Searching For A Silver Bullet

Vice presidental candidate Dick Cheney
Defense is the latest issue jab by George W. Bush's campaign to try to regain its footing against Al Gore in the race for the White House.

On Sunday, Dick Cheney, Bush's GOP running mate, talked military readiness on CBS News' Face The Nation. Cheney, who ran the Pentagon under Bush's father, echoed the Texas governor's recent theme that the next U.S. president will "inherit a military in decline", thanks to the Clinton-Gore years.

It "takes a very long time to build quality military forces," argued Cheney. "You can't just turn it around on a dime. You might be able to change the readiness status of one division in a few months, but the overall trends, the overall problem is there and you can't change it on short notice ..."

Over the last week, Republican Bush has been flummoxed by Democrat Gore's L.A. convention bounce. The bounce is no surprise, for that's what major party conventions usually give their nominees. What's striking is that with Labor Day just around the corner, it took so little to throw the Texas governor off track in his now dead-even race with Gore.

So Cheney on Sunday played to a traditional GOP strength - national security - as he blamed the current Democratic administration for shrinking U.S forces too much while at the same time piling up too many military commitments around the world.

"That affects morale; that in turn affects reenlistment rates when you lose those top-quality people, you end up having to fill them with folks who don't have as much experience, and that hurts the overall quality of the force, and it is happening. It's out there," said the former Wyoming congressman.

...(Once) you start down that slippery slope of declining readiness, declining morale, shortage of spare parts, inadequate training, it feeds on itself, and what you get is good people leaving; they will not sign up," he added.

Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, told NBC's 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 Mr. Clinton has been in office, Joulwan said: "Yes."

Yet Cheney claimed the Clinton White House went far beyond the post-Cold War reductions in U.S. forces that he and Gen. Colin Powell had mapped out in the early 1990s. While acknowledging the current administration has moved lately to bolster America's military, Cheney argued the Republican Congress deserves the bulk of the credit for that.

Besides defense, Cheney also touted Bush's tax cut proposal on Face The Nation - a plan that Bush has admitted he himself hasn't sold effectively to the voters.

"It's th kind of thing that was also done at the beginning of the Reagan administration," said Cheney of the tax cut plan, which the Democrats have slammed as too tilted to the wealthy and fiscally dubious. "I think (it) gets a lot of the credit for why we have a prosperous economy today."