PROBABLY NO one thought George W. Bush's election as president would doom the U.S. Navy's use of Vieques Island for target practice. The military, most Republicans and Puerto Rican demonstrators expected the opposite.
President Bush's decision that the Navy go elsewhere within two years is cheering to many Puerto Rican citizens of the United States who found the bombardment of the island a relic of colonialism.
It is welcome to the fewer than 10,000 persons, many of them fishermen, many of them hearing-impaired from years of bombardment, who live on Vieques, which is east of Puerto Rico but within the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
The Navy bought most of the island in 1940 and has been using it constantly for joint exercises with other forces and for live fire. In recent years, NATO and South American navies have used the range.
When President Clinton made a deal with former Gov. Pedro Rossello for three more years of training with inert weapons pending a referendum of Vieques voters next Nov. 6, many Republicans and armed forces advocates condemned him for giving in to leftist demonstrators.
Actually, the Navy was gearing up a campaign to induce a vote in its favor.
Many observers have wondered why the Vieques residents were not offered generous relocation inducements years ago.
But President Bush appears to have been convinced that the issue is bigger than Puerto Rico. Might it alienate Hispanic voters including Mexican-Americans in Texas and Cuban-Americans in Florida?
The final decision was sealed at a White House meeting Wednesday while the president was conveniently abroad and his political adviser, Karl Rove, sat in.
Some will take the outcome as a victory for Puerto Rico's new Gov. Sila Calderon. Others will call it a triumph for outside agitators, notably New York politicians with Puerto Rican constituents and the jailed demonstrator, the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Mr. Rove clearly intends it as a victory for President Bush. So it may be. It is also, at least in the short run, a setback for the U.S. Navy and for military readiness.