I personally find today’s base closure vote to be very good news.
The House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to allow the first round of U.S. military base closures and consolidations in a decade, clearing the way for facilities across the country to start shutting their doors as early as next month.
In a 324-85 vote, the House refused to veto the final report of the 2005 base-closing commission, meaning the report seems all but certain to become law in mid-November. Targeted facilities then would have six years to close their doors and shift forces as required under the report.
Both the House and Senate must pass resolutions rejecting the report to stop the Pentagon’s sweeping restructuring of its far-flung domestic base network. But, as expected, the House effort by Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., failed. And there’s no similar attempt under way in the Senate.
Opposition to closing bases dropped steadily in both chambers as the nine-member commission changed parts of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s original recommendations and issues like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita commanded Congress’ attention.
The panel sent President Bush its final report in September. He signed off on it and sent it to Congress on Sept. 15. That began a 45-legislative day period for Congress to reject the report.
I entirely understand the need for legal constraints upon the nation’s military, and that it is best for the republic that our armed forces be answerable to and be held accountable by our civilian political leadership. However, I find it disgusting that this so often leads to local or petty politics coming into play in the administration of our military, all too commonly in a manner that is contrary to what is actually best for the military and our nation’s defenses. This story contains a fine example.
Congressional critics and many local officials fear the impact of base closures on their area economies – and on their political futures. They argue that the United States should not restructure military bases while the U.S. military is engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan.
LaHood, whose district includes a base in Springfield, Ill., that is to lose 15 National Guard fighter jets, urged his colleagues to vote to reject the report “in support of those that are citizen soldiers who come from those communities.”
Closing bases during wartime, he said, “is the wrong message to send.”
This round of base closures, better described as a DoD restructuring, does not call for a reduction in strength or capability. Instead, it is intended to move us further from a Cold War footing and to reduce unneeded expenditures. Troop levels and lethality are not being cut whatso-freakin’-ever. Does the congressman actually believe that our radical Islamist enemies will take one ounce of encouragement from the removal of 15 jets from Springfield, Land o’ Lincoln version?!!
Luckily, this kind of tripe was not allowed to stand.
But Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who supports closing bases, said: “these issues have been thoroughly discussed and debated.”
The Pentagon, the White House and GOP congressional leaders – and even many Democrats – contend that eliminating extra space will free up money that could be used instead to improve the United States’ fighting capabilities, and help reposition U.S. forces to face current and future threats.
In a statement, the Bush administration said that halting the round of base closings now “would harm U.S. national security interests by preventing improvements designed to address the new demands of war against extremists and other 21st century needs.”
Overall, the report calls for closing 22 major military bases and reconfiguring an additional 33. Hundreds of smaller facilities from coast to coast also will close, shrink or grow, under a plan that the commission says will mean annual savings of $4.2 billion.
Since the post-Cold War “peace dividend,” an idea perhaps too eagerly latched onto and prematurely dismissive of other growing global threats, became a rallying cry in the early ’90s, politics have weighed far too heavily in the base-closure process. The Pentagon did not get its way entirely this round, but it looks like this may be the closest we’ve come to actual defense benefit carrying the day.