Planning and winning the Persian Gulf War were easy compared to a new battle faced by the Bush administration: It wants to close 31 major military installations around the country.
The last time this was tried was 1988, when the Reagan Administration attempted to shut or scale back 86 military facilities. After a major battle with Congress, only one, Pease Air Force Base in Newington, N.H., has closed.
Military bases provide jobs and economic benefits to the communities in which they are located, but when they have outlived their usefulness, become white elephants.
Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, the former Wyoming congressman who knows all too well the value of defense dollars to a district, set the tone when he said, ''There is a certain hypocrisy. Congress on the one hand says, 'Yes, let's take down the defense budget,' but on the other hand, there isn't any specific system or facility that they are willing to close.'' How right he is.
Rep. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), whose state will take the biggest hit, has been one of the loudest critics of defense spending. She said, ''If we want to do anything feed the kids, fight the drug war there's got to be a shift in priorities.''
Ms. Boxer, who has led a lengthy fight for keeping the Presidio in San Francisco, is now faced with the shutting of the Vallejo Naval Electronics Systems Engineering base across the bay. Rather than welcoming this shift in priorities, she wants to make sure the closings are ''for the right reason and not for political considerations.''
One of the House's biggest defense critics, Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.), said she was ''saddened'' by the announcement that Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado will be closed and that she ''expects'' to find something wrong with the decision, to present to the Base Closing Commission.
Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) told Secretary Cheney last month, ''This 1991 budget is based on a 1988 threat . . . Congress will have to act if the Defense Department does not . . . if the Department of Defense wants to remain relevant to the process, they will have to begin filling in the blanks.''
Mr. Cheney responded by including Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Ga., on the list of proposed closures. Mr. Nunn then called Moody ''one of the most effective and efficient air bases in the country.''
Rep. Thomas Downey (D-N.Y.) has been a strong critic of the defense buildup. Still, he led the fight to keep production of the F-14 fighter, in his district.
Rep. William Dickinson (R-Ala.) reflected the double-mindedness of most members when he told a hearing last year, ''A repeat of last year's mindless parochialism would be inexcusable.'' Later in the hearing, Mr. Dickinson apparently had excused himself, when he beseeched Mr. Cheney to keep his hands off military bases in Alabama.
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), a consistent critic of defense spending, called the recommended closing of Fort Devens in his state ''unwise, unfair and unacceptable.''
Funny, with all of the ''wasted'' tax dollars in the defense budget, not a single member of Congress felt that his or her district was anything less than critical to defense.
When prison construction is proposed, one often hears the cry, ''Not in my back yard.'' Yet every member of Congress wants a defense installation in his back yard and will fight to keep it.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.