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Inching toward Armageddon

By Rep. Richard Pombo

I came to Congress the same year that Bill Clinton came to the White House. As a member of the loyal opposition, my service in the U.S. House of Representatives is historically intertwined with those events that have come to define the Clinton presidency.

The conservative district in California's Central Valley that sent me to Washington did so because we both agreed that Americans were overtaxed, over-regulated, and that our government had grown too large.

Mr. Clinton's inside-the-Beltway constituency, I knew, would not share my district's desire for smaller government. Those supporting Mr. Clinton were looking to expand, not shrink, the size of government. Consequently, I was not surprised to find myself often on the opposite side of the fence from Mr. Clinton when I arrived in Washington. That's politics.

But what did surprise me in my dealings with the president -- beyond the tawdry details of a rootless personal life -- was his relentless effort to weaken America's fighting ability while both transferring highly classified technology to America's major military competitor and involving our country in numerous, questionable military ventures around the world.

In 1992, the United States seemed invulnerable. We had, after nearly half a century in the shadow of nuclear Armageddon, backed down the Soviet Union and unleashed the forces of freedom and democracy among its former captives. We had demonstrated the technological superiority of American weaponry and sent Saddam Hussein packing back to his Baghdad bunker. When President Bush passed the torch to Mr. Clinton, he passed the Reagan/Bush legacy of a strong, respected and victorious America.

In six-and-a-half short years that hard-earned legacy has been squandered.

Since Mr. Clinton relocated from Little Rock to Washington, we've watched U.S. supercomputers, missile-guidance technology and scientific know-how transferred to the Communist Chinese at levels sufficient to advance their targeting capabilities by a quarter century. Today, American cities that were not threatened in 1992 are reachable by Chinese ICBMs. Today, a generation of 18-year-olds worries that the lost Pax Reagan -- once their birthright -- will mean a return of the draft and the nuclear anxiety of their parent's youth.

In economic terms alone, the cost of regaining America's position of strength and security is almost incalculable -- maybe even unattainable. We will not be racing a technologically-backward, second or third world country, but a technologically-sophisticated and -equipped opponent with visions of regional dominion far beyond its own borders and with old scores to settle.

Before our children -- or grandchildren -- are back to the relative position of military strength bequeathed us by Ronald Reagan and George Bush, American taxpayers will sacrifice many of their hopes and dreams so politicians and generals can play catch-up. The vibrant domestic economy that keeps the Dow floating above the 10,000-point level will have to compete with a government borrowing to ensure its survival.

The alternative, of course, is to not play catch-up. But that would cost us even more. It might cost us everything.

All of which brings us to Mr. Clinton's war in Serbia.

This is his 33rd such foreign military excursion since taking office in 1993. That's three times the number of deployments of American troops to foreign soil of all his predecessors since World War II -- from Truman to Bush. All together.

Between the attacks on Serbia and the earlier attacks on Iraq, the U.S. arsenal of air-launched cruise missiles has dwindled to a mere 75. And the stock of Tomahawk missiles, on which the Pentagon has grown to depend, has been drawn down to dangerously low levels. The Tomahawk is not currently even in production. We are currently converting nuclear-armed cruise missiles to conventionally-armed weapons to make up the shortfall. That, of course, means a loss of nuclear deterrent should some other part of the world heat up and pose a threat to U.S. soil.

To illustrate just how naked this leaves us, remember that last summer's attempt to kill the terrorist Bin Laden cost us 75 cruise missiles -- to take out a few tents in the Afghan desert and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. If orders for replacements were placed today, it would still be two years before those cruise missiles were available in any military theater.

With what will we respond if the fanatical communist regime of North Korea, with its hair trigger border and its fourth year of famine, decides to turn years of bluster into a full-blown invasion of the South? Unlike Serbia or Haiti, a free and friendly South Korea is strategically essential to U.S. security. But unlike Haiti, Somalia or Serbia, North Korea has -- or shortly will -- missiles capable of hitting U.S. territory.

Only last August, the North Koreans test fired a Taepo Dong-1 class missile across Japan. A strategic ally and American bases in the region can be targeted today. The Taepo Dong-2, a multi-stage follow-on, may already be in production, putting Alaska and Hawaii in reach. Lighter versions of the TD-2 could strike all U.S. territory west of an arc extending from Phoenix, Ariz., to Madison, Wis.

What will our military -- downsized and its cache of technological silver bullets squandered -- respond with if the North Koreans decide that their opportunity for success against Seoul exceeds U.S. ability to respond? What if the Chinese communists decide to pursue the long-threatened, forced reunification of Taiwan with the Mainland (using their repertoire of new American techno-goodies, by the way)?

There are only two possible American responses: Either we surrender the field (and probably the prospects for freedom's expansion around the world), or we commit our troops -- on the ground and on foreign soil -- to battle. And because of Mr. Clinton's systematic weakening of our forces and his actions that have changed the world's balance of power to U.S. detriment, the likelihood that we or our emboldened opponent will be tempted or forced to resort to massive (e.g. nuclear, chemical or biological) force has increased dramatically.

As President Reagan so often counseled, peace comes from strength, not weakness. Weakness -- even the perception of it -- emboldens enemies and tempts them to test our limits and our resolve.

The unseemly details of Mr. Clinton's personal life, we were told, did not matter. The cozy relationships with officials in the Chinese government and the stream of campaign contributions flowing between their bank accounts and his campaign coffers were of no consequence, it's been said. Just as long as the stock market is soaring and unemployment is low, the mantra goes, anything and everything else can be overlooked.

Maybe. Maybe not.

We are about to test whether Mr. Clinton's defenders were right -- whether their offering of laissez faire morality will buoy the President's approval rating among those Americans whose loyalty he -- and we -- need most right now -- America's fighting men and women. Men and women, incidentally, whose prescribed code of conduct does not permit them the moral equivocation of their commander-in-chief.

Will Americans who averted their eyes and withheld judgement when Mr. Clinton brought shame on the presidency be as sophisticatedly discreet when the American body count overtakes the Dow or the Standard & Poors? Will they ignore the implications of returning to a nuclear doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction -- but this time, with many more players?

I don't think so.

This month I communicated a message to my constituents that I have been forced to communicate four times since August 1994 when Mr. Clinton began launching foreign adventures. It is a message about the conditions under which I, as their representative, could, in good conscience, vote to send their sons and daughters to fight on foreign soil.

I ask myself ...

Is this action to:

  1. Protect and defend territories belonging to the United States?
  2. Preserve our political and economic systems from foreign threats?
  3. Keep sea-lanes open for trade and maintain free and voluntary trade between the United States and trading partners?
  4. Prevent the domination of strategic areas of the globe by powers hostile to the United States?
  5. Safeguard Americans and their property from acts of terrorism?

Mr. Clinton's Serbian War clearly does not meet these conditions for committing our young men and women. We can only pray that before he is done, his actions don't create them.

Rep. Richard Pombo is a Republican member of the House of Representatives from Northern California.