Unanswered questions

Published 11:19 pm Tuesday, August 10, 2010

There’s plenty to wonder about in regards to Monday’s announcement by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates that he will pursue closing up shop at U.S. Joint Forces Command as part of an effort to cut $100 billion dollars in defense spending during the next five years.

“What’s the rush?” was the cry of Virginia’s blindsided governor and congressional delegation less than two hours after the Gates pronouncement. A special Pentagon committee was rumored to have planned such a recommendation, but it wasn’t due until October. The intervening time could have been used to vet out the suggestion, to give political and economic development leaders a heads up and to assure that neither national security nor the federal budget would suffer under the closure.

Instead, a small group of Pentagon insiders made the decision without the stakeholders’ input. They sought no advice from and showed no regard for the leaders who were elected to represent the communities that will be affected by the closure. And the assumptions that underlie their decision remain largely hidden from the public.

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Why choose national defense as the ground upon which this spendthrift administration makes its stand for fiscal conservatism? After two years and hundreds of billions of dollars worth of bailouts, buyouts and nationalized this and that, finally someone associated with Barack Obama’s White House decides to hold the line on spending — and it’s on national defense.

Where was this fiscal restraint — not to mention cavalier attitude toward Americans losing their jobs — when it came to the government buying a major stake in General Motors? Where was it when it came to bailing out the failing banks that then chose not to lend money to small businesses all over the nation? Where was the restraint when it came to deciding whether to fund nationalized healthcare, which is destined to cost Americans well over a trillion dollars during the next 10 years?

None of this even begins to address the national-security issues tangled up with closing the command that is most directly responsible for training soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines to work together on the battlefield of the 21st century. We already know how to do that, Gates says. We already know how to march and fire automatic weapons, too, but that doesn’t mean that basic training or rifle range work are redundant.

The Obama administration must be convinced to reconsider this irrational, shortsighted plan. It’s time for Hampton Roads’ congressional delegation to exercise the clout its members hold on the Armed Services committees of the House and Senate.