THE 72 United States F-16 jet aircraft stationed near Madrid will not go quietly into the night - though they definitely will go. Until the fighters are phased out during the next three years, the jets will continue to roar over the Spanish countryside - a source of continuing irritation and no little din to many Spaniards.
The United States, by deciding to pull the F-16s out, as sought by Madrid, is acknowledging the social and political changes that have occurred in Spain in recent years. The whining roar of the jets, combined with their symbolic link to former fascist dictator Francisco Franco, who concluded the original base agreement, virtually ensured that the aircraft would eventually be banned from Spain.
The government had promised its people that the US military presence in Spain would be reduced if Spaniards continued membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Spanish voters affirmed the NATO link in a March 1986 referendum. Now Madrid has finished its part of the bargain by asking the F-16s be removed.
But Madrid remains committed to the Western alliance. That is underscored by Madrid's intention to let NATO use Spanish bases in case of necessity. The US will keep other facilities in Spain, including the Navy site at Rota.
Does the pullout of the F-16s portend significant reductions in the US presence in other countries? Possibly. But not necessarily. Base negotiations are under way or will be coming up soon with a number of US allies. The F-16 situation is somewhat unusual. Still, the pullout illustrates how Washington must adjust its commitments. Consider: What other US units abroad, like the F-16s in Spain, might be creating more problems than winning friends - no small component in building genuine national security?