BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Bill Greider, in your book "Fortress America," you quote John McCain
as saying, `I go on the talk shows all the time. You start talking
about national defense or foreign policy, the lines don't light up.'
Mr. WILLIAM GREIDER (Author, "Fortress America"): Yeah. Well, this
book is going to try to gently prod some lines to light up. But he's
right, of course. We're in a peacetime where the Cold War ended,
after 40 or 50 years of national struggle, and I think it's quite
natural that people don't want to think about it anymore. They think
that the armed forces is a bit smaller than it used to be. The
defense budgets fell some. There were a lot of layoffs and
consolidations in the defense industry. What's the problem? And what
I'm trying to do, as you know, is describe the crisis now within the
military establishment, and it involves all elements of that.
LAMB: Where does the title "Fortress America" come from?
Mr. GREIDER: Oh, it's kind of a nostalgic reference to the--the
mobilization that really began in World War II and fell a little bit
and then took off again with the Cold War and has continued to this
day. And we have a history in this country of demobilizing after
great wars. World War II was the exception, and we are still pretty
much poised for the big one, even though we use different words to
describe our national defense system now. I think that's not--I think
that's a huge mistake, and I--I really think it's a--it's such a
difficult problem that everybody has evaded it for the last eight, 10
LAMB: You went a lot of places, according to this book, to write it.
Wh--where did you get your first thought to do the book? Tell us the
different places you went researching this.
Mr. GREIDER: I--I guess I did, I don't know, half a dozen military
bases, including sailing for a day on the USS Arleigh Burke out off
Norfolk, Virginia. I went to a--a bunch of factories, many of them
rather gloomy now. Even though they're still operating, they have
acres of empty space. And I made the rounds of people like Senator
McCain and others in and out of the military, who are really trying to
force a debate on this subject. And they have been deeply frustrated
for lots of reasons. They don't all agree on what ought to happen
next to the military institution, but they all see pretty much the
same collision that I outline in this book, and that is despite the
downsizing, we have ambitions that don't begin to match a budget of
As a result, in recent years, in order not to give up on this fighter
plane or that ship or the size in this service vs. other services,
the Pentagon has had to whack here and there, not very systematically:
cut a little bit of the personnel, cut a little bit of training and
operations. In other words, take some money from the prosaic daily
functioning necessities of a--of a--of a force that's ready to fight
and put them in the account for the next weapons system or this or
that. It--it--I think of it as a--as a--as somebody with a disease
that's really consuming its own body. And I--and believe me, if you
talk to people in the ranks, from the--from the privates and seamen
all the way to the generals and admirals, they know this is true.
They--for lots of reasons, they can't very well stand in broad
daylight and announce it, but it surfaced this year in the budget
compromise, and--and I think most people are not aware of this.
The defense budget was increased this year by a substantial chunk, by
$8 billion, in so-called emergency spending. They busted the budget
caps. And the reason they did that is because this fall, for the
first time, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before a Senate hearing,
acknowledged the readiness problem. And everybody said, `Oh, my
goodness, we didn't know this was the situa'--the readiness problem is
you've got all these fighting forces with all of this brilliant
high-tech equipment, and they're not either trained or manned up to
the level of--of operational readiness. So the specter of a hollow
Army again surfaces before us. I think that's a wild exaggeration,
but it's not--it's a real problem.
LAMB: In order to write this book, did you have to go to the Pentagon
and ask permission to do anything?
Mr. GREIDER: No, I--no. You know, I've done a lot of military
reporting over the years, but not, say, in the last 10 or 15 years.
And going to Ft. Hood, Texas, or Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and
all these other places was kind of eye-opening for me because the
services--maybe from--maybe it's a hangover from Vietnam. I don't
know quite where it came from, but they're really open and cooperative
and just, you know, take you to where you want to go with a minimum of
fuss and questioning. And--and--and, in fact, pretty much the same
thing is true in the defense industry. Now they don't open the drawer
and show you their secret plans, but I went to a number of factories
and--and--and I like that very much.
LAMB: N--you named Ft. Hood, Texas, and that's located where?
Mr. GREIDER: It's in Killeen, Texas, hill country of Texas.
LAMB: How do you get there?
Mr. GREIDER: Gosh, how did I get there? I flew to Dallas, I guess,
and--or--or Houston. I can't remember. No, I flew to Austin, I
guess, and drove west from there.
LAMB: What's there?
Mr. GREIDER: I guess I got a little flight into Killeen. It's a
small town, which is like a lot of military towns, very dependent on
the base. But, you know, Ft. Hood, one of the officers there said,
is a--is--it generates about $2 billion in economic activity between
employment and contracts and so forth, and then that makes it the
largest corporation in Texas.
LAMB: To many--$1 billion a year?
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah. And--and--and...
LAMB: Two billion a year.
Mr. GREIDER: ...I went there mainly because it's the--it's the
central armor f--base for the US Army, and people had told me I ought
to go see it for myself because the motor pool there is the largest
assembly of track vehicles: tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, M1
tanks, Humvees, trucks, tanks, etc. And I had the experience of
driving down this motor pool with a sergeant, very slowly, and he's
telling me what I'm seeing behind the fences--this incredible array of
armament. And it went on for five and a half miles. I saw something
like 2,500 fighting vehicles, like tanks and...
LAMB: What is a--what is a Bradley fighting vehicle?
Mr. GREIDER: Bradley is a--is a sort of--it's a--both a personnel
carrier and a guy--a squad gets in the back, but it also has a cannon
on it that can be highly destructive.
LAMB: Tracked vehicle or...
Mr. GREIDER: Yes, tracks. And then--and then the--the M12A tank, as
it's now called, is--is--is--actually, looks kind of sleek for a tank.
It's--it's not the old tanks that you used to know. It's--it's low
sitting and--and very fast for a tank and extremely accurate at a long
distance because it's electronically advanced and so forth and so on.
