This year's political battle over military base closures is far more complicated _ and important _ than in recent years. This nation is at war.
It's for that reason that the impact of base closings has to be looked at with national security and the ability to wage war as the primary focuses.
In the past, particularly since the end of the Cold War, the debate over base closures has centered around the economic impact to the communities that host the bases. Military needs have been considered only secondarily.
The Pentagon issues its list of proposed base closures and offers its reasons for wanting them shut down. Generally, it's because the base no longer serves a function and the money could be better used elsewhere.
But then these recommendations are quickly picked apart by members of Congress who are trying to save bases _ and jobs _ in their districts.
The Pentagon has already acknowledged that things are different this year. The list of recommended base closings is far smaller than was originally anticipated. And some states _ such as Washington _ will actually gain from base consolidations.
``Our current arrangements, designed for the Cold War, must give way to the new demands of the war against extremism and other evolving 21st century challenges,'' Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a statement released last last week.
Contrast this approach to how the government has approached health care for our nation's veterans. The approach to cutting and/or consolidating services through the VA system has not been significantly modified even though the United States is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. It hasn't been modified even though the war effort is relying heavily on National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers _ a great many of whom are from rural areas.
These wars are creating new combat veterans by the day. And these veterans are returning with serious physical and mental injuries.
We have a responsibility to provide them the top-notch health care a reasonable distance form their homes.
The same goes for the military bases. We have a responsibility to provide our fighting men and women what they need to do their jobs.
This means allocating limited resources as wisely as possible with the goal of making the military as strong as possible _ and then fulfilling our responsibilities to our veterans after they have served their nation.