Monday, October 04, 2004

Excerpts from the 2000 Cheney-Lieberman VP Debate

From the 2000 VP debate between Cheney and Lieberman. Questions regarding overextending the Military, and about Saddam Hussein. The full and complete transcript of both candidates' answers to the indicated questions:

You and Governor Bush charge the Clinton-Gore administration have presided over the deterioration and overextension of America's armed forces. Should U.S. military personnel be deployed as warriors or peacekeepers?

CHENEY: My preference is to deploy them as warriors. There may be occasion when it's appropriate to use them in a peacekeeping role, but I think the role ought to be limited, a time limit on it. The reason we have a military is to be able to fight and win wars. And to maintain with sufficient strength so that would-be adversaries are deterred from ever launching a war in the first place. I think that the administration has, in fact, in this area failed in a major responsibility. We've seen a reduction in our forces far beyond anything that was justified by the end of the Cold War. At the same time we've seen a rapid expansion of our commitments around the world as troops have been sent hither and yon. There was testimony before the Joint Chiefs of Staff before the Armed Services Committee that pointed out a lot of these problems. General Mike Ryan of the Air Force with 40% fewer aircraft, he's now undertaking three times as many deployments on a regular basis as he had to previously. We're overcommitted and underresourced. This has had some other unfortunate effects. I saw a letter the other day from a young captain stationed in Fort Bragg, a graduate of West Point in '95 getting ready to get out of the service because he's only allowed to train with his troops when fuel is available for the vehicles and only allowed to fire their weapons twice a year. He's concerned if he had to ever go into combat there would be lives lost. It's a legitimate concern, the fact the U.S. military is worse off today than it was eight years ago. It's a high priority for myself and Governor Bush to rebuild the U.S. military and to give them good leadership and build up the forces.

MODERATOR: You're shaking your head in disagreement.

LIEBERMAN: I want to assure the American people that the American military is the best-trained, best-equipped, most powerful force in the world. And that Al Gore and I will do whatever it takes to keep them that way. It's not right, and it's not good for our military, to run them down essentially in the midst of a partisan political debate. The fact is that you've got to judge the military by what the military leaders say. Secretary Bill Cohen and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will both tell you the American military is ready to meet any threat we may face in the world today. The fact is, judging by its results from Desert Storm to the Balkans, Bosnia and Kosovo, to the operations that are still being conducted to keep Saddam Hussein in a box in Iraq, the American military has performed brilliantly. This administration has turned around the drop in spending that began in the mid-'80's and right through the Bush-Cheney administration, but now it's stopped. We passed the largest pay increase in a generation for our military. And the interesting fact here, in spite of the rhetoric that my opponent has just spoken, the reality is if you look at our projected budgets for the next ten years, Al Gore and I actually commit twice as much, $100 billion in additional funding for our military than Governor Bush does. And their budget allows nothing additional for acquisition of new weapons systems. That's the same thing that the chiefs of the services will not be happy about. They need the new equipment, the new systems that Al Gore and I are committed to giving them.

CHENEY: This is a special interest of mine. I would like a chance to elaborate further, if I might. The facts are dramatically different. I'm not attacking the military, Joe. I have enormous regard for the men and women of the U.S. military. I had the privilege of working with them while I was the Secretary of Defense. No one has a higher regard than I do for them. It's irresponsible to suggest we shouldn't have that debate, that we should ignore what is a major, major concern. If you have friends and relatives serving in the U.S. military, you know there's a problem. If you look at the data that's available, 40% of our Army helicopters are not combat ready. The combat readiness level in the Air Force dropped from 85% to 65%. Significant problems of retention. The important thing for us to remember is that we're a democracy and we're defended by volunteers. Everybody out there tonight wearing the uniform standing on guard to protect the United States is there because they volunteered to put on a uniform. When we don't give them the spare parts they need, when we don't give our pilots the flying hours they need, when we don't give them the kind of leadership that spells out what their mission is and let's them know why they're putting their lives at risk, then we undermine that morale. That's an extraordinarily valuable trust. There is no more important responsibility for a President of the United States than his role as Commander in Chief. When he decides when to send our young men and women to war. When we send them without the right kind of training, when we send them poorly equipped or with equipment that's old and broken down, we put their lives at risk. We will suffer more casualties in the next conflict if we don't look to those basic problems now. This administration has a bad track record in this regard, and it's available for anybody who wants to look at the record and wants to talk to our men and women in uniform, and wants to spend time with the members of the Joint Chiefs, wants to look at readiness levels and other -- other indicators. Final point, the issue of procurement is very important because we're running now off the buildup of the investment we made during the Reagan years. As that equipment gets old, it has to be replaced. We've taken money out of the procurement budget to support other ventures. We have not been investing in the future of the U.S. military.