LAMB: But who did they name the Bradley fighting vehicle after?
Mr. GREIDER: General Omar Bradley. Who else?
LAMB: Any other names on--on...
Mr. GREIDER: I'm sorry, it's not the--the Bradley is--is after
Bradley. The--the Abrams M1 tank is named after General Creighton
Abrams, who--who was a commander in Vietnam. But--but, actually, I
think people forgot he was a great young armor commander in World War
II. That's where he first made his reputation in the Army.
LAMB: How many military people at Ft. Hood?
Mr. GREIDER: Now you're sticking me with all these numbers. I don't
know. What? Fifty thousand, 60,000? I for--I forget off the top of
my head. It's the biggest Army post in--and I think it's actually the
biggest military installation in terms of people in the country.
LAMB: What did you do while you were there?
Mr. GREIDER: I talked to people. I--I mean, one of the purposes of
going to these places was not the hardware, but to get--just get a
kind of daily non-newsworthy feeling of what it's like inside the
services now and ran into there, as I did elsewhere, this very
contradictory human story.
On one level, you watch these, not just officers, but young kids, they
seem to me, doing really intensely technical work with weapons and
also control systems and so forth. On the other hand, you hear this
faint subtext of frustration, a little uncertainty about where things
are going. They've been squeezed, in various ways, by the--by the
declining defense budget and their commitments. And wh--and--and you
sort of get a sense of this incredible arsenal we have, which is
overabundant. I think the Army has something like 10,000 or 11,000
tanks, and only a fifth of them are actually deployed because, among
other things, it is very expensive to operate a tank, even in
training. And they told me at Ft. Hood to operate an M1 tank in--in
training mode, which is out in the--this huge prairie landscape, where
they do mock battles and so forth, I think it costs $2,000 an hour.
LAMB: How many miles to the gallon?
Mr. GREIDER: Oh, it's less than two, I think. I--one and a half
miles to the gallon. And there's also a high maintenance cost. They
actually have a vehicle--and I'll forget the name of it--that you--you
put the tank on this flatbed truck and drive it out to the field,
where it will be deployed because just the mere cost of driving one of
those things over miles of--of road and terrain takes its own toll in
Now one of the things I discovered at Ft. Hood, which--which became a
kind of metaphor for the book, is that faced with this
dilemma--strinking budget, extraordinary costs built in to maintaining
this system at high levels of readiness--they decided to opt for
simulators. And the title of that chapter is "The Virtual Tank." And
you--the--Lockheed Martin and some other contractors built these huge
boxes, about the size of this room almost, that--that are like a
Bradley fighting vehicle or a M1 tank and some others, and the crew
climbs into this box, and inside it's like a--a marvelously advanced
You've got a screen up in the cab, where you see the terrain ahead of
you, and another screen that shows you the map of the battlefield and
where the enemy tanks are and so forth, and you go through all of the
motions. Now I, frankly, having talked to lots of people in the
service, have my doubts about whether sitting in that box is quite the
same experience as actually training on a tank. But the reason
they're doing it is it's--is they're trying to save money.
As they're showing me through this training center, which is filled
with, I don't know, 40 or 50 of these sim--huge simulators, I go into
the--to the computer room, where the guys are keyboarding in codes for
the battle, and one of the operators says to me, `When we're actually
doing this, we're--we're configuring this to fight the Soviet tank
strategy because that's what we know, and that's what--that's what we
train people on.' And I observed that, `Well, the Soviet Union no
longer exists. Why are you still using this?' And the--one of the
contract managers says, `Well, it costs a lot of money to change it
now. We--we started this thing nine years ago, and we just got 'em
ready to use. Why should we--why should we spend a lot more money
redesigning it when, hell, we don't know who the enemy is anymore?'
And I--I mean, he said this quite candidly and innocently. But it
seems to me, that's a pretty good portrait of the dilemma.
LAMB: What are the rules as you're walking around? Do you have a
notebook? Do you have a tape recorder?
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah.
LAMB: Do they know you're quoting them?
Mr. GREIDER: Sure.
LAMB: So it's wide open.
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah.
LAMB: There's no off-the-record stuff or...
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah. I mean, if somebody says, `We--we can't get into
that,' you--you don't get into it. When I was at Nellis Air Force
Base following the red flag exercises, which are these live flight
training exercises mainly for fighter pilots in F-15s, F-16s, you
can't get up in the air with those guys. I mean, maybe if you were
somebody really important, they would take you along, but, basically,
you watched the--you--you watched the battle on a--on a--on a bunch of
video screens and maps with--along with a lot of other Air Force
people. And I think I probably bumped into some questions there
that--about air space and stuff that they didn't want to talk about.
But I--I--I was--I was--just because I hadn't done military reporting
in a while, I was--I was pleasantly surprised at the directness and
openness of the services.
LAMB: Do you have a public affairs officer with you wherever you go?
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah, sure.
LAMB: Nellis Air Force Base is where?
Mr. GREIDER: Nevada.
Mr. GREIDER: Southern Las--Las Vegas, Nevada.
LAMB: Right outside the city?
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah.
LAMB: And how big is that?
Mr. GREIDER: The base itself is the--about the size of the state of
Connecticut. And they have, at the north half of the base,
a--basically, a battle zone where they--they'll fly American
planes--us--our guys, which they call--always call the Blue Team in
the services against a Red Team coming from the west, mostly flying US
planes, too, but they'll be electronically coded as the bad guys. And
they--and you could watch all this on a big video battle map.
Well, I--I had a captain next to me explaining the--the cross talk.
You could hear the pilots saying, `I'm'--there's a wonderful moment
when they can--they score this--this thing very--'cause it's--it's
really training the pilots, you know, to enter in what is probably as
close to the real thing as you can create, how to--how to react to an
enemy force. And you've got electronic surveillance planes flying in.
