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Posted on Jan 24, 2002 Print this Article


The Bill Clinton "Legacy Project," instigated last December by the former president and his friends, is off and running in an unlikely direction. Clinton’s record as Commander in Chief was abysmal. That did not stop the New York Times from publishing a New Years Day op-ed piece headlined "Winning With the Military Clinton Left Behind." The hubristic piece, written by Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, claimed that "...President Bush stands on the verge of winning a war with the military that Bill Clinton bequeathed him."The theme was quickly picked up by the same partisans who recently denounced Senior Presidential Advisor Karl Rove for injecting "politics" into public discussions of the War on Terrorism. The Clinton Legacy Project is determined to "spin" the story to Clinton’s advantage, while hypocritically denouncing anyone who happens to notice the obvious. An overwhelming majority of Americans applaud the wartime leadership of President George W. Bush, which contrasts sharply with the fecklessness of his predecessor. Every new president inherits the armed forces of his predecessor, but "Bill Clinton’s Military" is "Under New Management," and that has made all the difference. Bi-partisan support for the War on Terrorism is essential. And primary credit for success in Afghanistan properly goes to the men and women of America’s volunteer force. The truth remains, nonetheless, that close combat and support troops fighting the War on Terrorism are making the nation proud not because of Bill Clinton, but in spite of him. "Legacy Project" talking points cannot erase the inconvenient fact that during the Clinton years, military readiness and morale were seriously degraded. Contemporaneous news stories, published with headlines such as these, reported the steady decline:· "BAND-AID NAVY -- How Shortages are Burning Out Sailors and Wearing Out the Fleet," Navy Times, May 22, 2000· "Two Army Divisions Unfit for war-- Both Flunk Ratings of Preparedness," Washington Post, Nov. 10, 1999· "They Weren’t Ready -- General Says Task Force Hawk Aviators Unprepared for Challenges in Kosovo," Army Times, July 5, 1999 · "Army Says Strained Resources Leave Troops Unprepared for War" -- New York Times, Nov. 10, 1999· "ROCK BOTTOM -- Training Centers Report They Can’t Meet Mission," Army Times, Sept. 11, 2000· "Workload Swamps Ship Maintenance Depots," Navy Times, May 22, 2000· "Readiness Hits Lowest Level in 15 Years" -- Air Force Times, May 15, 2000 Defense analyst O’Hanlon nevertheless claimed that Clinton’s Administration had "maintained a strong and focused military able to carry out a post-Cold War mission." Pointing to the performance of American forces in the Balkans and in Afghanistan, O’Hanlon came to the faint-praise conclusion that "Bill Clinton did not squander the legacy" of his predecessors, President Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. To appreciate the fatuity of that claim, just imagine Reagan or either President Bush starting their respective terms as Commander-in-Chief by calling for the acceptance of open homosexuality in the military. By contrast, Reagan delivered on his promise to restore the strength and morale of America’s volunteer force, following four years of "hollowing out" under President Jimmy Carter. Reagan’s military buildup and personal resolve, including his call for defenses against ballistic missiles, crumbled the Soviet Union. Then his successor George H.W. Bush mobilized the troops for Desert Storm, and liberated Kuwait while making it look easy. The senior President Bush called for a post-Cold War measured drawdown, but his succesor Bill Clinton accelerated the process to ruinous extremes. Domestic priorities supplanted military requirements, and the Defense budget dropped to a lower percentage of Gross Domestic Product than existed just prior to Pearl Harbor. President Clinton reduced the armed forces by a third to a half, while asking them to handle deployments increased by as much 300%. Many of these commitments were oxymoronic "peace wars" of questionable national security value. Active duty, Reserve and National Guard troops did their duty, but joked sardonically that they had been "doing more with less for so long that they were able to do everything with nothing." In addition to what was taken away, social burdens were loaded on. High-level Clinton appointees--including an Assistant Secretary of the Army (Sara Lister) who derided the Marines as "extremists" -- turned the Pentagon into a feminist power base. Liberal civilian appointees pursued