LIEBERMAN: It's important to respond to this. Yes, of course it's an important debate to have as part of this campaign, but I don't want either the military to feel uneasy or the American people to feel insecure. What I'm saying now I'm basing on serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee talking to exactly the people Dick Cheney has mentioned, the Secretary of Defense, the Chiefs of Staff. I've visited our fighting forces around the world. I'm telling you that we are ready to meet any contingency that might arise. The good news here and the interesting news is that we have met our recruitment targets in each of the services this year. In fact, in the areas where our opponents have said we are overextended, such as the Balkans, the soldiers there have a higher rate of re-enlistment than anywhere else in the service because they feel a sense of purpose, a sense of mission. In fact, this administration has begun to transform the American military to take it away from being a Cold War force to prepare it to meet the threats of the new generation of tomorrow, of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, cyber warfare. The fact is that Governor Bush recommended in his major policy statement on the military earlier this year that we skip the next generation of military equipment; helicopters, submarines, tactical air fighters, all the rest. That would really cripple our readiness. Exactly the readiness that Dick Cheney is talking about. Al Gore and I are committed to continuing this acquisition program, transforming the military. There's fewer people in uniform today, but person-to-person, person-by-person, unit-by-unit, this is the most powerful and effective military, not only in the world today, but in the history of the world. And again, Al Gore and I will do whatever is necessary to keep it that way.

MODERATOR: If Iraq's president Saddam Hussein were found to be developing weapons of mass destruction, Governor Bush has said he would, quote, "Take him out." Would you agree with such a deadly policy?

CHENEY: We might have no other choice. We'll have to see if that happens. The thing about Iraq, of course, was at the end of the war we had pretty well decimated their military. We had put them back in the box, so to speak. We had a strong international coalition raid against them, effective economic sanctions, and an inspection regime was in place under the U.N. and it was able to do a good job of stripping out the capacity to build weapons of mass destruction, the work he had been doing that had not been destroyed during the war in biological and chemical agents, as well as a nuclear program. Unfortunately now we find ourselves in a situation where that started to fray on us, where the coalition now no longer is tied tightly together. Recently the United Arab Emirates have reopened diplomatic relations with Baghdad. The Russians and French are flying commercial airliners back into Baghdad and thumbing their nose at the international sanctions regime. We're in a situation today where our posture with Iraq is weaker than it was at the end of the war. It's unfortunate. I also think it's unfortunate we find ourselves in a position where we don't know for sure what might be transpiring inside Iraq. I certainly hope he's not regenerating that kind of capability, but if he were, if in fact Saddam Hussein were taking steps to try to rebuild nuclear capability or weapons of mass destruction, you would have to give very serious consideration to military action to -- to stop that activity. I don't think you can afford to have a man like Saddam Hussein with nuclear weapons in the Middle East.


LIEBERMAN: It would, of course, be a very serious situation if we had evidence, credible evidence, that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction. I must say, I don't think a political campaign is the occasion to declare exactly what we would do in that case. I think that's a matter of such critical national security importance that it ought to be left to the Commander in Chief, leaders of the military, Secretary of State to make that kind of decision without the heat of a political campaign. The fact is that we will not enjoy real stability in the Middle East until Saddam Hussein is gone. The Gulf War was a great victory. And incidentally, Al Gore and I were two of the ten Democrats in the Senate who crossed party lines to support President Bush and Secretary Cheney in that war. We're proud we did that. The war did not end with a total victory. Saddam Hussein remained there. As a result, we have had almost ten years now of instability. We have continued to operate almost all of this time military action to enforce a no-fly zone. We have been struggling with Saddam about the inspectors. We're doing everything we can to get the inspectors back in there. But in the end there's not going to be peace until he goes. And that's why I was proud to co-sponsor the Iraq Liberation Act with Senator Trent Lott where I have kept in touch with the Iraqi opposition, broad base. We met with them earlier this year. We are supporting them in their efforts and will continue to support them until the Iraqi people rise up and do what the people of Serbia have done in the last few days, get rid of a despot. We'll welcome you back into the family of nations where you belong.