You've got AWACS. You've got a couple of transports. You've got the
whole picture. So they're really judging the tactical skills of those
guys in the planes.
And when the--when the--when the Red Team hits you with an electronic
signal, they have a little panel of judges who say,
`You're--you're--you're gone, and get off of the field,' and you're
suppo--have to go up to a higher altitude and fly home. And I heard
this wonderful back and forth as--I can't remember the numbers, but it
said the--the code name for that plane saying, you know, `147, you're
dead.' They didn't say dead. I can't remember the word--the phrase
they use, but, `You're hit,' and there was this silence. And they
said, `You're hit.' `I know I'm hit. I'm coming'--you could see this
guy, who'd probably flown all the way from New Mexico or even South
Carolina to participate in this exercise, and he was out in five
But this, too--I--I mean, they've--they've spent 20, 30 years
developing this training system. It is very expensive. And--and I'm
not criticizing the Air Force for doing that. That's what they're
supposed to do, to keep these guys keyed. But, meanwhile, you talk to
the guys on the ground, crewmen and pilots, and they have this
incredible life now where they may not be at Nellis, they may be at
New Mexico or many--Tinker, where--any--any number of different air
bases, but they are rotating in and out of the Gulf, and they're
rotating in and out of Bosnia and other of these
short-term--supposedly short-term, temporary, overseas assignments
with a--with a frequency that's quite extraordinary.
That puts enormous strain on people, partly just the coming and going
and uncertainty of it, but on families. It's not quite what they
signed up for, even as pilots, because a--a number of them said to me,
`You know, we go over Iraq and we fly the no--we do a kind of patrol
over those non--no-fly zones. I was trained as a fighter pilot.
You're going 500 miles an hour. This is like driving a bus, by
comparison, and it really isn't training me as a fighter pilot to do
that.' A lot of pilots are getting out now. That's part of a
readi--that's probably the most-visible dimension of the readiness
LAMB: What about the planes? You mentioned F-15s, F-16s, F-18s.
What does the Air Force fly right now?
Mr. GREIDER: Well, if--both.
LAMB: If they--all three or just the Navy fly the F-18?
Mr. GREIDER: The F-14 is being--is--is the Navy, and the F-15, F-16
is Air Force. They're--I mean, that's--leads to another dimension of
the problem. That's--the Pentagon is altogether now preparing to
build three new fighter planes: the F-18AE--I might get the
designation wrong--which will replace the F-14, which I think probably
has the most justification because the F-14 is old and they're not
building any more. And the...
LAMB: How much will that F--F-18 cost per plane?
Mr. GREIDER: Oh, boy. I should have brought my list. It--it's
probably--I'm--I'm going to guess. I think it's probably $120 million
each, something like that. The F-22, I know, is now up to $180
million per plane.
LAMB: And what's the F-22?
Mr. GREIDER: The F-22 is going to replace the Air Force F-15 fighter
plane. It is being built in Georgia by Lockheed Martin. They've
rolled out the first model. The Air Force intends to buy 300
and--I--I forget the number, but it's going to pay $180 million for
a--a plane that'll--that'll produce--that--a total cost of something
like $340 billion over many years, of course.
LAMB: I do have a quote here you might be interested in...
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah.
LAMB: ...from your book: "The cost of all combat aircraft increased,
on average, from $39 million each in 1989 to $64.5 million in 1997."
But you're saying it's going to go up to $180 million a plane?
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah. Well, what happens is there are two causes here.
One is you stretch out production, and what--and what the--the other
thing the Pentagon had been doing in the last five years is stretching
out the production schedule and reducing the numbers of the total buy.
That has the effect of raising the per-plane cost because
you're--you're making--you've built--you've paid the heavy up-front
costs, the design costs, the engineering costs. You--you've
reconfigured a factory to build these things, and now you're going to
produce fewer of them, and you're going to take it over a longer
period of time. And as any manufacturer will tell you, that raises
your per-unit cost.
Plus, the general downsizing of production, defense procurement, adds
unwanted, unneeded overhead to the cost of everything you're still
producing, which is another component of my story in this collision.
And this is, again, not something that is unknown in the Pentagon, but
they don't know quite what to do about it as long as they want to
build all this stuff.
So you're--you're in this--this money squeeze that is only going to
get worse unless people step back and say, `Wait a minute. We need a
general reconfiguration, not only of the size, but of the purpose of
our military forces. And--and we need to reconsider, not all, but
many of these new generations of weapons system,' almost all of which,
after all, were conceived in the Cold War in an utterly different
situation. And--and--and we could then get a defense budget
that--that can meet what we really need.
LAMB: As you go about your travels, did you ever run into any of
these young officers, young enlisted men, women, who read Rolling
Mr. GREIDER: Oh, sure. We have a lot of readers in the--the
military. I forget what the numbers are, but...
LAMB: Are they surprised when they...
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah, I--look, I was going down to the engine room in
the USA--USS Arleigh Burke, a destroyer sailing around in the Atlantic
LAMB: Who was Arleigh Burke first?
Mr. GREIDER: Arleigh Burke was a great admiral in World War II and,
later, chief of staff of the Navy. Was he chairman of the Joint
Chiefs? I--maybe. The chief in the engine room announces...
LAMB: On the radio.
Mr. GREIDER: ...that he has the reporter from Rolling Stone present,
and everybody sort of quickened their interest at that point.
LAMB: Why are you with Rolling Stone?
Mr. GREIDER: I have had--I've worked for Rolling Stone longer than
any other publication. As you know, I was at The Washington Post for
about the same amount of time, 15 years. I left The Post in the early
'80s partly to do a midlife correction and changeover, which led to
writing a series of books and writing to this much younger audience,
much less influential, theoretically, than the audience of The
Washington--that reads The Washington Post.
