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Spend More on Defense -- Now

For an immediate $ 18 billion, Bush can show he's serious

11:00 PM, Jan 21, 2001 • By GARY SCHMITT and THOMAS DONNELLY
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Yet the transformation of the U.S. military that is required will take decades, as Bush acknowledged during the campaign. Before that work can begin, and to maintain American military preeminence through the long transition, the current force must be restored. The combination of steep cuts and increased operations not only has left the military gasping to meet existing commitments, but also makes our present armed forces a weak foundation upon which to build the force of the future. Like an injured or exhausted athlete, the military needs to regain its fitness before training for the next Olympics.

Solving these pressing problems must be the first order of business if the U.S. armed forces are to reflect America's global leadership and continue the large number and variety of missions that have marked the post-Cold War era under both the Clinton and the previous Bush administrations. While it is important to build a different and dominant military force to meet the emerging threats, the United States cannot afford to take the 20-year "strategic pause" advocated by some transformation enthusiasts. In fact, to those working long hours to overcome a variety of shortages, the need for spare parts is more compelling than the need for transformation. And, indeed, Rumsfeld appears to understand this, suggesting at his confirmation hearing that an immediate infusion of money is needed.

The Bush team no doubt increasingly appreciates the fact that failure to address these immediate needs will hamper not only current military missions but also their own efforts at reform. This link between current problems and future solutions was captured in a recent memo from Gen. John Abrams, head of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, which would direct transformation programs. Writing to Army chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, a strong proponent of transformation, Abrams made it clear that "unless funding increases across the board, [the command] will fall further behind in these key development areas which underpin the future Army."

Promptly upon taking office, then, Bush should seize the opportunity to deliver on a significant campaign pledge. Beyond the material improvements that would result from an $ 18 billion shot in the arm for defense, a quick supplemental appropriation or budget amendment would go a long way toward restoring the confidence of people in uniform. And it would be the basis for future transformation. A serious defense supplemental appropriation would combine good politics and good policy.

Gary Schmitt is executive director, and Tom Donnelly is deputy director, of the Project for the New American Century.