But My Base Won the War

NIMBY - Not in my back yard!" That's the rallying cry of citizens fighting the placement in their communities of such undesirable facilities as prisons and toxic-waste dumps. "NIMD - Not in my district!" That's the rallying cry of federal lawmakers fighting Pentagon plans to close 31 major military installations around the United States. One repeated argument: Fort X was indispensable to winning the Gulf war. Pity Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney. With the tough but glamorous interlude of Desert Storm now past, he's having to get back to the decidedly unglamorous and even tougher job for which he was really selected: the historic downsizing of the American military. Cheney didn't know what the "mother of battles" was until last week, when he unveiled his proposals to eliminate military facilities, proposals necessitated by the shrinkage in the Pentagon's budget over the next five years.

Surely, no one can take lightly the economic and social toll that base closings exact on communities. A major base is often the economic cornerstone of its area, the largest employer and a big consumer of local goods and services. Its closure produces undeniable hardship, at least in the short run (though studies indicate that communities often benefit in time by acquiring and developing bases' land and facilities).

Yet there's no way around it: Base closings are inherent in the goal - for which a strong national consensus exists - to substantially reduce the US military budget. Further savings can be wrung out of hardware, and hard-nosed decisions to eliminate or scale back weapons systems have to be taken. But the kinds of savings that will make more than a dent in the federal deficit also demand reductions in personnel and overhead.

The multistep procedure devised for making the closure decisions seems fair and satisfactorily insulated from political manipulation. A bipartisan review commission, then the president, then Congress will all get their turns to scrutinize the Pentagon's list. Perhaps some changes will be warranted. But all participants must try to keep the national interest in front of parochial ones. When everyone's a NIMD, the nation loses.

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