On the the other hand, it was very simulating for me, and I think it
had a very sort of re--reinvigorating impact on me, partly 'cause I
was talking to an audience still making up their minds about a lot of
things, maybe not as well informed as--as the readers of The Post
might be since they're in Washington, DC, but--and more contentious
with what I have to say about issues than--than the average newspaper
reader might be.
LAMB: How do you know that?
Mr. GREIDER: 'Cause you hear from them.
Mr. GREIDER: Letters, phone calls. People stop me in the street. I
mean, it's--and a lot of it is positive, and a lot of it is, `You're
full of it.'
LAMB: A--what's the most-recent article that you wrote or in the last
couple years that people really got upset with you for whatever you
Mr. GREIDER: Well, I wrote a piece about Newt Gingrich, which...
LAMB: I was just going to ask you about the--about the headline on
Mr. GREIDER: ...upset some folks.
LAMB: But the headline on the--on the cover says: The Stank at the
Other End of the Avenue, or something like that?
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah.
LAMB: What is that? And then Newt Gingrich's name's right...
Mr. GREIDER: Well, I said that, you know, the Monica--the
pre-election obsession with Monica and Clinton's difficulties obscured
this other scandal, which is the speaker of the House. And it was
really a portrait of--of, I would say, as I said in the piece,
Gingrich's failure as speaker. And I don't mean that ideologically.
I mean it as his failure to build a working majority that could really
govern in the House of Representatives. And some people would say,
well, that wasn't his fault or that it was--it's too complicated or
his margin was too thin. But the fact is I think you saw in the
election results what I was talking about.
LAMB: How did you do that piece? Did you--did the speaker talk to
Mr. GREIDER: No. I talked to a lot of Republicans, though, many of
whom wish to remain anonymous, as you would expect, and I'm talking
about House members; others who would go on the record, at least to a
limited way. But it was very clear--and some of the reporting was
back in the summer--they--they--that many of them were burned out on
him. And that's not a--whether they were moderates or--or
right-wingers, they all had similar complaints about his leadership,
including his lack of honesty to them personally. And they just
wanted him to go away, and they didn't know quite how to achieve that.
Th--he had told them or spread the word in the House caucus that he
was going to resign probably sometime in 1999 and run for president,
and so a number, especially of the--of the--what I think of as the
hard-right, newer members, took that as a signal that, `OK, keep your
mouth shut. Get off his back. He'll go away.' And, well, we'll see
whether that's happening or not.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
Mr. GREIDER: I grew up in a suburb of Cincinnati called Wyoming,
Ohio, a very lovely, beautiful town.
LAMB: What were your parents like?
Mr. GREIDER: My father was a--a chemist, an inventor, worked for a
manufacturing company, died 10 years ago and I--at 90--age 94,
but--and had a--he was just a--a wonderful, wise, gentle, serious
person. My mother's still alive. She's in a nursing home, a--alas,
in Ohio, in not very good shape. And she was also really I want to
say intellectual, but that's not how they were. They--they--they
were--they loved the world and experienced it in lots of different
ways, whether that was gardening or reading books or whatever. And
that was sort of the--I was the youngest of four kids, and everybody
spoiled me, which I'm grateful for and--and loved me. And--and they
were all--they were--they are real smart, engaged people. So I--I
grew up in this very stimulating and some--my wife would say voluble
LAMB: Wh--where's the name Greider come from?
Mr. GREIDER: Greider is, in its origin, Swiss Mennonite. I happen
to know this, though, because in--in the last 20 years
I've--I've--well, partly because my name appears in print, I hear from
other Greiders, and some of them have done their homework on the
genealogy. And 20 years ago a--a--an engineer at NASA, whose wife was
a Greider, filled in the blanks for me, which was of two brothers who
came to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in the--1720 and built a
little house by the Conestoga River. And from that--I mean, there
were other Greiders coming in. And the--these were Swiss Mennonites
who, as you know, were radical Christians, who were literally driven
out of Switzerland by the Calvinists, who regarded them as beyond the
fringe, settled i--for--in Germany for a couple of generations and
then immigrated to William Penn's colony in Pennsylvania.
And what--and what I've always loved about this story is that eight or
10 generations later my grandfather, who--William Greider, William
Henry Greider, whom I'm named after, was living in poverty on a small
farm in Indiana. He still could speak a little German, but the--the
religion was pretty much gone. And his father, to be blunt about it,
my great-grandfather, was a--not a very nice guy. And he took my
grandfather and--and his brother out of school when they were six or
seven and put them to work on the farm, said, `You don't need an
education,' and `What--what would you need that for?'
And my grandfather ran away from home at a very young age. He ran
away first when he was 11 or 12, and then--and they caught him and
brought him back and he ran away again, went to the Midwest and worked
on farms across the Midwest, no--uneducated, settled in Kansas,
finished high school, went to college, became a schoolteacher himself.
And--and his whole life was sort of looking over the next hill and
seeing--seeing what was there, just for the fun of seeing what was
there. And I--for a lot of years I thought of hi--he's my model. I
mean, he's the guy I got all this curiosity from. Now--now I--I think
I got it from--from all of them, my mother and father as well.
LAMB: When did you leave Wyoming, Ohio?
Mr. GREIDER: I left when I was a teen-ager to go to college,
Princeton University in New Jersey, which was partly an expression of,
you know, `I want to see what it's like outside the Midwest.' And...
LAMB: How did you pick Princeton?
Mr. GREIDER: Sort of flukish, actually. I mean, I--I always thought
I'd wind up somewhere in the Midwest. And I thought, `Well,
there--there's a friend of mine in the same high school class, a very
small high school, applying to Princeton.' I thought, `Well, if he
can get in, I could get in,' and so I sent in my papers. My advisers
thought it was a--a waste of time, but I did get in and got a good
education there. I mean, I got more than a good education there, in
spite of myself, I emphasis. So...
