Lean, Mean, Clean Military

Bush's military budget deserves support and scrutiny

President Bush wants $48 billion more for military spending - a 12 percent increase. He justifies it for two reasons: to pay for the war against global terrorism and to "transform" the military away from its 20th century ways.

His budget proposal heads in the right direction on both points, and will meet little resistance on Capitol Hill. But still, it's up to Congress to double-check the Pentagon's reasoning on each line item - and also to make sure powerful members don't add or protect pet pork-barrel projects, or try to keep the military fighting yesterday's wars.

The US success in Afghanistan, which is expected to be the first phase of a long war, confirms the Bush administration's call before Sept. 11 to transform the armed forces to be able to fight wholly new, post-Soviet types of enemies, such as terrorists or cyber-attackers.

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During the Afghan conflict, the American use of unmanned aircraft, local armies, satellite communications, CIA agents on the ground, and better coordination between the services showed the need for the military to be more flexible; to use highly mobile, specialized units; and to rely on a "revolution" in technology.

Many high-ticket conventional weapons might still be needed for larger conflicts, with nations like North Korea, for instance. But Congress should make sure the new weapons have a reasonable chance of actually working, and will likely have a purpose to match their high cost.

Congress would be more trusted on such questions if it acted more responsibly in letting the Pentagon close more domestic military bases.

Congress should also focus on a cost that's received little attention, but is very real.

Almost by definition, weapons manufacturing, military bases, and combat training tear up landscapes or pollute the air and water. Even the storage of munitions and other military gear can cause long-term environmental damage.

The challenge is to carefully balance society's military requirements with its environmental needs. Defense planners are aware of this challenge, and it shouldn't be obscured by the dust of a new military buildup.

Such a buildup is coming. It should be done responsibly, with the costs recognized and minimized where possible.

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