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Clinton has driven military into decline, Cheney says

SHARE Clinton has driven military into decline, Cheney says

WASHINGTON — Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney, adding fuel to the campaign dispute over U.S. military readiness, said Sunday that the Clinton administration had driven the armed forces into decline.

"They've cut too far. They've cut too deep. They've also added commitments. A big part of the difficulty . . . is the force is spread too thin," he told the NBC program "Meet the Press."

"What the Clinton-Gore administration has done is to shortchange the military, continue to impose significant burdens on them and not make the kinds of investments that need to be made. . . . It does need to be fixed," he added.

Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, the governor of Texas, made the state of the U.S. military a campaign issue at the Republican convention earlier this month when he said that two of the 10 U.S. army divisions were not ready for duty.

The Pentagon said the divisions briefly had not been ready last November, but the problem had been fixed. Democrats have jumped on the case of the two divisions to suggest that Bush was stretching the truth and politicizing the military.

Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, told "Meet the Press" that both Bush and Cheney were "flat wrong about the question of readiness."

Retired Gen. George Joulwan, former supreme commander of NATO, told "Fox News Sunday" that the U.S. military has "structural problems" and needed to be reorganized.

But asked if Bush was wrong when he said that the military had been "hollowed out" during the seven years that President Clinton has been in office, Joulwan said: "Yes."

Cheney agreed that the U.S. military, with 1.4 million people in uniform and the most sophisticated weaponry available in the world, was better than any other country's.

But he added: "The problem is it's in decline, and this administration has done very little to reverse that decline. They have, in fact, significantly expanded our commitments, even as they cut the size of the force."

He said that 40 percent of the U.S. Army's helicopters are not combat-ready and that the average number of hours flown by aviation battalion commanders has fallen to 1,000 hours, half of what it was 10 years ago.

In the Air Force, about 65 percent of combat units are combat ready, down from 85 percent when Clinton took office in 1993, he added.

"We've got recruiting problems. We've got retention problems. We're not able to keep pilots, for example," Cheney told another program, CBS's "Face the Nation."

Democrats have retorted that the cuts in the U.S. military began under Bush's father, President George Bush, in whose administration Cheney served as U.S. secretary of defense.

Cheney said President Bush was right to make limited cuts because of the end of the Cold War, but Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate, had extended the cuts too far.