LAMB: Don't want to jump too fast, too far, but...
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah.
LAMB: ...David Stockman is in your life.
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah, and--well, Stockman--David and--and me...
LAMB: Well, I--I want to say, whatever happened to David Stockman?
Mr. GREIDER: He's living in Greenwich, Connecticut. He's working
for, I think, still the Blackstone Group, which is Pete Peterson's
investment house in New York. Well, I haven't talked to him in a
couple of years. David was a young congressman from Michigan when I
first met him, and I saw some stuff he had written in Commentary or
the Public Interest, one of the conservative journals, and he was--I
thought, `Gee, here's a congressman who thinks for himself.' And
although he and I disagreed on a lot, we started talking to each
other, and I got him into the Outlook section when I was editing that
for The Post. That led to our relationship, which was so
controversial and produced the series and--and fin--eventually a book
called "The Education of David Stockman and Other Americans."
He was then budget director for Ronald Reagan. We had a private,
off-the-record lunch--or breakfast, rather, every--almost every
Saturday morning for the first six, nine months of the Reagan years,
and he told me candidly that, `This thing isn't working.' That--that
instead of producing this sort of steady state growth that--that
Reagan and others were predicting, and the public certainly wanted,
the tax cuts, plus doubling the defense budget were going to produce
`a sea of huge deficits as far as the eye can see,' as David put it.
When that was published in The Atlantic in the fall, it--it provoked a
firestorm and--of--and--and it was--it was educational for me on many
levels, in--in--especially--and I think for Stockman, that we were
insiders in a way. I was a--an assistant managing editor at The Post
then, and I was taking the material from these look--breakfasts and
feeding it to different reporters on the national staff. And we were
actually writing stories--albeit attributed to anonymous sources
mostly--that told this story through the year. But putting it
altogether, and particularly to the broader audience across the
country, was a big shock because they had a certain set of
expectations, which they'd been led to believe by Washington, and this
piece was saying, `The guy who designed this thing, says it ain't
working.' So that was my 15 minutes of celebrity notoriety.
LAMB: Well, if you jumped to today, though, would--what do you
think--if you had David Stockman here and Ronald Reagan sitting in the
room, and they could have a conversation, what would you--you know,
the country's prosperous today. Did none of that work then?
Mr. GREIDER: Well, it quadrupled the--the national debt. My
argument, which I made, actually, in a subsequent--my next book, which
was "The Federal Reserve," and we'll get to that, but Paul Volcker and
the Federal Reserve were launching a process, which is really finally
completed, which is disinflation. The--the inflation rate in this
country was running 8 percent to 10 percent, sometimes even higher,
20--al--nearly 20 years ago. And in order to do that, they've got to
keep interest rates high, higher than normal, and ratchet out the
inflation and a little bit each year. The presence of huge deficits,
$200 billion, $300 billion a year deficits be--out of the--growing out
of the Reagan program, made that job a lot harder, and I would say, a
lot bloodier than it--than it had to be.
Now had Reagan people--I'm not sure--I think David Stockman would
certainly agree with me up to that point. Some people would say, to
give the other side its due, the--the deficits were stimulus, the tax
cuts helped people weather the--the process of disinflation. I
don't--I think that's wrong. I mean, I think it injured certain
people: home buyers and industrial workers. We had huge
downsi--deindustrialization, really, through the '80s because of that
collision between monetary policy and fiscal policy. I mean, there
are lots of--there are lots of things to argue still over about that
history, but that was the beginning point.
LAMB: Well, if we come back to your book, "Fortress America," and
today in the military, how much of what went on back in the '80s, and
for that matter the '90s, has led to what you consider to be--what
today, if you're looking--you know, if somebody reads this book,
what's the message here?
Mr. GREIDER: The message is: We've got to have a big debate in this
country, not just at the expert level, but I think at the--at the
popular level; a debate that ordinary people can understand about what
is it we want and need in a military institution?
LAMB: How many people are under arms or in the military now total?
Mr. GREIDER: I think it's one--it's 1.5 million, going down to 1.4
LAMB: What was it at the--the height of the last 20 years?
Mr. GREIDER: Two to 2.1 in the '80s.
LAMB: When you went to Norfolk and you looked at the Navy, how many
ships are there now?
Mr. GREIDER: There--they were--Reagan's goal, as you recall, was
a--What?--What?--a 600-ship Navy, and it's now down to, I think, 350.
Maybe even lower than that.
LAMB: And what did you find when you went on the--what was the
Mr. GREIDER: The Arleigh Burke?
LAMB: Yeah. What is that? A destroyer, frigate or what?
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah. No, it's a new--it's a new sort of high-tech,
missile-loaded destroyer. It has 90 medium-range missiles on it.
LAMB: And what would you shoot, Tomahawks?
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah. Tomahawks, and a bunch of others. The Tomahawks
are the great big ones. These are--these are like cruise missiles.
And there's a--a--the center of the ship has got these tubes with this
incredible arsenal. And they've got--got something like 20 Arleigh
Burke-class destroyers that they built in recent years, and they want
to build another dozen or so.
LAMB: And how much do they cost apiece?
Mr. GREIDER: Eight hundred and fifty million, I think, each. I
mean, I'm conflicted on this, because when you see this stuff up
close, and you--and you scurry around the--the--the--the runways and
up and down the ladders, and you talk to the people operating it,
particularly the young people doing extraordinarily difficult
high-tech jobs, I think you would be inhuman not to be impressed by
that, and it just takes your breath away sometimes.
On the other hand, you--you have to pull back and ask, `Well, to what
end? What is--what exactly do we need all this for,' and especially,
`What do we need more for, given that there--there--hey, there's no
major enemy anymore.' And--and you--you really have to strain the
imagination to--to believe in the Pentagon's rationale, which is that,
`Well, we're preparing for two regional wars at once, plus assorted
expeditionary missions like...
