By LISA HOFFMAN
Scripps Howard News Service
July 13, 2005
Within a day of the July 7 attacks, House Republican leader Tom DeLay of Texas said they demonstrated the necessity of keeping a small fleet of Air National Guard F-16 fighter jets at Ellington Field to protect Houston.
In North Dakota, Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad came to the same conclusion about his state's Grand Forks Air Force Base, which the Pentagon wants to shut. Conrad said the London attacks make the closing of his base "indefensible."
And in Pennsylvania, where the Base Realignment and Closure Commission was holding a public hearing on the day of the London bombings, GOP Sen. Arlen Specter said the same about the Naval Air Station Willow Grove, about 20 miles north of Philadelphia.
"We are at war, and we saw evidence of that in London today," Specter said at the hearing. "It is a little hard for me to understand, given the nature and quality of these operations, that they would consider shutting them down."
In communities across the country, officials are grabbing what they can as ammunition for their battle to convince the commission to spare their military installations.
The panel has until Sept. 8 to decide whether to embrace, pan or alter the Pentagon list of 33 major bases it wants to close and the 29 it wants to substantially realign. Members of the nine-person commission are visiting the targeted installations, where they are being bombarded by emotional pleas from residents and sober analytical presentations by base officials and lawmakers who contend the calculations and assumptions behind the Pentagon's list are flawed.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said the list was predicated on how well each installation fits into the nation's military of the future, which he wants to transform from a Cold War-era force to one designed to fight terrorism and other modern threats.
Rumsfeld has said it is precisely because the national security threats have changed that it is imperative to stop spending money on obsolete bases.
So, base-closing experts said, it was only natural for base partisans to try to turn the London bombings into grist for their arguments about the merit of their hometown installations, even absent any parallels to the overseas attack or any direct role in fighting the war on terrorism.
"It's not surprising that people are reaching for justifications," said Powell Moore, the assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs during President Bush's first term.
To Charles Pena, director of defense policy studies at the Washington-based Cato Institute think tank, the lawmakers are overreaching. "The elected officials are desperate to keep their military facilities," he said.
Whatever the merits of the connection, it continues to be made.
Objecting to the Pentagon's recommendation that 20,000 Defense Department workers be moved from office buildings in Arlington, Va., to an Army or Marine base nearby, the head of Arlington's board of supervisors told the base-closing panel last Saturday that the shift would "be the ultimate win for the terrorists."
Washington Mayor Tony Williams echoed that sentiment when he argued the same day against shutting down Walter Reed Army Medical Center and reassigning many of its personnel to the National Naval Medical Center a few miles away in Maryland.
Such a move, Williams told the panel, "sends a terrible signal that our very own Department of Defense is fleeing our nation's capital."
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