It's high time for Congress to agree to the Pentagon's request to close military bases, a whopping 91 percent of National Journal's National Security Insiders said.
Lawmakers, even as they search for ways to cut spending, have rebuffed the Defense Department's requests to close military installations it no longer needs as the military downsizes after long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—to the dismay of the pool of national security experts. "Enough already," one Insider said.
"Congress rails about waste, until the Pentagon comes up with legitimate savings that require congressional statesmanship," another Insider said. "At which point, Congress goes silent."
The Pentagon wants to use the money on other crucial priorities as the defense budget shrinks, while lawmakers have objected to the upfront costs of closing bases. One Insider acknowledged base closings "often take time to show savings." Still, the Insider said, especially in this era of fiscal austerity, "every little bit helps in the out years."
Insiders say lawmakers' real concern is the political price they will pay for potential job losses in their districts. Even so, one Insider said, "bases should be located where there exists military necessity, not where there is political convenience." U.S. military bases, another Insider added, "are not intended to serve as economic pork to congressional districts. There are better ways to stimulate the economy than playing politics with our military basing."
By refusing the Pentagon's calls to close facilities, one Insider said, Congress is breaking faith with the troops. "It is unfair to take away retirement pay, and health care benefits that service members have earned over a career, while continuing to operate bases no longer needed and maintain weapon systems no longer needed because Congress refuses to act responsibly," one Insider said. "That is punishing the people who have sacrificed the most for the safety of our nation to protect reelection opportunities for members."
Several Insiders were upfront about the probability of Congress actually caving. "They won't," one Insider quipped.
A tiny 9 percent minority said Congress should not listen to the Pentagon's requests to close excess facilities—if only because it's their right. "As much as the Pentagon may like to ignore it when it disagrees, the Congress represents the people and has the power of the purse," one Insider said. "It's up to them to decide how assets should ultimately be allocated. It may seem illogical to the Pentagon. But no one elected them."
1. Should Congress agree to the Pentagon's requests to close bases?
- Yes 91%
- No 9%
"More bloat in basing than ever before."
"But they won't"
"Excess capacity exists across all the military services. Congress and communities face either a slow decline at every base, with little hope for any economic relief anywhere, or selective closures that bolster needed bases and let other areas start on the road to recovery and life after closure."
"Congress wishes to retain surplus facilities as a form of 'pork' for their constituents."
"In 1966 Aaron Wildavsky wrote that the Armed Services Committee was 'a sort of real estate committee dealing with the regional economic consequences of the location of military facilities.' Little has changed, so I wouldn't bet on Congress doing the right thing here."
"Of course they should. National interest is not just the collection of parochial local interests."
"We badly need to shrink the Pentagon back office and infrastructure to free up resources for forces and hardware."
"The military budget has been slashed to pay for America's addiction to entitlement programs. It is time for local communities to pay the true price for this decision."
"Congress should undertake many needed and overdue efforts to pare Pentagon excess, but it wont."
"With the significant reductions in force structure, there will be excess capacity. We will not be able to spend billions maintaining unused facilities, and the service chiefs will increasingly highlight this disconnect."
"The new budget will cut force structure to maintain readiness and to avoid a hollow force; we no longer have the luxury of excess base infrastructure for pure political pork; the next BRAC is inevitable."
"There is excess capacity as the armed forces are downsized following the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. However, we must maintain enough capacity and capability to expand the force if needed. And we must maintain adequate training lands."
"In his recent memoir, Robert Gates called Congress's inability to pass legislation in the national interest an 'outrageous dereliction of duty.' Congress should stop treating defense like a jobs program. Closing unnecessary bases is an excellent way to save money without compromising U.S. military power."
"As much as the Pentagon may like to ignore it when it disagrees, the Congress represents the people and has the power of the purse. It's up to them to decide how assets should ultimately be allocated. It may seem illogical to the Pentagon. But no one elected them."
National Journal's National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of more than 100 defense and foreign policy experts. They include: Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Michael Allen, Thad Allen, Graham Allison, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Marion Blakey, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Mark Brunner, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Lorne Craner, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Daniel Drezner, Mackenzie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mark Green, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Todd Harrison, John Hamre, Jim Harper, Marty Hauser, Michael Hayden, Michael Herson, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Linda Hudson, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, David Kramer, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, Michael Leiter, James Lindsay, Justin Logan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ronald Marks, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Michael Morell, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Larry Prior, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Frank Ruggiero, Gary Samore, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Suzanne Spaulding, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Ted Stroup, Guy Swan, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Richard Wilhelm, Tamara Wittes, Dov Zakheim, and Juan Zarate.
This article appears in the February 18, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.