More On Thune And Ellsworth

Mike Krempasky has an interesting argument about Sen. John Thune and the BRAC list which has scheduled South Dakota’s Ellsworth AFB for closing. He suspects that Thune’s recent threat to vote against John Bolton is a political ploy and that Ellsworth won’t really be closed. In short, that the whole thing is just a bunch of political theater.

I’m not so sure, however.

The BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) board is designed to be independent of the political process. They’re designed to not worry about political pork and concern themselves solely with providing the best force structure for the defense of this nation and the projection of military power. This arrangement is deliberate – by eliminating the politics from the decision as much as possible, the best policy can be made without regard to keeping spending in some influential Congressman’s district. The Pentagon has made their recommendations, now BRAC must make the final approval.

The fact is that the B-1B Lancer, while a beautiful and impressive aircraft, is a maintainance hog, spare parts are scarce, and the mission it was designed to fly no longer exists. For South Dakota, it’s important. But the Department of Defense has a larger mission than the interests of 700,000 people – they have to consider the national security of the entire United States. Does Ellsworth serve our national security interests in the 21st Century? It’s going to be up to those who want to save Ellsworth to show how it does.

Thune’s been put into a tough position, to be sure. He ran on the position that by using his influence with the President he could keep Ellsworth open. Now he’s gotten socked with Ellsworth being on the BRAC list. He’s looking out for his constituents by trying to save Ellsworth. He wouldn’t be doing his job if he just rolled over and let it be closed — plus, it would end his political career.

If this was all a piece of political theater, it was a good one, but it more than likely is not. He’s painted himself into a corner — there’s little chance that Ellsworth will be removed from the closure list before the Bolton vote, and if Thune carries through with his threat the White House has little incentive to help him out in regards to Ellsworth. If Thune backs down, he’s going to look weak. Either way, he loses.

Thune has reason to be angry at the situation, especially since the Pentagon is the one who recommended the closure of Ellsworth to the BRAC. Thune’s best bet is to use his influence with the President and sell the idea that Ellsworth is critical to this country’s national security. Threatening to torpedo John Bolton isn’t the way to go about it. Even if this was a deal, it was a bad deal from the White House that will have now set the precedent that threatening the President’s agenda is the best way of getting concessions on issues. That isn’t a precedent that the White House should be setting for Congress.

In any event, someone’s going to lose out in this deal – either Thune, the White House, or South Dakota, and it could be all three of them.

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