an "ungendered military," and lavished scarce resources on social engineering that undermined military culture and morale. In addition to continuous attempts to accommodate homosexuals in the military, despite congressional action to the contrary, Clinton policies became increasingly problematic. His legacy includes co-ed basic training, gender quotas and gender-normed standards, a push to relax personal discipline rules, and a pervasive lack of candor about the consequences of such policies. The result was a widening credibility gap, detected in numerous surveys, which demoralized the troops and caused hundreds of junior officers to leave the service early. Russert Questions RumsfeldDuring a January 21 Meet the Press interview, NBC’s Tim Russert asked Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld about the Clinton record. In hindsight, he asked, were Republican candidates Bush and Dick Cheney wrong to suggest during the presidential campaign that the Clinton/Gore Administration had greatly reduced military readiness? Rumsfeld replied that ours is the "greatest military force on the face of the earth," but also noted with candor that "The infrastructure had decayed and it is still decayed, and it will take now probably six, eight, ten years to get it back to the place that it ought to be."Secretary Rumsfeld’s forthrightness must have been reassuring to uniformed personnel serving around the world. The first step in resolving a problem is to first acknowledge that it exists. During the Clinton years, civilian and uniformed Pentagon officials kept insisting that everything was fine, when it wasn’t. Unfunded "contingencies" constantly diverted funds intended for training, maintenance, equipment, quality-of-life and modernization. The effects were cumulative, and are still being felt today. More recent headlines chronicle the story, and demonstrate reasons for Secretary Rumsfeld’s concern:· "DUCT-TAPE AVIATION -- How Old Planes and Parts Shortages Are Running Aircraft and Sailors Ragged," Navy Times, Sept. 10, 2001· "Where Soldiers Fear to Tread -- Military Spaces With Falling Roofs, Holes in Walls, Raw Sewage," Army Times, Sept. 17, 2001· "Army Aviation Caught in a Bind -- Leaders Ask Whether Aging Fleet is Ready to Modernize," Army Times, Jan. 21, 2002· "Carrier Kennedy Skipper Relieved of Command -- Ship Failed Major [Navy Board] INSURV Inspection," Navy Times, Dec. 17, 2001· "Military Quickly Going Through Inventory of Bombs," Associated Press, Dec. 13, 2001· "IG Issues Scorching Report on Naval Aviation," Navy Times, Sept. 25, 2000· "10,000 More Airmen Needed -- Secretary of the Air Force James Roche," AF Times, Jan. 21, 2002· "Wear and Tear on Aging Prowlers Taking a Toll -- High Operations Tempo, Grounding of 8 EA6Bs Add to Strain on Fleet," Navy Times, Dec. 17, 2001· "Can a Shrinking Fleet Meet Needs? -- Navy Will Have 303 Ships in 2005," Navy Times, Nov. 19, 2001 Secretary Rumsfeld added, "We do need to transform, and we’re working on that, but these things take time to do. It takes time to run down a great military, and it takes time to build one back up."Following a True LeaderIn his memorable September 20 address to Congress, President George W. Bush asked the troops to "Be ready" for the War on Terrorism. Sailors serving on the submarine USS Providence, which was diverted from a homeward-bound course after six months patrolling the Persian Gulf, responded to the president’s call. Almost 100% of the crew signed reinlistment papers, representing 200 years of additional submarine service to the Navy. (New London Day, Nov. 22, 2001)As the war continued, carrier battle group crews worked to the point of exhaustion, teams of Air Force and Navy aviators dropped precision bombs, and support personnel stationed on land and sea supplied provisions to land bases established by the Marines and Army Special Forces. The CIA, Coast Guard, FBI, and law enforcement personnel joined the effort with skill, dedication, and personal courage. Pay raises alone cannot account for commitment such as this. This is not Bill Clinton’s military, but a re-energized force fighting on adrenalin. The armed forces’ swift defeat of the Taliban impressed the world, but the War on Terrorism is far from won. Instead of claiming unjustified credit for the actions of others, Clinton partisans should join with the rest of America in offering unqualified support. [Note: Headline emphasis in originals. For a more complete list of 1999-2000 headlines regarding military readiness, see the Aug. --Sept. 2000 "Special Election Edition -- Part II of CMR Notes, elsewhere on this website.
Posted on Jan 24, 2002 Print this Article