Mr. GREIDER: ...Bosnia or whatever.'
LAMB: Who's really pushing the two-war concept?
Mr. GREIDER: Well, it started with--in the Bush administration--as a
kind of quickie reconfiguration of, `OK, the Cold War's over. What
are we--what are we doing now?' It was--Les Aspin came in as defense
secretary and did his so-called bottom-up review, which I think was
not a bottom-up review at all, but it was a kind of search for
rationales to justify what you already have, plus a modest cut in the
budget. And he said, I think, two and a half wars, plus assorted
other goodies. And Bill Cohen, the present secretary of defense,
dropped out the half, so--so we're now down to two wars. But believe
me, if you talk to military thinkers--and I'm talking all three
services and--and think tank types--they know this is just a cover,
and they have various arguments about rethinking the--the--the
military establishment in a way that would be more rational and
probably smaller. Most of them have variation--varying plans which
would, first of all, cancel a lot of the weapons systems in the
LAMB: Like what? What would be the biggest?
Mr. GREIDER: Well, I w--I mean, depends on who you talk to, but John
McCain would cancel the F-22, for instance, and his point--he would
cancel the new--there's a new class of attack submarines which the
Navy is building. Don't ask me what the total cost is. I have a--I
guess I didn't bring it--a l--a l--a sheet of--of sort of 10 obvious
examples. That's one of them. We don't need a new class of attack
LAMB: What's the aircraft carrier up to in cost?
Mr. GREIDER: Five billion dollars each. They're building right now
at Newport News, the shipyard at--on the corner of the Chesapeake Bay,
the Ronald Reagan.
LAMB: Be a $5 billion aircraft carrier?
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah. And we have a fleet of--of, I think, 12 active
aircraft carriers with--which form the core of a battle group that are
in different parts of the world. Not all of those are at sea all the
time, but y--you have to start with the--with the whole concept
of--of: What exactly are these for? And you--you, obviously, need
some of them, but do we need eight, 10 battle groups? And then do we
need to replace all the ones we have now with an even bigger and more
expensive version, which is the plan at present?
LAMB: If John McCain w--were to s--well, maybe he has said
it--everything he believes about the military and where it should go
in the context of the 2000 election, what would that create in the way
of a debate? Would he have--would he have people take him on?
Mr. GREIDER: Oh, sure, including his own friends from the Navy. You
know, as--as you know, he was a Navy pilot, hero in Vietnam,
imprisoned in Hanoi for many years. And this is why I--I like him. I
don't know whether I agree with all of his particulars or not, but
I--it takes a lot of guts to stand up with that background as a US
senator and say, `This is irrational, what we're doing now.' He also
makes a huge complaint about the pork that hi--various of his
colleagues stuff into the defense budget. But he should say, for
instance, `We gotta go back to our overseas deployments and look at
the list and reargue each one of them. Does this really make sense
now? Does the level of commitment make sense?'
Second, he has a--a concept which I think makes just good sense. The
readiness problem is--i--it requires this--keeping everybody tuned
right to the--to the 100 percent level of--of readiness. That's the
concept. It always has been. Why don't we have what he calls tiered
readiness so that some fighting forces would be ready to go tomorrow
and others would be training at a lesser level of preparedness, which
means--which reduces your training costs, which reduces your
maintenance costs, etc. He says you gotta make a choice. We've got
these three new aircraft--fighter aircraft coming along which are
gonna consume something like, I think, two-thirds of the--of the
projected procurement budget. That's--that's nutty, you know?
It's--just doesn't make sense.
LAMB: How many...
Mr. GREIDER: Gotta c--he says, `You gotta choose one of those, make
those kinds of tough choices.' Every time you make a choice like
that, you're making somebody mad, not just in the Congress but in
Texas or Georgia or California, or some of the other places where
these things are made.
LAMB: What's the difference between the F-22 and the joint strike
Mr. GREIDER: The joint strike fighter is--is, in theory, a unified
fighter which all of the services will use. Now we went through this
in the '60s in--you remember, with the--the McNamaras had the same
dream and it didn't work.
LAMB: Is that the FX?
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah, TFX. It's supposed to roll out in 2008 so that
in theory, only in theory, that will displace the need to build more
F-18s and F-22s. I mean--and it can spin it a while--a l--the wheel a
bit more, I was at Ft. Worth, at Air Force plant four, which we
taxpayers still own, where Lockheed Martin is still building a few
F-16s totally for the foreign market, sells them to our--Taiwan or
Latin America if it can and so forth. We--this factory is a mile
long. It's extraordinary to see. It's like that motor pool at Ft.
Hood. You--people ought to see it just to see what we built, starting
in World War II. It was built in 1942. They're trying to keep that
plant alive, even though it would make more sense to just close it
down and eat the cost, and I mean we'd have to eat the cost of that.
They're trying to keep it alive so these future projects will come in
and--and the boom will begin again. I don't think anybody running a
multinational company that makes cars or semiconductors or whatever
would take that strategy, 'cause you're really--you're sort of making
a hunch bet that the taxpayers will put up with this for five, 10, 20
years, and I--it's--it's not a good bet for anybody, really.
LAMB: You actually ask the question on page 65--you say, `Why does
the US government provide a factory rent-free to a private firm that
is manufacturing weapons purely for export and private profit?' What's
Mr. GREIDER: Because the Air Force doesn't wanna close it either.
That's the short answer. The...
LAMB: So Lockheed Martin, free of charge?
Mr. GREIDER: Well, they have costs associated with management, but
LAMB: But--but any...
Mr. GREIDER: ...it's our building. I--and I--and I--I make a
further point Lockheed Martin, which is now the biggest defense
manufacturer, after all the consolidations, has made a--a venture of
privatizing other parts of government, like welfare reform. They
wanna manage welfare systems in the state level and so forth. I ask
the question: Why not privatize those defense facilities,
manufacturing facilities? And they don't wanna talk about that.
