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Communities gird for fight over base closures - part V

With 200 shut down in recent years, targeting new ones is increasingly tough.

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Like a bobbing horse on a carousel, one of Washington's perennial issues is about to circle 'round again. And it's sure to generate a far more explosive reaction than any painted Dobbin.

The issue is whether to shut down more US military bases in an effort to save money that could then be spent on other parts of the nation's soon-to-be rising military budget, such as training troops and buying exotic new weapons.

Four rounds of closures, affecting nearly 200 bases, have already occurred in recent years, each hotly controversial and sparking bitter protest by Congress and affected communities. The key question is always "which bases?" With the more obvious choices already closed, it's a question that has become increasingly tough to answer and one which will likely be the subject of controversy in coming months, as communities and their representatives fight to protect what they have.

Many military experts agree with Michael O'Hanlon, author of Defense Policy Choices for the Bush Administration, that "there is no doubt that we need to eliminate more bases. It costs a lot of money [to maintain the current 400]: It boils down to bases versus bullets."

That's the argument the Bush administration is expected to make later this month when it reveals a detailed Defense Department budget for fiscal year 2002, which begins Oct. 1. Three months ago, President Bush said in the barebones budget outline: "With 23 percent in excess infrastructure, it is clear that new rounds of base closures will be necessary to shape the military more efficiently."

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