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GWEN IFILL: We get four views. Republican John Warner of Virginia, as noted, is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. General Merrill McPeak is former Air Force chief of staff. He’s now president of a company that produces training and simulation equipment for the military. John Isaacs is president of the Council for a Livable World, an arms control advocacy group. And retired Army Lieutenant General Paul Cerjan was president of National Defense University, and Commandant of the Army War College.
Senator Warner, today you heard President Bush talk about $5.7 billion for quality of life issues in the military. Do you think that’s a good idea? Were you happy to hear that?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: I commend the President, and he’s doing the right thing at the right time. And I think that I can clarify some of the confusion that possibly was raised when my good friend and colleague Senator Lieberman gave that short press comment. Let me explain that the President was correct in what he said today, and what he said a few days ago that I’m going to proceed to study very carefully the strategy of the United States, the threat that’s posed from outside to our forces, to our country, to our allies, to determine what major weapons systems should be continued and others might be stopped. He’s doing the right thing and he needs to let the Secretary of Defense put his team in place and make these studies. Now, secondly, at the same time the President has to address the urgent needs in the military. We’re still short on some pay, some housing, and some health care and some other what we call dollars needed for training and steaming hours and so forth. I’m confident that the President will do the right thing at the right time on a supplemental to Congress to fix the budget now being expended to add those sums to take care of these needs, and I think he’ll do it before the Fourth of July.
GWEN IFILL: When Senator Rumsfeld — when Secretary Rumsfeld said there was no doubt in his mind that there would be additional funding and when Dick Cheney told people last August that the Bush administration would be riding to the rescue of the military financially, did you think you would be in a place where you’d have to write the President a letter to remind him of his commitment?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Yeah — but I have got the letter right here. The first paragraph says we support you, Mr. President, and you’re doing the right thing. But long term studies and on a parallel track at the same time they’ll be addressing the supplemental. And I predict it will be done before the Fourth of July and you will not see any further degradation in the readiness of our military. The President, trust me, will do the right thing at the right time.
GWEN IFILL: General McPeak, do you believe there is the need for additional spending on the military?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: No, I couldn’t agree more with Senator Warner. The right thing to do here is to do this top-to-bottom review, decide what we want to use our forces for, that is to say, what our strategy will be and to make sure that we’ve got the forces constructed properly and configured properly for the job of work that we expect them to do. So that’s very important. I think the President is going at this at exactly the right way.
GWEN IFILL: Are you and Senator Warner and the President talking about the same price tag?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Well, I think $300 billion, more or less, is a sizable amount of money. And we ought to be able to do a pretty good job of defending this country in peacetime. After all, we’re as safe and secure as a nation as we’ve ever been in my lifetime. So it seems me that $300 billion ought to be enough. I would remind….
GWEN IFILL: Which is where we are right now?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Plus or minus, we’re in that range.
GWEN IFILL: $297 billion.
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: I moreover regard the tax cut as a security issue. You know, the military strength of this country rests in the last analysis on our ability to create wealth. And to the extent that a tax cut improves our wealth-making capacity, then it’s a security issue, arguably as important as the level of the defense budget.
GWEN IFILL: Before we get to the tax cut, I just want to clarify one thing. The $297/$300 billion Bill Clinton military budget is the budget that the joint chiefs and Senator Warner and other people have said is not enough. You believe it is sufficient?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Yes, I do. I don’t think it’s being spent properly. I think the Clinton administration mishandled the defense budget. They slashed the modernization programs. We went on a procurement holiday. As a consequence, our readiness is poorer today than it was eight years ago. We can confidently forecast that it will continue to get worse. So defense spending priorities need to be changed. But probably within pretty much the limits of the amount of dollars that are already being provided.
GWEN IFILL: Lieutenant General Paul Cerjan, what’s your thought about that?
