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              interviews that Bush had used out-of-date data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
              arguments "hogwash."

              "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."

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