DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
February 14, 1995

SMALLER IS BETTER IF YOU'RE SMARTER

My first day as a staff officer -- the day I learned a vital lesson about how the military mind works when it comes to the money game -- my boss said, "Prepare the budget." Fortunately, my smart assistant, Pvt. Tom Martin, helped me pound out a document justifying our 1956 budget.

The colonel exploded when he read it. "You've put us in the poorhouse, boy" he fumed. "Go double every figure, and add an ammunition storage bunker."

I said, "Sir, our bunker has lots of unused space."

The colonel shook so hard I thought he was about to launch to the moon. "If you ask for twice what you need, you might end up with enough," he raged. "Damn clerks all the way to the Pentagon will cut our numbers. You gotta outfox 'em."

Before Les Aspin got the ax as Secretary of Defense, he followed my old colonel's magic act when he flimflammed the illusion he called the Bottom-Up Review. The BUR calls for a force of 1.4 million capable of fighting and winning two Desert Storm-type wars simultaneously. The idea is that the Pentagon must be able to slug it out with at least two of the bad guys from this year's probable MOST WANTED LIST, with North Korea and/or Iraq, and/or the other two awful meanies, Iran and Libya.

What Aspin and his Pentagon crew did was juggle the books just like my old colonel; they manufactured a bigger threat to have a bigger budget, even though there wasn't a serious thundercloud on the horizon. Few in Congress challenged this deception because they're into the pork.

No one would have been any wiser had the nation not been broke and the taxpayers not been demanding government spending be cut. All would have been business as usual: give the Pentagon whatever is needed, just as throughout the Cold War.

The 104th Congress knows the country can't afford the forces called for in Aspin's BUR. They also know as each day passes the U.S. military capability to fight on two fronts grows weaker, and the Pentagon gets further behind and deeper in debt. If this sad scenario is allowed to continue, the military capacity will be so eroded that any serious fight will result in a replay of the terrible opening scenes of North Africa in 1943 and South Korea in 1950.

On these two grim killing fields, badly trained, badly led and badly equipped U.S. forces were rushed into battle only to be kicked all over the bloody landscape. Thousands of young men died, and our nation was humiliated.

Congress and the Pentagon must take a second look at the BUR. They must clearly assess the enemy situation and the threat to the U.S. Once they do, they'll find Aspin's plan is an expensive sleight of hand.

General Gary Luck, the U.S. commander in South Korea and one damn fine mud soldier, said last week that North Korea's military machine -- which spends a mere $6 billion a year -- is rusted out. Its troops don't have money to train, and their gear is old and worn.

Iraq, another Aspin manufactured bogeyman, spends only $3 billion a year on defense -- about 1/100th of the U.S. Defense budget -- and couldn't fight its way out of a retirement home. Remember, Schwarzkopf and his team waxed Saddam Hussein's finest in 1991 in four, count 'em, four days, and they've gone downhill since!

One U.S. Nimitz-class carrier has more strike power than all of Iran's and Libya's ragtag fanatics combined -- and we have 12 of these big mothers.

Once Congress figures out there are no threats to our national security other than defense spending, they should turn over Aspin's BUR to world class magician David Copperfield and tell the Pentagon to build a reality-based force structure capable of fighting one Desert Storm at a time.

I'd rather have one solid, head-splitting bat to swing at my attackers than a dozen that were ineffective. The same principle applies to combat units, and I didn't learn this from the old colonel, but firsthand from fighting in or reporting on about a dozen hot wars since 1945.