We must punish to deter

Posted: Mar 15, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- Bill Clinton left the country this week to speak abroad. Those who have watched the Clintons' sudden decline in public favor, pari passu with their exposure as furniture thieves and corrupt pardoners, might well wonder if Clinton will ever return to these shores. The brazen misbehavior of the Clintons during their last days in the White House should remind us of why we punish misbehavior in the first place. We punish it to deter it, to set limits on refractoriness and to make clear to each other what kind of behavior is unacceptable in society. The laws and the standards that the Clintons were allowed to flout these last few years also serve the purpose of revealing individual character. If the laws are not observed, rogues and scoundrels can present themselves as perfectly normal. If standards of performance are not observed, incompetents and mediocrities can present themselves as stars. Bill Clinton is soon going to be seen as a crook and an incompetent president, but it has taken a dreadfully long time for the public to catch on. Had he been held accountable to the laws and the standards of our society, he might not have become so reckless, and the country would not be faced with repairing the damage that the Clintons have done. Did I say incompetent? Did I say damage? Yes, Clinton was a very incompetent president and has done much damage as we are now perceiving. At his best he did no damage to the Reaganite course the country was on. Otherwise, he did significant harm. Consider the military. Recall the early reports of the Clinton administration's distaste for uniforms. Note the years of complaints about its neglect of the military. Surely all that has some relevance to the recent news stories of military botches. Eight years of neglect have allowed our military to become a menace to civilians and to itself. Submarines are popping out of the water, capsizing fishing vehicles. Military aircraft are falling from the sky. The other day a Navy fighter bombed its own people. This is just within the last few days, and these are merely the major botches that we know about. I cannot think of a time over the past three decades when so many stories of military bungling came to light so rapidly. I am referring to the USS Greeneville's accidental collision with that unfortunate Japanese fishing boat off Hawaii. Then last week, a National Guard transport plane crashed in Georgia, killing 18 guardsmen. Now we read that an F-18 Hornet over Kuwait was directed by an air controller to drop three 500-pound bombs so close to friendly observers that six were killed. Finally, there are reports that the ill-fated Osprey aircraft might be canceled. It accounted for the deaths of 23 Marines in the past year. Throughout the Clinton administration, cuts have been made in the military budget that have led to the deterioration of maintenance and materials. In terms of maintenance, spare parts and the training of our military is about at the sorry level it was in when President Jimmy Carter left office. Increased appropriations are now needed just to keep military equipment serviceable and nonthreatening to those who use it. Increased appropriations are also necessary to improve the working conditions and training of our troops. Research and development are also going to be costly. The other night, Rep. Bob Barr was expressing his alarm about all this with friends. He was particularly concerned about military morale and pointed out that large numbers of highly trained veterans are simply retiring. Perhaps that is a good thing for them. With equipment in disrepair and insufficient funds available for training, they might as well get out before they get hurt. Barr was particularly dismissive of the Clintonite nonsense of raising morale amongst the troops by handing out $6 berets. "As though you can make up for the lack of
esprit de corps by giving a soldier a cap that Monica Lewinsky made famous," the congressman joked. Well, more bizarre thoughts prevailed in Washington under the Clintons. But now the military is paying the price, and if the damage of the Clinton years is to be undone merely in the realm of the military, more money is going to have to be spent, and quickly. "We did not even have enough money in the military-repair account," noted Barr, "to repair the USS Cole after the terrorist attack last fall."