Gephardt’s Gaffe

July 29, 2003 | by | Topic: Military & Foreign PolicyPrint Print

Amid the several contortions in logic apparent in presidential candidate Representative Dick Gephardt’s (D-Missouri) July 22 presentation to the San Francisco Bar Association was the contention that the operational and tactical successes achieved by American forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in their 26-day drive to Baghdad resulted from the “Clinton-Gore military.”

I served as director of research for the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute from 1993 to 2001, a period encompassing the “Clinton-Gore military” era. Charitably, the best thing I can say about the Clinton administration’s Department of Defense is that cuts in force structure and resources compelled us to develop innovations focused on leveraging communications technologies and developments in precision strike capabilities to compensate for drastic reductions in manpower.

The personnel cuts, however, were significant. During the Clinton administration, the Army shrank from 20 to ten divisions. There were similar cuts in the Air Force and Navy. Thank goodness the Iraqi forces our troops faced in OIF were less capable than those of 1991 because they outnumbered coalition ground forces by about four-to-one.

Contributing to the ongoing problem with guerrilla warfare in Iraq today is the fact that sufficient ground forces needed to find, fix and annihilate the Saddam Fedayeen and Republican Guard could not be deployed without jeopardizing commitments in the Balkans and retaining enough forces to counter the threat from North Korea.

Accordingly, thousands of committed Saddamites took their weapons and simply faded away to fight another day. They comprise the current cohort of guerrillas currently plaguing—and killing—our troops. Quantity has a quality all its own and thanks to the Clinton-Gore era, the numbers needed for a truly decisive victory were not available. Arguably, it was the remnants of the Reagan-Bush military that prevailed in OIF. The ground and air forces used in Operation Iraqi Freedom, with notable advances in digital and communications technologies, were largely a “legacy force” resulting from the Reagan era.

The Army’s “Big Five” weapons acquisitions, to include the M1A2 Abrams tank, the M24 Bradley fighting vehicle, the Multiple Launch Rocket System, the HU-60 Black Hawk transport helicopter and AH-64 Apache attack chopper, were all procured during the Reagan buildup of the 1980s.

The Air Force’s F-16 and F-15 fighters, now approaching obsolescence, were developed during the Nixon administration with full production and deployment over subsequent administrations. The B-2 and F-117 originated under Carter but were brought to fruition by Reagan who also revived the B-1 bomber program after his predecessor killed it.

President Bill Clinton began his mis-administration of the Pentagon with a poorly conceived attempt to change Pentagon policy on gays so homosexuals could serve openly in the military. Worse, perhaps, after trying to change the policy Clinton backed off, in effect letting himself be “rolled” by his generals. Drastic cuts in force structure followed, with the Army suffering more than any other service. Meanwhile, the operations tempo, the rate at which American forces were deployed to conflicts from Somalia to Haiti to Bosnia to Kosovo, increased by 300 percent without a concomitant increase in resources. Reductions in funding for research and development, maintenance and—most significantly—training covered the costs.

Perhaps the greatest “legacy” of the Clinton-Gore years concerned sagging morale.

Soldiers trained to fight and win the nation’s wars were used in a string of “peacekeeping” missions, which atrophied their combat skills and wore out equipment. Operation Northern and Southern Watch, aerial patrols over Iraq which mostly entailed flying in circles wore out our aircraft while dulling the critical edge in combat skills, which results from realistic combat training. Plummeting retention rates compelled the Air Force to institute a “stop loss” provision to stem the hemorrhage of pilots. Worse, however, was the decline in respect Clinton’s misbehavior fostered among the men and women of the armed forces. Military personnel convicted of fornication, adultery, and lying are subject to expulsion with a less than honorable discharge, with a very real possibility of incarceration. Soldiers don’t equivocate over “what the meaning of ‘is’ is” and they don’t respect leaders who do.

The Clinton-Gore years presented our armed forces with significant challenges during a critical time of transition from Cold War force structures, doctrines and strategies to preparing for the very uncertain strategic paradigm of the 21st century. The successes our armed forces achieved in Iraq came in spite of—not because of—the previous administration. President George W. Bush has restored a sense of mission and purpose to the armed forces. More importantly, this commander-in-chief has their respect.

Earl H. Tilford

Earl H. Tilford

Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama where he is writing a history of the University of Alabama in the 1960s. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism.

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