I mean, we--w--I think the U--these--these mostly started--not all of
them, but most of them started in World War II, and people who are old
enough will remember there was a psychology that came out of Pearl
Harbor that's still kind of buried in the American political psyche.
We got caught flat-footed. We're not gonna let that happen again. So
that in the--in this e--enormous and successful mobilization from
World War II, we never really took it apart afterwards. Ft. Worth
was building B-24s in 1942, turning them out one every hour at its
peak. Then it moved from one plane to another throughout the Cold War
years. It's been building F-16s for the last 20 years. At some
point, you gotta ask the gut question: Are we really expecting a
World War III? And I'm not talking about the alternative is
disarmament. I'm talking about scoping down both the size and the
kind of preparedness levels that we have been used to having for the
last 30 or 40 years.
There's one other dimension to this, and you--you also hear this from
military people with, again, very conflicting views. What's the next
war gonna be like? Is it gonna be technological, information warfare?
Is it gonna be biological weapons? Is it gonna be something--some
version of terrorism? And as a congressman said to me not long ago,
if the problem is terrorism, it's kind of hard to see how several
hundred F-22s are gonna do much for us. Meanwhile, we're not really
developing the kind of commitment and--and redesign of the forces to
take on those other problems.
LAMB: How much in money is sold around the world every year in arms
by American arms companies?
Mr. GREIDER: You know, I don't know the numbers off the top of my
head. The--the situation is--is a kind of paradox because
arms--international arms sales have fallen since the end of the Cold
War, mainly because Russia is no longer selling much. And--but...
LAMB: Who is?
Mr. GREIDER: The US.
LAMB: Only US?
Mr. GREIDER: U--U--no, French and the Germans and--and some others
are making fighter planes and tanks and other kinds of armaments. But
the US portion of--of global sales, arms sales, has gone--it--it's now
the leader. Russia used to be the leader.
LAMB: Is it several billion a year?
Mr. GREIDER: Oh, yeah. I--I'm--I mean, I'm--I'm gonna guess $10
billion, $20 billion, maybe more.
LAMB: What kind of countries buy our weapons?
Mr. GREIDER: Taiwan buys F-16s and--and the Middle East allies buy a
lot of stuff, Saudis and so forth.
LAMB: You suggest that there's a possibility that the NATO
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah.
LAMB: ...was something that these companies were interested because
they sell arms?
Mr. GREIDER: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Norman Augustine, the--the CEO of
Lockheed Martin, was in Eastern Europe, in Hungary, Poland and other
countries, promoting expansion of NATO and telling audiences of
policy-makers in those countries, `We wanna sell you the airplanes
and--and communications technology, which you will need to become
members of--of NATO. And--and we'll make some joint ventures with you
so that you can help build some of them.' I mean, this was months
before the Congress approved NATO, but the--but the defense companies
were actively pushing it. And I'm not arguing that that was the only
net motive for--for expanding NATO, but it was really driven by--you
got a shrinking market worldwide and everybody, not just the US, has
too much capacity in their defense industries, and so they're all
fighting quite furiously for the--for customers.
LAMB: You mentioned Norman Augustine. Again, who is he?
Mr. GREIDER: CEO of Lockheed Martin.
LAMB: How big is Lockheed Martin in the defense business?
Mr. GREIDER: It's number one, Boeing is number two and I think
Raytheon, having swallowed Hughes Electronics, is number three. And
Mr. GREIDER: And there are a couple of--sort of down the
ro--the--the--the ladder, you've got General Dynamics and Northrop and
a couple of others of substantial size, but those three are now
astride basically the whole--the entire industry.
LAMB: I--I remember the figure of $22 billion, something like that...
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah.
LAMB: ...was Lockheed Martin a year or something. You've got a lot
of that in the book itself. Go back to Norman Augustine. Did he ever
really come close to being secretary of defense?
Mr. GREIDER: I don't know the answer to that.
LAMB: And what would it be...
Mr. GREIDER: I would guess not. I mean--I mean, I know some people
thought that would be--would be--I think it would be difficult
politics to make that happen bec--just because of the--the rivalries.
LAMB: What would Dwight Eisenhower say if he came back today and
looked at this as you have, based on his comment that he went out of
office, `Beware of the military industrial complex'? What would he
Mr. GREIDER: That's a great question. General Eisenhower, who--who
led the--the Allied victory in Europe in World War II, was really the
only president since World War II who stood up to what he dubbed `the
military industrial complex.' He--he was a general, five-star, he was
a conservative Republican, and yet, because he had been in the
Pentagon himself, he could talk back to admirals and generals. So if
you look at the defense budgets through his years, they were quite
moderate in their growth rate, even though the Cold War was heating
up, compared to all those who followed and preceded.
I think if we had a General Eisenhower right now, he would--he would
pull the veil back on a lot of the arguments I'm making. I don't know
how he would look at the world today, although he was a real
internationalist, but I think he would surely agree that this
structure of forces now and the money committed to various weapons
systems and w--and the internal starvation going on for certain kinds
of functions is wrong. And--and--and it really requires a kind of
wholesale rethinking from the bottom up. There--th--you know, there
are obvious reasons why that doesn't happen.
The three services are all being squeezed in different ways, and so
they're not gonna lead the charge, which might end up with even more
defense cuts, right? The political component wants to hang onto jobs
and economic activity of bases as long as it can. We--we--we saved
real money with a couple of rounds of base closings. Secretary Cohen
and President Clinton proposed another round or two. The Congress
said no. Now that--in fairness, that's partly because they don't
trust Clinton to keep--keep out of it--the politics of it.
LAMB: Go back to the Rolling Stone magazine. How many people--how
often does it come out?
Mr. GREIDER: Twice--twice a month. It's every two weeks.
