Bush Sees Military Decline and Pledges a Turnaround
By Frank Bruni, August 22, 2000
DES MOINES, Aug. 21 -- Gov. George W. Bush sharply attacked the Clinton administration's military policies today, saying that the country's armed forces had plummeted to a state of serious physical and emotional disrepair and that he was committed to reversing the decline.
Speaking to thousands of people at a convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Milwaukee, a city he visited early in the day before traveling to Des Moines, Mr. Bush said today's servicemen and women were confronting "back-to-back deployments, poor pay, shortages of spare parts and equipment and rapidly declining readiness."
The Texas governor said there were too many "soldiers who are on food stamps and soldiers who are poorly housed." Ticking off a list of what he characterized as other troubling indicators, Mr. Bush added that there were recruitment shortfalls in various branches of the military, units that were measurably not ready for combat and severe morale problems.
"The facts are stark and the facts are real," Mr. Bush said. "The current administration inherited a military ready for the dangers and challenges facing our nation. The next president will inherit a military in decline.
"It's still without equal in the world. But it is not without serious problems that must be addressed immediately."
Mr. Bush restated proposals he had made to increase military spending, including his call for a raise for people in the armed forces that would add $1 billion in annual salary to the increase already authorized by Congress and signed into law last year.
And he unveiled a new plan for the federal government to spend a one-time amount of $310 million for the construction and repair of public schools that serve roughly 570,000 children of service people and are financed through the federal Department of Education.
That proposal fit into
Mr. Bush's overall effort in this postconvention period of focusing
on education -- his bridge to independent and swing voters -- in
states that either lean slightly Democratic or have voted Democratic
in the last two or three presidential elections.
Wisconsin and Iowa have not voted Republican in a presidential election since 1984, when Ronald Reagan was re-elected. But a few polls taken before the party conventions suggested that Mr. Bush had a chance of victory in both states.
Karen P. Hughes, the Bush campaign's director of communications, said that Mr. Bush and his running mate, Dick Cheney, would travel to 19 states from Friday to Aug. 31. All but four of those voted Democratic in the last two presidential elections.
In Des Moines, Mr. Bush went to what Ms. Hughes reminded reporters was the 93rd school that he had visited so far over the 14-month course of his presidential campaign.
"We're working our way toward 100," she said, "to highlight the importance Governor Bush places on educating our children."
Douglas Hattaway, a spokesman for the Gore campaign, disputed Mr. Bush's portrayal of the United States military as inadequately prepared. Even so, he said, Vice President Al Gore had also called for additional spending on the military, including further raises.
Mr. Hattaway also questioned how Mr. Bush could afford more money for the armed forces in light of his proposed $1.3 trillion tax cut over the next 10 years.
"He won't be able to pay for the promises he's making," Mr. Hattaway said.
Some of the military cutbacks that Mr. Bush criticized today began in the administration of his father, President George Bush, although the former president was in part reacting to diminished needs after the end of the cold war.
The Texas governor, who spent the years during the Vietnam War stationed in Houston with the Texas Air National Guard, made a point in his remarks to the veterans to allude to his father's military service overseas during World War II and to invoke Mr. Cheney's credentials as the defense secretary during his father's administration.
Mr. Bush called Mr. Cheney, who was not on the campaign trail with him, "one of the greatest secretaries of defense this nation has ever known."
He also told the veterans that if he is elected president, he will make it a priority to ensure that veterans get the benefits they were promised without the bureaucratic delays that he said were too prevalent today. To that end, he said he would create what he called a "veterans health care task force."
"In my administration," Mr. Bush said, "the Department of Veterans Affairs will act as an advocate for veterans seeking benefits and claims, not act as an adversary."
Go to: Vietnam Medal of Honor Citations
© 2000 by Neil Mishalov