April 26, 2006

US Army chief bemoans military spending reluctance

By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army's top general,
concerned about proposed cuts in defense spending, said on
Wednesday America had never been as vulnerable to attack and
the threat was growing.

"I think we're just beginning to see the kind of challenges
that we're going to face," said Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the
army's chief of staff, adding it was hard to understand any
reluctance to spend all that was needed on defense.

Apparently referring to growing terrorism threats, the
general told reporters the United States had "probably never
been as vulnerable" in a world "where the oceans no longer make
the difference that they used to make."

Schoomaker said Americans had spent about as much on
"plastic Santa Clauses and tinsel and all this stuff for
Christmas" last year as President Bush is seeking from Congress
in the regular defense budget -- about $440 billion.

"I just don't understand why this is a problem -- to defend
ourselves," he said.

"This is a world that you're going to have to play
full-court press all the time," he added. "And it's going to
get worse and worse and worse in my opinion." The United States
is engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of what
President George W. Bush calls a war against terrorism."

Bush's defense-spending request for fiscal 2007, which
starts October 1, would total 3.9 percent of the nation's
nearly $13 trillion economy, the smallest share the nation has
spent on defense in wartime, Schoomaker said.

The Defense Department is considering cutting $25 billion
from the army during the Pentagon's next six-year spending plan
as part of a new round of fiscal belt-tightening, Inside the
Pentagon, a defense industry trade paper, reported last week.

Schoomaker, replying to a question, said he was not ready
to accept such a cut.

"I'm not going to go back to an army that's got all these
holes in it," he said, saying the army became a "hollowed-out"
force during a post-Cold War cut in procurement spending.

"This is such a dangerous time that we're going into here,"
he said. "We don't have the strategic warning and all of the
buildup time that we used to have."