The Boston Phoenix
August 31 - September 7, 2000


Under suspicion, continued

by Seth Gitell

The political buzzword of the week is "military readiness." Earlier in August, George W. Bush made the readiness issue a key plank in his critique of the Clinton-Gore years; during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, he stated that "if called on by the commander-in-chief today, two entire divisions of the Army would have to report `Not ready for duty, sir.' " Last week, Gore pounced on the chance to prove Bush wrong. He donned his VFW garrison cap and said: "To say that two divisions can't even respond to a call to deploy, or to imply that our fighting forces are not the most capable in the world by far, that's mistaken."

Military experts say that on this one Bush is mistaken, but that both candidates are arguing about the wrong thing in the first place. Andrew Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University, explains that after returning from a peacekeeping deployment in the Balkans, the commanders of two Army divisions felt their troops needed more training to be ready for combat again. "Does this mean they came back and they were all messed up?" asks Bacevich. "The soldiers probably learned a lot in the Balkans and had some valuable experiences."

More interesting than the skirmish over "military readiness," however, is the fact that Bush opened himself up to criticism on such an easily disproved allegation. This is the same problem Bush had during the New Hampshire primary: a propensity just to slide along without addressing issues on point. If he keeps it up, he'll have even bigger problems as the presidential race moves into the fall. Gore will fully exploit such mistakes.

Bush advisers, meanwhile, still want to make the case that their argument on defense is better than Gore's. "The argument needs to be one of structure -- one of making the military a more relevant instrument for the post-Cold War era," says Bacevich. "That's where the Republicans can and should fault the administration." He adds that the problem with such an argument is that the Republicans and Democrats don't really disagree on it, because they don't really disagree on foreign policy.

Tom Neumann, a Washington-based national-security expert, says differences do exist between the Democrats and Republicans -- but they're on the margins of the debate. Bush, Neumann says, could have questioned "the quality of the military, the pay, the commitment to ballistic-missile defense, the amount of deployments during the Clinton administration, the question of support for our allies, Clinton's permitting things to have been sold to China that shouldn't have been, the whole idea of making the military a social experiment."

That Bush could have raised any of these issues, but chose not to, suggests a certain intellectual laziness on his part. The Texas governor clearly likes to avoid truly controversial and difficult issues. It's something that will surely weaken his run for the presidency.

Page | 1 | 2 | 3 | Next

Seth Gitell can be reached at sgitell[a]

The Talking Politics archive