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Cheney Resurrects Bush's Army "Not Ready for Duty, Sir" Fraud

October 8, 2014

Dick Cheney is the herpes of American politics: he never goes away and periodically resurfaces only to subject the nation to painful and embarrassing flare-ups. So it is with his latest irritating tirade about a supposedly underfunded U.S. military unready to fight. His latest rant that "we have four combat-ready brigades out of 40 in the U.S. Army" is both false and familiar. During the 2000 presidential campaign, he and George W. Bush used the same fraud to devastating effect against Al Gore.

As the Fiscal Times reported, Cheney used an early September appearance at the American Enterprise Institute to decry "decried the reduction in U.S. military spending in recent years, noting that only 10 percent of the U.S. Army's brigades are combat ready." On September 24th, he regurgitated that talking point for Sean Hannity:

"The threat is increasing and our capacity to deal with it is decreasing because of what's happened to the U.S. military, the massive reductions in the budget, [and] the fact that we've got four combat ready brigades out of 40 in the U.S. Army."

As Politifact explained, Cheney's claim is "Mostly False." While the actual number is seven Army brigades out of 38, for the U.S. military the term "combat-ready" has a very specific meaning. It doesn't just exclude units that have not completed regular training, but those that have already been deployed. Under that definition, U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan or stationed in South Korea are not combat ready. (And by that measure, the overstretched U.S. Army fighting President Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would have had zero combat ready brigades in 2004 and 2008.)
But if Cheney's claim is utter bullshit now, it was extremely effective bullshit against Al Gore in 2000. "For eight years, Clinton and Gore have extended our military commitments while depleting our military power," vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney told the 2000 Republican National Convention. "Rarely has so much been demanded of our armed forces, and so little given to them in return...And I can promise them now, help is on the way." But it was then-Governor George W. Bush who the next day made an even more damning indictment:

"We have seen a steady erosion of American power and an unsteady exercise of American influence. Our military is low on parts, pay and morale. If called on by the commander-in-chief today, two entire divisions of the Army would have to report, 'Not ready for duty, sir.'"

As Joshua Micah Marshall documented four days later on August 7, 2000, Governor Bush's claims were patently false, as Bush knew well. Those two divisions had their status temporarily downgraded for the obvious reason that they were already on duty in the Balkans:

Bush took all this a step further when he told the convention audience that two divisions were currently "not ready for duty." As a factual matter, the statement is false, as the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Hugh Shelton, was at pains to point out the following day...
...But the reason those two divisions had their readiness downgraded was not because they were unfit for duty or lacked equipment. It was because portions of each division were on peacekeeping duty in Bosnia and Kosovo. The military's definition of readiness has to do with a particular division's ability to go into combat immediately in the hypothetical case of two major theater conflicts breaking out simultaneously. The commanders doubted their ability to quickly extricate their troops from their positions in the Balkans.

Confronted by CNN, Bush refused to own up to his deception and instead pointed a suspicious finger at the military itself:

"If the Army, in fact, changes its tune from that report...then they need to let the country know. I am amazed that they would put out a statement right after our convention. I'm curious why it took them this long to say they were combat-ready after a report last November said they weren't."

Nevertheless, Bush mobilized a large army of Republican surrogates to issue the same deceptively dire warnings about America's supposedly "hollow military." As the New Republic recounted in a September 2000 article titled "Apocryphal Now--The Myth of the Hollow Military":

George W. Bush, in a much- publicized speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars last month, bemoaned a "military in decline." At the Republican National Convention, Gulf war hero Norman Schwarzkopf derided the Pentagon as enfeebled. The Armed Services are in a "downward spiral" (Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott), "neglected" (Senator John McCain), in "bad" shape (Representative Curt Weldon), and "could not fight and win against Iraq today" (Representative Duncan Hunter). Bush advisers routinely describe the American military as a "hollow force."

Unfortunately for Al Gore, the truth was not combat ready in November 2000. That's no doubt why Mitt Romney tried to repeat Bush's scam during his 2012 race against Barack Obama. Despite the fact that core U.S. defense spending (that is, all expenditures outside of Iraq and Afghanistan war funding) had risen during every year of the Obama administration. Romney nevertheless announced, "I will reverse President Obama's massive defense cuts." Then during the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago, Romney penned an op-ed to charge:

"The United States [is] on a path to a hollow military."

As one analyst put it, Romney's posture didn't pass "the giggle test." Which is why President Obama bludgeoned him with it during their debates:

"You mention the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets."

But with Election Day coming in less than a month, that means it's once again time for the GOP to redeploy its tried and untrue "not ready for duty" sound bite. To put it another way, it's time for another Cheney outbreak.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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