Clipped From The Salina Journal
Don't be misled by military 'spending cuts' talk On the very day when Mikhail Gorbachev was arguing in a stormy Central Committee session for the Soviet Communist Party to begin sharing power with other political groups, what was President Bush's maladroit message to the world? "Now, back to war," he told American troops during their maneuvers at Fort Irwin, Calif. The president's hortatory remark was . televised at the end of a speech that had interrupted a simulated tank war in Europe. Bush's presence on the field reflected his determination to maintain an enormous military budget, despite what he conceded were "encouraging changes" in what used to be the Communist world, and despite overwhelming domestic spending needs. Nothing that's happened in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union, Bush maintained at Fort Irwin in a new theme of his administration, should "lull us into a sense of complacency." Of course not, but when he himself — properly, I believe — praises Gorbachev's leadership and publicly hopes for the success of the Soviet president's reform program, are < the American people really supposed to believe that the Gorbachev program may include a conventional invasion of Western Europe and/or a strategic attack on the U.S. ? That's what Martin Fitzwater, the White House press secretary, seemed to suggest when he said the threat posed by Soviet nuclear forces had not diminished and despite lessening of tensions "the United States must continue to maintain a robust and credible nuclear deterrent." Or is Bush warning that if Gorbachev is overthrown, his successors may launch an Tom Wicker NEW YORK TIMES aggression? Either Cold War notion asks Americans to discount new and old Soviet weaknesses: • The loss of Eastern Europe, including East Germany and crippling the supposed strength of the Warsaw Pact. • The surging internal unrest, from Lithuania to Azerbaijan, that undermines the 70- year Soviet regime and may turn back the calendar not just to World War II but to 1917. • The pervasive economic and technological stagnation that impelled Gorbachev's effort to remake Soviet society. If, despite Bush's so-called prudence, you believe that all these facts might at last diminish the fear of Soviet aggression that for 40 years has shaped U.S. foreign policy and military spending, Richard G. Darman offers another facile "threat": "There are third parties now — non- superpowere," the budget director and this administration's house intellectual told a television audience, "who have ballistic missile capability." If the Russians aren't coming, folks, maybe somebody else is. That, Darman said with a straight face, makes it imperative for the U.S. to spend more — in fact, $900 million more than last year—for the Star Wars missile defense, and to continue building the Stealth bomber ($500 million each). He did not name any "third parties." Star Wars, moreover, is by now a certified non-starter, out of Buck Rogers by Rube Goldberg. Skeptics may well wonder, therefore, if the sickly U.S. education system and the nation's decaying infrastructure (to name only two domestic needs) are really being sacrificed to the "threat" of North Korean missiles, or actually to Bush's fear of the Republican right wing. » r As for the rest of the president's military budget, do not be misled by talk of "spending cuts." In fact, military spending is going up, though not by as much as once was predicted. The total in fiscal 1991 will be $295 billion, which — though touted as a reduction of 2.6 percent in projected Pentagon spending power — represents an increase of about $5 billion in actual dollars over the current year. Proposed reductions, overall, are limited and "fairly timid," said Les Aspin, the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. ;: The resulting military force, bristling as it still does with weapons systems and the ability to project U.S. power anywhere in the world, won't look timid in Moscow. The embattled Gorbachev will hardly see, the helping hand Bush promised him, in a military budget rising in the face of what is undeniably the retreat and contraction of Soviet military power. : Worse, those in this country who lack jobs; shelter, education, health care and hope can take comfort only in the knowledge that, even with the Warsaw Pact in disarray, George Bush stands militant guard against third parties with missiles.