Democrats, Republicans spar over military readiness
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- GOP running mate and former defense secretary Dick Cheney said the military is "in trouble" after eight years of Clinton and Gore, while Democrats vehemently disputed that view on Sunday talk shows.
"What the Clinton/Gore administration has done is to shortchange the military, continue to impose significant burdens on them and not made the kind of investments that need to be made," Cheney said on NBC's "Meet the Press". "The military is in trouble today."
Democrats countered that the armed forces are as strong and well-trained as ever. They charged that GOP presidential nominee and Texas Gov.
George W. Bush
and some of his surrogates were making false statements on the campaign trail.
In particular, they cited Bush's statement at the Republican National Convention that two of the Army's 10 divisions are not combat ready, a point refuted by the Pentagon.
"Our military is low on parts, pay and morale," Bush declared in his August 3 acceptance speech. "If called on by the commander-in-chief today, two entire divisions of the Army would have to report, 'Not ready for duty, sir.'"
Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, also lashed out at the Bush campaign, calling Bush's convention statement "misleading, incorrect, false and insulting in a sense." He said on "Meet the Press" that the two divisions to which Bush referred are currently on duty in Kosovo and Bosnia.
Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who sits on the Armed Services Committee, said on CNN's Late Edition that Cheney was "way, way off the mark" in his description of U.S. military readiness, and he called Bush's statement "completely false."
"It's not the armed forces which are hollow; it's the rhetoric of Mr. Cheney and, I'm afraid, also Governor Bush," Levin said.
Cheney defended Bush's statement and said the size of the U.S. forces has been cut, while commitments abroad have increased. He said in the past seven-and-a-half years, the number of divisions in the Army dropped from 18 to 10, the number of Air Force wings went from 24 to 13, and the number of Navy ships fell from 600 to less than 300.
Cuts started on Cheney's watch
Cheney acknowledged that as secretary of defense under the Bush administration, he had supported reductions in the military.
Speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation", Cheney said the cuts were needed to reflect the changing nature of U.S. security with the collapse of the Soviet Union, as strategy shifted from global to regional combat.
He charged that the Clinton administration had taken those reductions "far beyond what was originally envisioned in terms of our build-down."
He also said that for the past five years, the Army and Navy have fallen well short of their needs for both commissioned officers and enlisted personnel.
Republican defends Clinton's military
But William Cohen, the Republican secretary of defense in the Clinton administration, has defended the state of today's military.
"We have the finest, the best-led, the best-equipped, the best-educated, the finest fighting force in the history of the world. We have that today," Cohen said last week.
Cohen said cuts in the Pentagon budget that started in the Cold War ended under George Bush, the GOP nominee's father, and continued under Clinton. But he said defense spending is now heading back up again. "We have now begun the largest sustained increase in our military spending in a generation," he said.
Although military procurement dropped to $43 billion in 1997, Cohen said, it is back up to $60 billion this year.
CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor contributed to this report.