On April 15, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney is going to have worse news than the tax deadline. On that date, he will submit the Pentagon's list of domestic military installations recommended for closure.
The congressional cries of anguish are sure to echo across the nation. And the political fighting to save the bases will be fierce.The outcry over the bases will have nothing to do with their military value. After all, it is the Pentagon itself that is recommending they be closed. In Congress, the bases are not seen as military assets as much as they are viewed as a source of local jobs.
Already, members of Congress are use the Persian Gulf war to put pressure on Pentagon officials to keep bases in their states off the hit list. Any connection with the gulf fighting - no matter how remote - is offered as an argument for keeping the facility in operation.
President Bush recently asked lawmakers to "turn away from the temptation to protect unneeded weapons systems and obsolete bases." Might as well ask rain to fall upward instead of down. In any case, like beauty, "obsolete" is mostly in the eye of the beholder.
No one knows for sure how many installations will be on the closure list, but it probably will be 70 or so. In 1990, Cheney offered a list of 72 domestic and 14 foreign bases to be shut down, but no action was ever taken on the recommendation.
For years, no bases were ever closed because of political gridlock. Finally, in 1988, a presidential commission was appointed to get Congress off the hook. Its recommendations were to be accepted as a total package or not at all. The commission called for closing 86 domestic bases, partly closing five others and changing the mission of 54 more.
Despite complaints from Congress that the commission used faulty information in choosing bases to be closed, the whole package was adopted.
The same commission system will be used again this time around. Cheney's list will go to the commission April 15. The panel then has 75 days to accept the list or add or subtract bases. In mid-July, Bush submits the list to Congress, which then has 45 days to agree to all or nothing.
Some members of Congress are outraged over a Bush proposal to build a new air base in Crotone, Italy, while the hit list seeks to close only domestic U.S. bases. But the Italian project is to replace the air base in Torrejon, Spain. The fighter wing there must be out by 1992 by orders of the Spanish government. The move to nearby Italy makes more sense than putting the aircraft farther away from the Middle East hotspot.
In any case, Cheney says he will have a separate list of U.S. bases in foreign countries that will be recommended for closure.
Congress and everyone else who might be upset by what is on the April 15 list from the Pentagon should remember that military bases have military functions; they are not some kind of federal jobs program.
If the Pentagon can justify closing a base because of a changing defense picture, that ought to suffice. Interference by politicians seeking to protect their home turf does not help the armed forces.