Gov. George W. Bush’s foreign policy is dangerously misleading the military.
He is assiduously and successfully courting military personnel--active and retired--by making implicit promises that cannot be kept. The failure to honor these pledges will widen the gap between civilian and military leadership.
The Republican presidential campaign sends two messages to the military. The first is a promise that a President George W. Bush would increase the defense budget and address current military concerns. The second implicit pledge is that U.S. troops no longer would be asked to conduct peace operations; indeed, a Republican administration would withdraw U.S. forces from the Balkans.
Bush’s budget proposal allocates $45 billion to defense; a significant portion of this targets research and development. Current deficiencies and shortfalls go unaddressed. Yet Vice President Al Gore’s proposed national security budget is more than twice as large--$100 billion--and it addresses short-term critical needs, particularly recapitalization of the armed services. Gore allocates more money to defense and addresses the current urgent needs of the services. The vice president takes a prudent approach to research and development, recognizing that defense transformation is not simply about developing new weaponry but also about restructuring processes and organization.
The Bush team promises money, but will cut many of the services’ priority projects without solving any of the military’s current problems. Two months into a Republican administration the knives will have been drawn and the military leadership will have reached its proverbial boiling point.
The second promise is more disturbing. Bush questions U.S. involvement in peace operations, particularly in the Balkans. The candidate and his advisors repeatedly cast doubt on the validity of U.S. missions there. They imply that the Clinton administration committed U.S. forces to keep the peace in southeast Europe simply to save NATO. This is misleading and incomplete.
Of course, NATO’s utility to the U.S. bolsters our desire to keep peace in Europe. However, the U.S. would have committed to peace operations in the Balkans with or without NATO. The rationale for our involvement is the desire to restore and maintain stability in Europe. We have an abiding interest in European security, and only by extension in our defensive military alliance. Unfortunately, our work there is unfinished.
That lesson was brought home to me on a recent trip to the region. In fragile, ethnically divided Macedonia, the Albanian restaurant staff yelled to me, “Albanian is the language of the future!” Their Slavic manager angrily attempted to hush them, but their hopes, raised by “success” in Kosovo, fed their frenzied nationalistic outburst to the traveling American.
A Republican president would be no more able to withdraw U.S. forces from the Balkans than a Democratic one. The U.S. cannot ignore its interests and allies in Europe. The military, diplomatic and potential economic costs would be unbearable. Weeks into a Republican administration the military leadership will find its hopes dashed.
The combined result of the two unfulfilled promises would make the military not only mistrust Democrats, but Republicans as well. The Bush team’s irresponsible rhetoric only risks increasing the distrust the military has for its civilian leaders and widening the civil-military gap.