How to choose a commander in chief
Geoff Metcalf talks to former Marine Commandant Gen. Charles C. Krulak

By Geoff Metcalf

Easy to overlook in the rhetoric between George W. Bush and Al Gore is the answer to who is right about the U.S. military's current state of readiness. WorldNetDaily reporter and talk show host Geoff Metcalf recently interviewed the former U.S. Marine Corps Commandant, Gen. Charles C. Krulak, about his views on military readiness, politics, and his work as co-chairman of Veterans For Bush. The highly respected military leader spent four years as the outspoken commandant of the Marine Corps until his retirement in June 1999, having served a total of 35 years in the Corps.

Question: General, I'd like to focus this interview on two areas: First is military readiness -- or lack thereof -- and secondly, your involvement with Veterans For Bush. Al Gore says the current U.S. military is the strongest in the history of the world. Is that true?

Answer: What we first ought to address is the men and women that are a part of the U.S. military. There is absolutely no question that they are magnificent. Are they better than the greatest generation? Nobody would ever say that. But they are serving their country and they are serving it extremely well. The issue is readiness at the tactical level and the strategic level. So let me hit the readiness at the tactical level first so that your readers understand that things are not as good as the vice president would indicate.

There is a shortage of spare parts for almost all of our systems, a lack of flight hours for aircraft, a lack of steaming hours for our ships, a lack of tank miles for our rolling stock, a lack of training ammunition. All of this is causing combat readiness to decline. Not necessarily on the 'tip of the spear' forces, but for all those that would follow and fight, the readiness levels are absolutely below what they were eight years ago.

Q: On top of that, they are getting tasked with all these "Hey you!" meals-on-wheels assignments that are not mission-oriented.

A: That is correct. The reality of it gets to the strategic level: We've got what would be called a strategy-resource mismatch. We're resourcing for one type of a world yet the real world is so chaotic and so dangerous that we have a mismatch. We're worried about the son of Desert Storm when what we are seeing is the stepchild of Chechnya. And it's going to catch up to us and hurt us without some action.

Q: I re-read a speech that you gave to JSCOPE (a Joint Services Organization) back in January and, besides bringing tears to my eyes, it reminded me of a seminal scene in the movie 'Rob Roy'. Did you see the movie?

A: Yes.

Q: There is a wonderful scene where he is sitting on a mountain hillside with his sons and one son asks him, "What is honor?" And he said something that mirrored what you said in your speech, "Honor is something that no man can give you, and no man can take from you. Honor is a man's gift to himself." Your whole overview on integrity is something I hope I can get your permission to post to my website because more people need to read that.

A: You absolutely can. I speak around the country and people ask, "What is the single most important leadership trait?" And I basically say the answer to that is a man or a woman of character -- character comprised of moral courage, selflessness and integrity. When your listeners and readers go to the polls on November 7, they need to keep that in mind. Character does count. And what we need to elect is a man of character.

Q: A constant frustration, for those of us who are constitutionally grounded and believe in what the framers gifted us with, is to hear the things that Al Gore is saying each day -- it is so frustrating -- right now they are finally looking into that special deal he cut with the Russians in violation of law and we don't see or hear it in the mainstream media.

A: I'll tell you, you are not going to see that type of thing in the mainstream media. It's sad. I think the American people deserve more than that. What I keep on hammering is that, on the 7th of November, we're going to go out, you and I and your listeners and readers, and we are going to elect a president and simultaneously appoint a commander in chief. Both of those are awesome, awesome responsibilities. And when you go to the polls and make that selection, you have to take in a whole lot of things. One of them is character, another is vision, the third is leadership, the fourth is a sense of right and wrong. I believe that when you go in and look at it that way, the choice is obvious.

Q: I can't believe that even Joe Lieberman really believes the country would be better off with Al Gore as commander in chief instead of George Bush.

A: I will tell you, I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Lieberman. He served on the Senate Armed Services committee when I was commandant. I will tell you, he knows in his heart and his soul the state of readiness of the armed forces because people like myself went up and testified to our problems. And I used to say, don't treat the skin cancer of near-term readiness while our armed forces are being eaten by a cancer that is metastasizing in our guts. He knows this!

Q: General, I have to ask you something about the 'puzzle palace' -- the Pentagon. I have never understood something. I commanded a couple of units when I served and it was real important to get that C-1 rating and -- from what I hear now -- it is kind of a pencil drill and the folks in the Pentagon know that. And still, they pass along this bogus information about the level of readiness. Why is that allowed to happen?

