Magazine article National Defense

A Russian Rose by Any Other Name Makes Eloquent Case for Pruning Infrastructure

Magazine article National Defense

A Russian Rose by Any Other Name Makes Eloquent Case for Pruning Infrastructure

Article excerpt

In his continuing campaign to wrest a reasonable investment for modernization, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen recalled for a gathering of mayors the tale of a lone Russian sentry standing at attention by a remote stand of weeds.

When asked by the czar what he was doing, the unhappy soldier replied that he was ordered to do so by his captain. The Russian nabob then patiently repeated the question up the chain of command. He ultimately discovered that the order had originated from Catherine the Great-about a century earlier.

She had a rose bush planted on the spot, according to this Walter Lippmann story, and wanted it guarded. When the czar came along, the rose bush was long gone, but the army, alas, maintained the vigil.

This fable on excess Cold War infrastructure, perhaps, aptly describes the dilemma confronting the Defense Department as it attempts to slim down and in consequence free up money for modernizing the force.

Cohen noted two additional base closing rounds would produce $2.8 billion a year in savings that could be pegged to pressing readiness and modernization requirements. He pointed out, however, these most defensible cuts must be approved by the House and Senate, which have repeatedly asserted during the last year or so that the political price is too high, or as the secretary explained:

"When the calls goes out for more rounds of [base shutdowns], we need Congress to resist the temptation to respond with, 'Not yet, not here, not now, not mine."'

Cohen knows that congressional approval for a base realignment and closure (BRAC) exercise in this election year is not about to happen, but like a good politician he also is aware that laying the ground work now may yield the desired result not too far down the road.

As he told the mayors, "We need support from you and your communities. To many, BRAC has been a four-letter word but to others, it became a rally-cry for redevelopment. The nation needs to hear from those of you who have been through successful base closures, how you struggled, survived and thrived, how you pioneered and persevered, and turned the pain of BRAC into profit for the future."

Cohen also quickly got to the essence of the issue. …

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