LAMB: How many people buy it every month or every--what's the
circulation of it?
Mr. GREIDER: You're killing me with these numbers. Two billion, I
LAMB: Two billion?
Mr. GREIDER: No, no, two million.
LAMB: Two million people buy Rolling Stone magazine?
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah, yeah. And it's--they claim a--a sort of
pass-along readership, which I think is authentic, of--of two of three
times that. Because a lot of the readers are--are very young--college
students, for instance--and they'll--it'll move around the dorm and
have a long shelf life.
LAMB: John McCain says, as you quote him in here, they--the lights
don't blink on--on the call-in shows, although I've gotta tell you, if
this was on this network, they'd be blinking.
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah.
LAMB: They'd be full. Are you saying that you can write this kind of
stuff in Rolling Stone and they'll read it?
Mr. GREIDER: Some of them will read it. I'll tell you...
LAMB: And did--did any of this end up in Rolling Stone before it got
to this book?
Mr. GREIDER: Oh, yeah. Th--there were three--a series of three by
the same title, Fortress America, and this book is based on that.
This book is expanding on those series, and I've added some chapters.
But the core of this project was Jann Wenner. He's editor and
publisher of--of Rolling Stone, and he and I, quite by accident,
raised the subject for--as a project at--at the same time, and I--and
w--and we didn't quite know what we would find when I tramped around a
lot of military bases, but I think we shared the gut feeling that this
country is evading this. We're not really asking the big questions
about it. Let's--let's see what's there, for starters. And I was
gonna focus, because of my reporting background, primarily on the
defense industry. And he said, `No, you need to make it much broader
than that and really do the services as well, and the future.' And so
we wound up with the--with--with the three long--very long pieces, and
I--you may have read in the acknowledgments I--I proudly note that I
can't think of another popular magazine of that size that would devote
those kind of resources to--to--to such a project. Because it's not a
secret that the American public isn't up in the front of their chairs
on this issue.
LAMB: You also talk a lot about Bernard Schwartz...
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah.
LAMB: ...Loral Corporation.
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah. He...
LAMB: Did he--did he talk to you?
Mr. GREIDER: He did. It took me--it took a lot of work to get an
interview with him and he...
LAMB: He's the guy all involved in this...
Mr. GREIDER: The--the satellites--deals with China, that's right.
LAMB: And so was Hughes.
Mr. GREIDER: Yeah.
LAMB: Michael Armstrong was at Hughes at that time.
Mr. GREIDER: Right, yeah. And where is Armstrong now? AT&T.
LAMB: AT&T, yeah.
Mr. GREIDER: I went--I wanted to interview Bernard Schwartz because
he was the--really, the leader in the consolidation chase. They--this
other paradox which I describe is the defense industry collectively
figured out how to--how to have rising profits and rising stock prices
even as their marketplace--that is, defense procurement--shrunk
drastically. And it's a complicated story of how they do th--did
that, but that's what happened in the '90s. And--and Schwartz figured
it out first and started--instead of--instead of closing factories and
shrinking, he started buying other defense companies from Ford and IBM
and lots of other defense suppliers. As he did that, he would--he
would consolidate the overhead costs and the stock market--Wall Street
would see that his bottom line was getting better, not worse, and his
stock price went like that. He's--he--in the--he--in the end, he got
gobbled up in the consolidation process 'cause Loral's defense
business, which was its biggest portion, got picked up by Lockheed
Martin for, I think, $9 billion or so. And he, for a time, for
briefly, was a kind of co-executive with Norm Augustine, but it didn't
work out, so he just ta--he's in the communications business now.
He--it's become scandalous since I interviewed him because he's the
largest contributor to the Democratic Party and the accusation--and I
frankly don't know if it's fair or not--the accusation is that he--he
is--his political influence persuaded the Clinton administration to
let him sell this satellite technology to China for its--launching its
satellites. Actually, as you know, Hughes and Michael Armstrong were
there first, and they were beating up on the Clinton administration
for the same permission. I think--I don't--I don't demonize China. I
think China is trying to do what anybody would try to do in the
industrial race, which is to get as much technology as they can
from--especially from us. But the effect of that business
had--ha--may have been profound in South Asia, where India says to
itself and its diplomats have said this publicly, `The United States
is selling this very advanced missile stuff to China. And China, in
turn, is selling what we think is nuclear technology to--to our
Now--`And this makes us very nervous.' So they set off a--a nuclear
test bomb to demonstrate that, you know, `We ain't gonna be
intimidated by you guys.' And then Pakistan's--you see what I mean?
There's a--the arms business, although the companies like to deny it
or shrug it off, it inevitably has these ripples of--of political
unrest. You may be selling something to a perfectly innocent and--and
trusted ally, but it does something to how all of that nation's
neighbors feel about things and may, in turn, lead to more sales and
LAMB: You have another book you're gonna write?
Mr. GREIDER: Well, I've--if this economic crisis gets over, I wanna
try to write a book for Simon & Schuster on the economy beyond--beyond
the present era, which I think is coming to an end. You know, if you
think of my books I wrote, "Secrets of the Temple," which was
published 10, 12 years ago, "How the Federal Reserve Runs the
Country," which really, I hope, I think, did demystify the Federal
Reserve for ordinary people to understand, and the argument in that
book was the bond market and the financial market have really taken
control of American politics. That was part of a story which is still
unfolding. My last book, "One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic
of Global Capitalism"--I think it's fair to say, was--was mildly
prophetic because it described the instabilities and the--and the--the
sort of insane dynamics that were leading to our present crisis. I
hope my next book will be much more placid and optimistic.
LAMB: Bill Greider's been our guest. This is what the book looks
like. It's one of the first books published by Peter Osnos' Public
Affairs Press, and it's called "Fortress America." Thank you very
Mr. GREIDER: Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1998. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.