A: Well, first off, I will tell you my precious Marine Corps didn't pencil drill it and you can look at my testimony for four years. I told it straight in front of the Congress and there was no love lost between the Marine Corps and the Defense Department at that time. But the bottom line is, they are good and honorable people but you are in a position where the budget is the president's budget and, if you're not careful, if you don't somehow support that budget, you can end up being a loser. My belief is what you said, the Constitution is very, very clear. It is the Congress that is charged with raising armies and maintaining navies -- not the commander in chief.

Q: A couple of weeks back, someone sent me a litany -- and I was shocked to read it because it was extracts from post commanders at Leavenworth and Fort Sill -- and I'm sure you've seen the same thing.

A: Absolutely.

Q: And these guys are actually saying they are not ready -- and that if something isn't done right quick, it is going to get a lot worse before it ever gets better.

A: And I think that is what Gov. Bush is trying to raise as an issue. The problem is -- like you said about the news media -- every time he raises the issue of readiness, it is turned on him as if he is accusing these wonderful young men and women of somehow letting America down. That's not what he is saying. He, more than any, has tremendous pride in these great young men and women. That's not his issue. His issue is that we as a nation owe it to them to give them the most up-to-date weapons, systems and support that we can because the world they are going into is different. It is changing and it is chaotic and we just saw an example of it at the port of Aden.

Q: There was a piece in the Washington Times about the fact that all these former military heavyweights have thrown their support behind Gov. George W. Bush that has the Democrats just spitting bullets. I think it is significant that all these endorsers are now in private life. And it is beyond amusing that some of these people in the mainstream media are suggesting this is some kind of military coup which you guys are trying to effect.

A: It is sad. There are 85 of us. These are officer and enlisted, retired, veterans, men, women, Medal of Honor recipients, Republicans and Democrats, congressmen and senators. No one has asked the question: Why are these people supporting Gov. Bush? They are so upset about the fact that we are, that they have managed to literally throw a smoke screen in front of the major issue, why are Medal of Honor recipients, officer, enlisted, Republican, Democrat -- all of these veterans coming out in support of Gov. Bush? The answer is too hard for the Democrats to take. It's simply that these people -- with all their years of experience -- sat down, looked at the speeches and the articles, they talked to the candidates and discussed national security policy and, after looking at them all, the answer came square down on Gov. Bush.

Q: The frustrating thing for some of us is that you are all such gentlemen and Gov. Bush is such a gentleman -- everyone is being so kind and gentle about everything. It seems like there is diffidence on the part of people to acknowledge a reality that Ward Connerly and others who have contact with Al Gore tell us: He's a mean guy!

A: Well, I think some of what took place in the last debate put a spotlight on certainly a portion of the character -- where a set of rules were established by two candidates -- one of them stuck by those rules even though the other was running rampant over them.

Q: Gore did that in the first debate as well.

A: Yeah. I just hope and pray that the American people saw it. To be honest with you, I probably have the same frustration you do but, at the same time, I take my hat off to a man who is strong enough in his character to stand tall and say: Look, I said and I signed an agreement, we were going to hold debates this way, and the other person can do what he wants -- I'm going to stick by my word. I think that's what we're looking for in this country.

Q: General, I want to believe that too. But I think you might be grasping for facts not in evidence ...

A: (Laughing)

Q: ... especially when the third guy in the ring is the mainstream media who is just bending over backwards to accommodate Al Gore.

A: I will tell you -- and you may be right, I may be naive -- I believe that there are a great number of people out there who, on the 7th of November, are going to all of a sudden go back -- not to certain specific facts that someone was able to regurgitate after years of spitting them out -- but to the essence of what leaders are all about. People follow people, male or female, because they are men or women of character, because they have moral courage, because they are men or women of integrity and because they are selfless. And I think when they go into that polling booth they're going to make the right call. I'm more than willing to talk to you on the 8th of November because I think you and I will be happy.

Q: I was talking to a reporter friend at the San Francisco Chronicle last week and I asked her, "Hey, is there any chance that California is actually in play?" Today I was talking to a staffer in the California State House and I said, "If George W. Bush sneaks under the wire and steals California, it's all over."

A: One of the things I love about the man is he does not believe in being a loser. He is going to fight in every single state. People keep talking about battleground states -- he doesn't look at individual states as battleground states. He's out there in California -- he's all over the place. I mean he was in Delaware for crying out loud! There's what -- two votes-- in Delaware?

He goes to America and I think the people need to respect that -- they need to respect a man who isn't blocking some people out -- he talked about that in the last debate. There are not just blocks of people. He wants America to warm to him and support him.

Q: I thought one of the best responses he had in the last debate was when they were talking about the death tax. Gore was trying to equivocate by talking about going after rich people. And the Governor had a great line -- he said, "it's either fair for everybody or nobody."

