast computers and slow antitrust
6/3/98: Can stalling backfire?
5/29/98: The insulation of the Left
5/25/98: Missing the point in the media
5/22/98: The lessons of Indonesia
5/20/98: Smart but silent
5/18/98: Israel, Clinton and character
5/14/98: Monica Lewinsky's choices
5/11/98: Random thoughts
5/7/98: Media obstruction of justice
5/4/98: Dangerous "safety"
5/1/98: Abolish Adolescence!
4/30/98: The naked truth
4/22/98: Playing fair and square
4/19/98: Bad teachers"
4/15/98: "Clinton in Africa "
4/13/98: "Bundling and unbundling "
4/9/98: "Rising or falling Starr "
4/6/98: "Was Clinton ‘vindicated'? "
3/26/98: "Diasters -- natural and political"
3/24/98: "A pattern of behavior"
3/22/98: Innocent explanations
3/19/98: Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill
3/17/98: Search and destroy
3/12/98: Media Circus versus Justice
3/6/98: Vindication
3/3/98: Cheap Shot Time
2/26/98: The Wrong Filter
2/24/98: Trial by Media
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
2/19/98: A "Do Something" War?
2/12/98: Julian Simon, combatant in a 200-year war
2/6/98: A rush to rhetoric

©1999, Creators Syndicate