The Associated Press
By Jennifer Loven
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Speaking out for the first time in favor of controversial base closings, President Bush said Friday the nation is wasting billions of dollars on unnecessary military facilities and needs the money for the war on terrorism.
Bush, who faces opposition from many states to shutting down bases, tried to be reassuring. He said the bases would be chosen fairly and the government would do all it could to help affected communities recover.
But he made clear that the process — however painful — could not be avoided.
In a speech to graduates of the Naval Academy, he said the closings and realignments “will result in a military that is more efficient and better prepared so you can better protect the American people against the dangers of this new century.”
“In this war, there is only one option and that is victory,” he said, to cheers from midshipmen, relatives and faculty at the academy on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.
When Bush last spoke at a Naval Academy commencement, it was four months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and his focus was his administration’s effort to reshape the military into a faster, lighter and more flexible — but not larger — fighting force.
Since the attacks, and amid a global anti-terror campaign and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a top-to-bottom military transformation is even more necessary, Bush said. Keys to the success are new technology, repositioning of global forces, new weapons and realigned bases at home, he said.
Bush said he understands the fears in cities where bases have been marked for changes or closure. The first round of closings in a decade has members of Congress and local officials working hard to protect the 33 major bases slated for closure and the 29 others proposed for downsizing.
“I know firsthand how hard base closings can be on local communities,” said the former Texas governor who saw facilities shut down in his state.
Members of the congressionally chartered Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) will visit bases and hold hearings on the Pentagon proposal. The plan aims to save $48.8 billion over 20 years by eliminating redundant and inefficient facilities and promoting cooperation among the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
The panel will decide on any changes to the Pentagon plan and then give a list to Bush and Congress this fall for approval or rejection.
Commission chairman Anthony Principi on Friday joined a growing chorus of lawmakers demanding that the Defense Department quickly release the thousands of pages of data backing up each of its recommendations.
“We cannot make informed decisions without the data,” Principi said on Capitol Hill. “That’s critical to our work.”
Though all bases have defenders, Bush suggested most efforts to save them will be futile.
“We have more bases than we need,” Bush said. “Supporting these facilities wastes billions of taxpayers’ dollars, money that can be better spent on giving you the tools to fight terrorists and confront 21st century threats.”
The graduation ceremonies got under way with 21 cannon blasts and a fast and low flyover by the Blue Angels, the Navy’s precision team of F/A-18 Hornets. After speaking, Bush handed out diplomas to those graduating with distinction and, remaining standing for over two hours, he shook the hands of all 976 graduates. In return, the Class of 2005 gave him Naval Academy blankets and a jogging suit, and he promptly put on the jacket in place of his suit jacket.
The graduates, like decades of others before them, hurled their white hats into the blue sky.