A: I will tell you Geoff, I served his father, President Bush, and I've been with Gov. Bush on multiple occasions in the past couple of months. His greatest weapon is Laura. I mean she is a precious, precious lady and this is a good man who is smart -- who knows where he is going -- he's got a vision, he is not divisive, he is not mean-spirited. He would make a great president. I will also tell you that, when the chips are down, he can get very tough -- and I think our enemies would find that out.

Q: You made a real good observation in that JSCOPE piece and the parallels are startling. You were comparing the Roman Legions to the Praetorian guards and how, like a cancer, they started to grow.

A: Yes.

Q: And I see the same thing happening in this country.

A: It's my biggest fear. I spend probably three days a week talking to colleges and high schools around the country trying to touch our young people who I love dearly -- and I think they are magnificent. But they are bombarded on a daily basis by things that you and I never had to face -- whether it's alcohol, drugs, sex, violence -- you name it. What they need is to be challenged. They're looking for challenge, they're looking to do something of value.

Q: Yeah, but Big Brother keeps lowering the standards.

A: You better believe they do.

Q: I was talking to a young SEAL a few weeks ago and, when I went through Jump School, we did everything in combat boots because -- hey, that's what you wore on your feet. He was telling me when he went through Jump School, they changed into tennis shoes and shorts.

A: And look what's happened to recruiting. It's gone down. What did the Marines Corps do? Five years ago I came in -- and it's not me, it's a bunch of people helping me -- we raised the standards. We said: We're going to make it tougher. We're going to make our boot camp tougher -- we're going to make it tougher all around.

Q: In the wake of all the noxious political correctness and homogenizing of the social experiment, you were successful in both making the training tougher and improving recruiting and retention.

A: My point is, the results were phenomenal. We met or exceeded our recruiting goals for almost the last five years. There are great kids out there, but if you don't hold them accountable, if you don't challenge them, if you don't give them the belief that what they are going to do is going to be valued by their fellow man and their fellow woman, they're gonna pick your pocket and run.

What we gave them was -- we said: Look we're not going to talk about giving you money, forty thousand dollars for a college education, and we're not going to go on about teaching you all these skills. What we're going to say is: If you want to be challenged -- physically, mentally and morally -- join the Marines. We're going to transform you and the transformation will last forever. And whether you stay in for three years or thirty, when you go back to the civilian society, you will go back better for having been a Marine.

And I believe in my heart and soul that we can do that with the youth of America because they are good kids. But I'll tell you, you're point is well taken: If you mollycoddle them, if you give them a silver spoon, they'll take the silver spoon and then some.

Q: General, I have to ask you: Do you know Eric Shinseki?

A: Yes I do.

Q: He wants to give everyone a beret as part of this outcome-based something-or-other.

A: One of my dear friends spent three tours in Vietnam with Special Forces and, when he read that on the front page of the Washington Post, it was to him the ultimate slap in the face. I mean, that would be like our Marine War Memorial, taking one of those Marines off of that statue.

Q: Why not just give every boot three rows of ribbons so they don't have to feel diminished when they confront some gunnery sergeant?

A: I really don't know why Eric did that. He's a good man but I think this is one where he probably made a call that he is going to end up regretting -- and probably retracting.

Q: Some of the reaction I've had from green beanies, Rangers and guys in the 101st and 82nd -- they are really angry.

A: Well, think of the Rangers who stormed the cliffs above Normandy. Somebody who works in a motor pool will be wearing their beret.

Q: I would suggest Gen. Shinseki not schedule any immediate trips to Fort Benning or Fort Bragg.

A: (Laughing) That's right.

Q: General, ever since I allowed my name to be added to Veterans For Bush, I have been getting a whole lot of e-mail -- and I know you guys have been real, real active in cyberspace trying to get the message out. How is this Veterans For Bush organization organized and what is the objective?

A: The objective is to get out the vote of the veterans and the active duty. We believe in our hearts and souls that if the veterans and the active duty get out, they are going to vote for Gov. Bush. We put out straight information as to where the two candidates stand. We articulate our support for Gov. Bush, but what we say more than anything is that: You fought, you shed your blood and many of your friends died to preserve the right to exercise the constitutional right to vote. And to not do so is a disservice to your dead buddies. It's been a long time since an election has meant so much to the country. The mission is to get the vote out.

Q: And what else?

A: The secondary mission is to educate. So that when they vote, they vote the right way. But we believe that most veterans are going to vote for Gov. Bush. And what we're talking about here, Geoff, is in excess of 50 million people -- if you count the families. Fifty million people served or had a close member of the family -- a father, or wife or a husband who wore the uniform. Fifty million voters. We've got to get them out, and they've got to vote.

