The "great debate" in Salt Lake City didn't materialize, at least as far as Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton was concerned.
While he defended his defense spending plans before National Guardsmen Tuesday he did not respond to inferences by President Bush, who spoke to the same group earlier in the day, concerning his draft record during the Vietnam War.Clinton praised guard members and warned that, if he's president, cuts in their budgets will come. But he said Bush wasn't accurate in his complaints earlier in the day about Clinton's defense spending proposals. Clinton said he will actually place the guard on a higher priority than Bush.
Some believed that Bush would go after Clinton on the draft issue, and that Clinton would use the opportunity to bash back. But Bush was relatively mild, and Clinton didn't even mention his draft troubles at all.
However, in shunning Bush's implied references to his draft record, Clinton did talk about something at length that Bush only lightly touched on - the bad U.S. economy.
Basically, Clinton said that America can't be strong militarily overseas if it is weak economically at home. He said all Americans, including National Guard members, are suffering - working longer hours and making less money, after adjusted for inflation, than they were 10 years ago.
Americans must have trust in a president that he can react properly in moments of crisis, Clinton said. "All presidents in recent times have had to place Americans in harm's way. I do not relish this prospect, but neither do I shrink from it. If elected, I will ensure that we have the resolve and the strength to constantly deter and sometimes to fight - and when we fight - always to win. I will fight to make sure that the troops we send into battle are the best in the world."
In his remarks, Bush said Clinton wanted to cut $60 billion more than he does from defense spending. Wrong, said Clinton. "I want just 5 percent less spending than (Bush's) plan," just $6 billion more in cuts that Bush wants.
Clinton said he's actually in favor of keeping several new military defense projects - even a part of Star Wars - because they will make American forces more mobile, better able to engage in the kind of combat we face now with the end of the Cold War.
"We must scale back; everyone agrees. The question is how and what structure we use. I want to make the National Guard and Army Reserve full partners with the active forces - partners in combat readiness and all areas," said Clinton, a comment that brought applause from the crowd.
Bush, on the other hand, wants the guard and reserves cut back further and to play such a minor role that some state's guards wouldn't be able to fulfill their state missions of protection and patrol, much less be able to travel out of the country in military operations or even into other states to help with natural disaster relief, Clinton said.
Bush wants a lesser role for the guard, Clinton said. "I will level with you. There will be cuts, but I want a stronger role for the guard than is called for in the present Bush force plan," Clinton said.
In reciting how he has used the Arkansas national guard, which as governor he controls as commander in chief, Clinton said he'd made difficult decisions with the guard, even sending it out once to put down a prison riot.
While that may not be the same as ordering troops to the Persian Gulf, Clinton said that he is ready and able to make the tough decisions that a commander is called upon to make.
Clinton said he supported Bush's recent dealings with Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein and "I called for stronger action in Bosnia, which I'm glad now the (Bush) administration is following." He hoped such bipartisanship could carry over into a unified plan to reduce and restructure U.S. armed forces to make them more efficient and better.
For example, Clinton said the National Guard and reserves can be trained and maintained for 25 percent the cost of active-duty soldiers, yet can be just as or even more effective in a variety of missions, including "helping rebuild the infrastructure of America here at home."
Following his speech, Clinton met with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He then held a brief rally with supporters at the airport before departing.