Cheney: Bush was wrong on military readiness
AUSTIN, Texas -- Republican presidential
nominee George W. Bush was wrong when he
charged in his convention speech that some military
units are not currently prepared to fight a war,
Bush's running mate, Richard Cheney, conceded Sunday.
Cheney acknowledged in a series of television
interviews that Bush had used out-of-date data
when he charged Aug. 3 that two of the Army's 10
divisions had deteriorated under the watch of the
Clinton administration to the point that they are not
prepared for battle.
"If called on by the commander-in-chief today,"
Bush told the convention, "two entire divisions of
the Army would have to report, "Not ready for duty, sir."'
Those remarks were based on an Army report
done last year. And while it was true then that the
divisions were over-extended and temporarily
could not meet combat readiness requirements,
conditions have improved and both now are ready
to fight, former and current defense officials have said.
"That was the data that was available from the
Army last year," Cheney, a former defense
secretary, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" in
defense of Bush. "Since then they may have well
corrected those problems in those units so that they
now meet" combat requirements.
Cheney said Bush was not purposefully misleading
the public about the state of the U.S. forces as he
injected the issue of military preparedness into the
campaign. Whether two Army divisions are ready
for combat is not even significant, Cheney said.
The bigger issue is that the Clinton administration,
including Bush's Democratic rival Al Gore, have cut
the military to the point that it is having trouble
attracting and keeping people, Cheney said.
Recruitment and retention rates are down and the
services are not commissioning as many officers as
they need, Cheney said. There have been
spare-part shortages and training in some cases has
been reduced, he added.
"The fact of the matter is the military is in decline,
it's not as good as it used to be and it's going to
take significant efforts to reverse that, to turn it
around," Cheney said.
Cheney said Gore is exaggerating the health of the
military to hide the fact that he and Clinton have
allowed morale and readiness to slip even as they
dispatched U.S. forces to myriad global hotspots.
"Either Al Gore doesn't know what is going on in
the U.S. military or he chooses not to tell the truth
about it," Cheney said on ABC's "This Week."
Gore has alleged that Bush and Cheney are
unnecessarily alarming America's allies_and
possibly encouraging its enemies_with talk of
problems in the U.S. military. Cheney called those
"There is no question we have the greatest military
today," Cheney said. "But it is headed in the wrong direction."
While Bush and Cheney are making much of
declining defense spending under Clinton, deep cuts
in the military budget began about a decade ago,
when Bush's father was still president and Cheney
was his defense secretary.
The Cold War was ending and Bush and Cheney _
with a strong push by Gen. Colin Powell, then
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff _ proposed
slashing the military budget by 25 percent.
Cheney on Sunday defended the cuts he made as
justifiable given changing global conditions. But the
Clinton administration has gone far beyond what
former President Bush proposed, he said.
"They've cut too far, they've cut too deep and
they've also added commitments," Cheney said.
"What the Clinton-Gore administration has done is
short-change the military, continued to impose
significant burdens on them and has not made the
kinds of investments that need to be made."
Cheney, scheduled at the last moment to appear on
the Sunday news shows, also defended the nearly
$40 million retirement package he will get from
Halliburton Co., the Dallas-based energy services
company he headed for five years.
Under the conditions of his original contract with
the company, Cheney would have been penalized
financially for leaving early to join the Bush
campaign. But the Halliburton board voted to grant
him a generous departure package instead, raising
criticisms that Cheney, like Bush, would be
beholden to the oil industry while in office. Bush
used to own an oil-exploration company.
Cheney said he is willing "to do whatever is
necessary" with his Halliburton stock and stock
options to ensure there would be no
conflict-of-interest if he is elected vice president.
While Bush and Gore's surrogates battled Sunday
over the issue of military preparedness, the Gore
campaign opened another front in the campaign:
health care. Gore will spend the week before
Labor Day touting a $250 billion, 10-year plan to
add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.
Bush has not yet offered a detailed prescription
plan. But the Republican National Committee this
week will be airing TV ads attacking Gore's plan.
"He's pushing a big-government plan that lets
Washington bureaucrats interfere with what your
doctor prescribes," the ad says of Gore.
Meanwhile, Bush's chief foreign policy adviser,
Condoleezza Rice, on Sunday defended the oil
industry and its multiple ties to the Republican
ticket. In addition to Bush and Cheney, Rice has
ties of her own to the industry. She is a director of
Chevron, which recently named one of its oil
tankers after her.
"I am proud of my association with Chevron, and
we should be proud of the job American oil
companies are doing in exploration abroad and in
exploration at home and in making sure we have a
safe energy supply," Rice said on "Fox News Sunday."