LT. GEN. PAUL CERJAN: Well, I hate to not take a different approach. I think that Senator Warner laid it out precisely the way anybody would lay it out. If you took a look at it in terms of the near term and the far term, I think it’s absolutely correct that the Secretary of Defense have the opportunity to take a look, top to bottom, and determine if our strategy is correct, if our capabilities are sized correctly and what procurement is necessary to bring about the move to that status. On the near term, however, we do have readiness issues. We have infrastructure issues. We’ve had to take from various accounts in order to support operations over the last few years, over the last eight years so consequently we’ve got to take a very close look about what types of supplementals are needed now while we’re taking a look at what the long-term impact ought to be on all the services.
GWEN IFILL: Are you hearing what you want to hear about the amount of money this administration is prepared to pledge in the near term?
LT. GEN. PAUL CERJAN: I don’t think that the actual dollar value… I sort of agree with General McPeak. $300 million plus or minus is a good start point but you have a couple of issues that you have to attend to that may increase that a little. One is the pay comparability gap; it’s a 10 percent gap right now. That’s going to take some money. We take a look at the medical infusion that Senator Warner talked about. And then of course we’ve got to take a look at the infrastructure that is suffering whether it be housing or on-post installation maintenance and repairs and those types of things. We faced the same types of issue back in the ’80s. That’s one of the reasons that we had to go back and try to rebuild the infrastructure. So those increments will have to be added to and whether or not they’re added to or taken away from the $300 million mark I think is a question that just has to be looked at as the Secretary of Defense looks at the entire program.
GWEN IFILL: John Isaacs, is $300 billion a good figure, too much, too little?
JOHN ISAACS: I hate to break up this love-fest but while I think it’s a good idea for the administration to study these issues and I commend the administration for undertaking that, I think the budget is much too high. And I hope the study looks at some of the real problems that exist in the military. One of those problems is we’re still buying a lot of Cold War weapons. The F-22, the next generation Air Force plane, is a wonderful plane. It was designed to combat the Soviet Union but the Soviet Union doesn’t exist anymore. And it’s three times as expensive as a plane it would replace. We still are… have a two-war strategy planning to fight two wars which the nonpartisan national defense panel several years ago called a justification for high military budgets. There’s still huge accounting problems in the Pentagon. They don’t even know how much money they have or are spending. The inspector general of the Pentagon said there are 2.3 trillion dollars in items that they can’t quite account for. That’s not billion. That’s trillion dollars. $2.3 trillion — and the General Accounting Office said there are about $27 billion in inventory items that they can’t find. It’s not a matter of money — if the review just results war money put into the pentagon we’ll be going in the wrong direction. It’s time to move back.
GWEN IFILL: Senator, that’s the same question that Senator Byrd, one of your Democratic colleagues raised, which is how much should it take to fund the military?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, if you can give me a specific definition of all the threats that face the United States, I can give you a precise answer. But let me say, I served briefly at the end of World War II when we knew exactly who the enemy was and what their capabilities were. Since that time, it’s gotten more and more difficult to analyze the threats and today young men and women in the military, they don’t know what to face where they go in the far-flung lands of the world. Terrorism is on the rise. So much of our budget today is directed at terrorism, and particularly threats could strike us here at home.
GWEN IFILL: Why don’t you tell me what the priorities should be.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: The priorities, I think we’re right on target. Let’s get the figures straight. We had roughly $296 billion for defense in the budget we’re now operating on, and I predict we’ll add another $5 billion to that to do the shortfalls that we desperately need between now and Fourth of July. Then the President quite properly said we’ll stick with the Clinton budget for ’02 which is $310 (billion), but the President said I’m going to study everything and possibly come up with some programs canceled, some new added, so we may add dollars over and above the $310 (billion) for ’02 after the President conducts three basic analyses, first the one required by Congress — I brought our book from last year’s law — on the overall strategic. That’s the nuclear. Then the other programs: Quality of life, conventional and all of the others that are being studied.
