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Better pay, benefits show commitment to military

AMERICA DOESN'T really want to be the world's policeman. We'd much rather that everybody in every country behave so there'd be no need for hard-nosed diplomacy or threats of military action, or, absent such idyllic conditions, that other nations take on a bigger share of the responsibility for keeping the peace.

Until one of those things happens, however, the United States must, in its own interest, continue to carry a heavy load of commitments around the world. Doing that means we must have a military that is adequately equipped and adequately manned --- and that means not just raw numbers of personnel, but also people in all the armed forces who are educated, well-trained, determined, and, if possible, experienced. None of those elements is assured at the moment. All of the services are finding it harder and harder to recruit new personnel --- the Navy fell 7,000 short of its goals in 1998 --- and to keep those who have reached mid-career and are badly needed for continuity and leadership.

For that reason, we think a measure raising military pay and benefits, which passed the Senate 91-8 on Wednesday, is an urgent necessity that should get the support of the House and the Clinton administration. The simple fact is that the good economic times the country is enjoying have turned out to be bad times for the armed forces. People who might be interested in military jobs find they can do much better financially in the private sector.

The only way the services can meet their needs --- and serve the needs of the country --- is to compete. Lowering standards for recruitment isn't an answer, because today's military uses smart technology and smart tactics and needs smart people to run them. It's an open question at this moment where the money to fund the pay increases is going to come from. We hope Congress won't decide to bleed other critical parts of the defense budget, such as training and readiness; it makes no sense to have more people who are less prepared to protect the nation. There's going to be temptation to use the phony budget "surplus" to raise overall spending to pay for these raises and plenty of other programs, but we hope that won't happen, either.

Budget discipline demands that we weigh all competing needs and demands, and fund the ones that are most important --- and keeping the military up to strength clearly should be near the top of anyone's list. publication.

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