Courtesy Reuters

Money for Nothing: A Penny Saved, Not a Penny Earned, in the U.S. Military


When he was running the Pentagon, James Schlesinger was fond of responding to his critics by saying that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions but not to his or her own facts. Unfortunately, Condoleezza Rice ("Promoting the National Interest," January/February 2000) and Robert B. Zoellick ("A Republican Foreign Policy") ignore Schlesinger's dictum when describing the Clinton administration's impact on military spending and the state of U.S. armed forces.

According to Rice, the Bush administration "was able to reduce defense spending somewhat at the end of the Cold War," but the Clinton administration "witlessly accelerated and deepened these cuts." Actually, in the Bush administration's four years, defense spending fell by 18 percent -- more than 4 percent each year. In the Clinton administration's seven years, defense spending has fallen by slightly less than 10 percent, which is slightly more than 1 percent each year. Moreover, Rice conveniently ignores the six-year plan Bush presented to Congress in January 1993, which projected a continuing decline in defense spending through 1999. Clinton's actual defense budgets were $2 billion more than the final Bush defense plan for 1994-99, as Daniel Goure and Jeffrey Ranney explain in their new book, Averting the Defense Train Wreck in the New Millennium.

Rice then details the "devastating results" of Clinton's large cuts on the U.S. military. According to her, readiness has declined, training has suffered, pay has slipped 15 percent below civilian equivalents, the services are forced to cannibalize existing equipment, and the military has much difficulty recruiting and retaining people. Leaving aside whether these (at best, misleading) statements are true and resulted from Clinton's reductions, these conditions are not related to the amount of money spent on defense. The nonpay portion of the operations and maintenance account in the defense budget, which funds training, readiness, and maintenance, is 13 percent higher now than when Bush left office. Moreover, if the spending on operations and maintenance is calculated on a per capita basis, it is nearly 40 percent higher today than in 1993.


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