GWEN IFILL: Are you getting signals that we’re not hearing that the White House is willing to pony up this kind of money?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Look, the President is on the right track. Don’t worry about these confused signals that others are sending out. I assure you studying long term for modifications to the ’02 budget which starts next September and my own prediction is we will have a supplemental to take care of certain essential shortfalls between now and the Fourth of July.
GWEN IFILL: General McPeak, what do you think the priorities should be?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Well, I believe first of all we need to decide this business of what our strategic approach is going to be, and once having decided that, then I think there’s a lot that can be done to reconfigure our armed forces for more efficient use of the resources provided. Frankly, one of our big problems now is we’re dragging around way too big a logistics tail. At the end of the Cold War, we were spending about a 50-50 ratio — in other words, about half of the dollars in the defense budget went to combat capabilities and half went to logistics support — and that was a disgraceful ratio. It’s gotten worse. Today it’s something like 70-30, so we need to face up to the fact of closing down these excess bases that we don’t need, closing depots, laboratories, arsenals that were obsolete 50 years ago and really take a whack at this logistics tail. That would give us the money to fund needed combat capabilities, including the modernization, which is really getting to be one of our more desperate priorities now. We simply must replace this equipment that was bought by the Reagan and early in the first Bush administration, which is gradually been allowed to be run down by Clinton.
GWEN IFILL: Lieutenant General Cerjan, do you think that this military budget is at risk at all because of the Bush administration’s priorities for tax cuts as we heard in our setup piece here tonight?
LT. GEN. PAUL CERJAN: No, I don’t think so at all. I agree with Senator Warner. Give the President time and the Secretary of Defense to take a good, thorough look at sizing the strategy, the capabilities, et cetera, re-looking at the procurement program and getting us out into the future so we can be sure that when the President, God forbid that he has to commit young men and women into battle, that we have given them everything they need in order to do the job. There’s an old adage that says we want to stay outside the enemy’s range and inside their decision cycle. The only way to do that is to get out ahead in the technology business and that’s going to cost money.
GWEN IFILL: And you think after this top to bottom review is completed that there will be more money in the pipeline, that there will be a need for more cash to be spent to keep the military up to speed with whatever challenges it faces?
LT. GEN. PAUL CERJAN: There may be but it’s going to be balances. General McPeak says taking a look at other issues in terms of whether or not we ought to delve into the logistics tail a little bit more. The last conflict in Kosovo has taught us we can work on a split-base operation where we don’t deploy everything overseas that we do a lot of just in time inventory types of things. There’s all sorts of new technology that can be applied but it has to be evaluated. Does it mean more procurement dollars? Maybe. Does it mean that we’re going to hold back some programs that we may be looking at right now? Probably. So give the President time and particularly give the Secretary of Defense time to take a real thorough look at where we ought to be going.
GWEN IFILL: John Isaacs, assuming there’s a limited pot of money here, how should it be spent — if you pass tax cuts is that at the expense of the military or do the two things don’t really ever have to cross?
JOHN ISAACS: There are a lot of things have to be evaluated. But I just want to remind you that next year’s military budget is about $324 billion because you have to include Department of Energy military activities. It’s not just Defense Department. $324 billion is quite a lot of money. In fact it’s almost 95 percent the Cold War average. What we are preparing to fight the huge Soviet conventional forces, the huge Soviet nuclear forces, the major threat we face. The Senator is correct. There are threats we face today but they’re puny threats. North Korea, Iraq, Iran; they are problems but they’re not problems that are solved by spending a huge amount of money on unnecessary weapons on an outdated strategy and with an accounting system where they can’t even figure out what they’re spending the money on.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: I have to disagree. They’re not puny. The threats are very complex today with the spread of weapons of mass destruction, be they nuclear, chemical or biological. This is a very dangerous world, and I think our President is proceeding on the right course — to protect us and our allies.
GWEN IFILL: We are out of time. We’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you very, very much, Senator and gentlemen.