Robert Novak

 BRAC also has become entangled in the presidential campaign. Sen. John Kerry voted in 2001, before he was a presidential candidate, to authorize the 2005 BRAC but has since switched positions. "I'm going to stop the next round of BRAC, for the time being," Kerry declared last week. While Kerry now attacks Bush's troop movements, on Aug. 1 he hinted at his own reductions in Korea and Europe. So the Democratic presidential candidate opposes both overseas troop movements and domestic base closures.

 Members of Congress are so obsessed with keeping their bases open that they seem oblivious to bigger issues. Reducing Cold War installations around the world is long overdue. It is hard to find any legitimate argument against the Korean troop withdrawal. The South Korean government is eager for it, and Kerry's argument that this will embolden North Korea reeks of campaign hokum.

 The German question is another matter. The same former senior official critical of the BRAC connection said he has "significant misgivings" about withdrawing troops from Europe: "Our heavy forces are in Europe today because it puts them closer to potential hot spots in the Middle East. Taking them home puts the hardest (air)lift problem farther from the objective."

 Such problems are ignored on Capitol Hill in the quest for relief from BRAC. Using the expensive overseas troop shutdown as a pretext for retaining unneeded bases is grounded in the congressional concept of U.S. military bases as jobs providers. Rep. Mark Kirk, a two-term Republican from suburban Chicago, has noted it is not the military's role to guard empty buildings, adding: "We are at war, and it's time for the Congress to treat the military budget as a defense bill and not a jobs bill." Recognizing this would rule out reducing overseas commitments for the purpose of retaining old forts at home.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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