Q: One of the inevitable frustrations is that, when you listen to these debates and the speeches, the mainstream press is giving a pass and a get-out-of-jail-free card to Al Gore. I mean he is lying so much, with such consistency and rapidity -- and he doesn't get called on it!

A: My concern is the one I think many of us have, and that is, I don't know who the real Al Gore is.

Q: Neither does he.

A: I've seen three debates. In the first debate he was a pitbull. The second debate ...

Q: Come on General, they took him to the woodshed after that first debate.

A: Yeah, and so the second debate he was far more subdued. And the last debate he was somewhere in between and a little bit petulant. I think the American people -- again, maybe I'm a little naive and give them too much credit, but I don't think so. I think we've got some smart people out there and they watch that and they say to themselves: OK, if he is so political that he changes his personality with every debate, what's going to happen when he goes up against Fidel Castro, or goes up against Yassar Arafat -- or you name it?

Q: Well, wait a minute -- he's already had a chance to go up against the Russians.

A: You saw the results of that. Whereas with Gov. Bush, the reality is what you see is pretty much what you get: a good, decent man who has surrounded himself with good, decent people, who has done a magnificent job in the state as a chief executive, who is smart, who is a visionary, and who has some policies and plans for the American people that are inclusive, not divisive.

Q: By the way, this frequent bromide of the Democrats that Gov. Bush isn't that bright -- I don't know any guys who fly go-fast airplanes in any uniform that aren't smart.

A: The one thing I can say to your readers is -- and please listen to me -- I've spent the last three months very close to this man and he is a smart, smart individual who has a vision and knows where he wants to go. His ability to regurgitate details is equal to anybody. The question is, does he believe that? That is, what does the nation need? Somebody who can regurgitate details? Or, do they need somebody who has a vision -- and a vision that is inclusive and not divisive?

Q: And consistency doesn't hurt either. General, I've talked to a lot of people in and out of the services about readiness and we have heard stories that perhaps you can corroborate or refute. Specifically, that we have U.S. Navy ships that can't leave port because they don't have enough bodies.

A: There have been instances where the ship's commanding officer has come up on the net and said we're short personnel and we do not believe we should leave. We've had similar issues in all the services with, say, the ability to fly the number of flight hours to not just maintain proficiency of our fighter pilots but to make them far more skilled than any adversary they come up against. The ability to fund those flight hours has dropped dramatically.

Q: A frightening reality is now you have company-grade officers and mid-level NCOs -- some with 10 to 15 years of service -- who are bailing and getting out.

A: The reason they are doing that is twofold -- and I'll be honest -- they don't believe they're getting supported from the top. And from the top, I don't just mean the commander in chief -- I mean their senior officers.

They see that because they are the ones who are trying to get out of the motor pool and they don't have the spare parts to get their vehicles out, or they're the ones who are trying to get the flight hours, and they're the ones who are trying to get the ammunition. And the problem is, they say 'my bosses aren't getting it for me.'

What they fail to fully understand is that the president's budget is almost 40 percent below what it was at the end of Desert Storm. When that happens, the ability to have the money to do what needs to be done is very slim. But what you're seeing is tremendously frustrated, fine young officers who are saying, 'Look, there's got to be something better than this.'

Q: Going back to that JSCOPE lecture you gave, you said, "Sound morals and ethical behavior cannot be established or created in a day, a semester or a year." You should have added the caveat, "unless you're Al Gore and can reconstruct yourself every day."

A: (Laughing) My point at that time (January 27, 2000) was aimed at somebody else.

Q: I've heard from a lot of these troops who have left the service and they tell me it wasn't really a cash issue. They tell me they look at their leaders and they say these aren't guys I want to follow into war because they're not going to be there when they leave us on the beach.

A: Yeah. One thing that readers ought to understand is these folks are not getting out because they're not getting paid enough. I mean money is something but, to these selfless servants, the money isn't the issue. The issue has to do with our leadership -- from our commander in chief on down. We've got to make a change.

Q: I've been telling folks for years to "tell 10 people to tell 10 people to tell 10 people" -- this is a good time to encourage people to heed that advice regarding Veterans For Bush.

A: Yes. I think the reality is this is the single most important election this country has had in years. We need to get out the vote and we need to get out the veteran vote. It is critical. If you stay home on the 7th of November you are failing in the very duty that you upheld so valorously when you wore the uniform, and we just can't afford to have that happen. We've got to get the veterans out.

Q: Frankly, it is a matter of national security as well.

A: Absolutely. It's a matter of national security. It's a matter of national values and ethos and character.