Bush defends base closings in commencement speech

By Stephen J. Hedges: Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON — President Bush pressed the case for closing U.S. military bases in a commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy on Friday, telling the newest officers of the Navy and Marine Corps that the money saved would fund advanced military technology and modernization of U.S. forces.

“We have more bases than we need,” he told the 976 members of the academy’s Class of 2005 during a sun-dappled morning ceremony in Annapolis, Md. “Supporting these facilities wastes billions of taxpayer dollars — money that can be better spent on giving you the tools to fight terrorists and confront 21st Century threats.”

Bush steered clear of acknowledging ongoing violence in Iraq and Afghanistan and the difficulties U.S. forces still face there. Instead, he said the U.S. has “helped launch Afghanistan and Iraq on the path to lasting freedom by liberating over 50 million people,” a process he said is “inspiring democratic reformers across the broader Middle East to rise up and claim their liberty.”

The president last gave a commencement address at the academy in May 2001, four months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and four months after he first took office. The world, he told this year’s graduates, is a dramatically different place, one that no one could have envisioned then.

“When I spoke to the Class of 2001, none of us imagined that a few months later we would suffer a devastating surprise attack on our homeland, or that our nation would be plunged into a global war unlike any we had known before,” Bush said.

“Today, we face brutal and determined enemies — men who celebrate murder, incite suicide and thirst for absolute power. These enemies will not be stopped by negotiations, or concessions, or appeals to reason. In this war, there is only one option – and that is victory.”

Four years ago, Bush was advocating military transformation, promoting weapons technology as a way to make U.S. forces more lethal and precise. That initiative has been shaped, and to some degree interrupted, by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Bush returned to the transformation theme Friday, saying, “Revolutionary advances in technology are transforming war in our favor,” and a broad restructuring of the military services, including the Navy, is necessary to wage a war on terrorism.

“In this era of surprise, we cannot know for certain who might attack us or where or when,” the president said. “But we can anticipate how we might be attacked and we can transform our capabilities to defend our citizens and deliver justice to our enemies.”

To that end, Bush said, the government would continue to pursue technologies that are lethal and precise, having invested $240 billion in research and weapons development and proposing to spend another $275 billion in those areas over the next four years.

“To meet the threats of the 21st Century, we are developing new technologies that will make our forces faster, lighter, more agile and more lethal,” Bush said. “In our time, terrible dangers can arise on a short moment anywhere in the world, and we must be prepared to oppose these dangers everywhere in the world.”

Earlier this year, the president requested more than $440 billion for his 2006 defense budget, and Congress is likely to approve it. Congress this month allocated $82 billion in supplemental spending for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.