Pentagon spokesman defends Clinton administration record on military, defense
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon on Tuesday defended the administration's record on defense, returning fire from Republicans at the GOP convention, who will use the event to accuse the Clinton adminstration of overextending the
armed forces and allowing U.S. military readiness to slip.
"I don't know quite what they mean by that, whether they'll build the military back up in size to 2.1 million people to a Cold War-force size or whether they'll leave it at the current size," Bacon said.
"I think the best way to answer that question is to look at what the United States military has done and is doing," he said.
"In the last four years, the (U.S.) military has fought one of the most successful air wars in history", Bacon said in a reference to the 1999 NATO war against Yugoslavia.
"It's carried out large peacekeeping -- participated in large allied peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo, it's maintained regular air patrols over Iraq in the face of hostile fire on an almost daily basis," he said.
"They've done this with consummate skill and professionalism and success. I
don't think there's a citizen who isn't proud of the way our military has
performed in these operations and is performing every day", Bacon added.
"Secondly," Bacon said, "the military is carrying out on a regular basis
it's normal engagement policy, a policy with 100,000 -- nearly 100,000 troops
forward-deployed in Europe and nearly 100,000 troops forward-deployed in the
"So in those two fundamental respects, I think the military has performed
admirably and has shown itself to be well-led, well-trained and well-equipped.
"On specifics, you can always argue on numbers: Are the numbers enough?
And some people always say no and some people will say they're too much", he
One of the GOP claims is centered on what some see as the underfunding of
the military and military acquisition programs in particular.
But, Bacon staunchly defended the Clinton administration's record.
"Just looking back over the last four years, one of the things that
Secretary (William ) Cohen and this administration has been able to do is to increase
procurement spending by more than 40 percent, from $43 billion to a little over
$60 billion for the next year, a major increase in the ability to modernize the
military," he continued.
"And this money will be used to bring on a new generation of tactical
aircraft for the Air Force and for the Navy and the Marines. It will be used
to make the Army lighter and more lethal, and it will be used to bring on a national missile defense system, if the president decides to go that route," he said.
"I think also we had got a $112 billion increase in defense spending over
the five-year plan several years ago; we've had a 4.8 percent pay increase, the
largest in a generation; and pay table reform for men and women in the military,
which has given many people in mid- ranks a higher pay.
"The pay is now going up about 3.5, 3.7 percent a year, more than the rate
of inflation, and that's built into the five-year plan. So pay is improving,"
In a booming economy, with fewer active duty troops and a large number of forces deployed to world hot-spots and on peacekeeping missions, the Pentagon has been straining to retain trained personnel.
"We're looking at ways to improve the quality of life," Bacon said, adding:
"Beyond pay and retirement, one is medical care, and that's a box that is yet
to be checked, but it's something that the secretary and the chairman are
working on, and I would hope that we'd have something to say about medical care
relatively soon. But that's a work in progress."
"So I think in the way the military has performed, I think the way it's
been funded, and I think the way it's been led, our military is exactly what
this country deserves: professional, successful and leaders", he said.
Asked whether the U.S. military is as "strong and capable" today as it was
when President Clinton took office, Bacon said, "Well, the military is about
the same size, a little smaller, and I would say it is more capable."
"I'd say it's a stronger, more supple military. I think that there have
been important improvements in technology, important increases in investment,
important improvements in quality of life", Bacon told reporters
"I think that we have incorporated new technology. I think that the way
we fought the air war over Yugoslavia and Kosovo last year showed how well we
can operate in tough, challenging conditions", he said.
"I think that the patrols over the no-fly zones over Iraq every day show
how well we perform in conditions under fire. I'd say this is an extremely
lethal, fast-moving military. And I think it's well prepared to perform the
task that the nation demands of it, and I think that's exactly what the
military's been doing."
In defense of Clinton adminstration funding levels, which have dropped
significantly in terms of gross domestic product, Bacon said, "Our spending now
is a little less than $300 billion a year. It's.. as I say, there are always
ways to spend more money, or to spend it faster. There are always demands to
"It's required sharp increases in pay and benefits, and I think those have
been appropriate, particularly in light of the recruiting problems that we were
having a year ago, and the quality of life problems that have been eliminated.
And I think that we've worked -- that Secretary (William) Cohen and President Clinton
have worked very hard to increase defense investment, as I said, by 40 percent,
from $43 billion to $60 billion a year", Bacon said. "That, also, has been
justified, and will help us be as strong and dominant in the 21st century as we
Asked whether the increased number and length of deployments was harming
the military's ability to retain qualified troops, Bacon fired back.
"Well, I think that we have been doing a much better job with managing the
deployments. Military life is very active. It's not a life of sitting in
barracks.. and I think people understand that when they join the military.
They find that the reenlistment rates are highest among the troops who are the
busiest, troops on patrol in Bosnia and Kosovo, for instance", he said.
"If you look at our deployments today, under 5,000 people in Bosnia and
about 5,000 people, under 6,000 people in Kosovo, it adds up to about 11,000
people, 10,000 or 11,000 people deployed in the Balkans out of an Army that's,
what, 480,000, 485,000 people. It's a relatively small percentage", Bacon
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