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GOP moves on intelligence and the military mark major policy shifts

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WASHINGTON - Major Republican proposals to reform the intelligence
community and shift longstanding troop deployments indicate that while
Washington remains well shy of a revolutionary moment, a reform movement
may be at hand.

Ten days after President George W. Bush proposed pulling 60,000 to 70,000
troops out of South Korea and Germany over the next decade, nine
Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee brought forward a plan
that would greatly diminish the CIA as we know it and remove key
authorities from the Defense Department and the Pentagon. Among bold
measures that seem to have struck astonishment into the heart of
establishment Washington, the committee Republicans went so far as to
suggest removing the National Security Council, the top-secret electronic
eavesdropping cadre, from Pentagon control.

Both proposals have far to go before enactment, but both are noteworthy
steps in the right direction. Reducing a Cold War military presence that
has remained expensively in place from sheer inertia and curtailing secret
operations that have a mixed and messy record in national defense might
seem inarguable. But the plan of Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., met with virtual
condemnation from Washington's collective policy-making elite. President
Bush could sound almost like an advocate in responding lukewarmly that
several intelligence reform plans have come forward following the 9/11
Commission Report and the month of congressional hearings since, and that
still more will have to be considered before any final reform program comes
to a congressional vote. The vote could possibly come before the November
elections.

Given the maneuvering around major issues in any presidential election
year, more so with the White House and key Senate contests considered too
close for confidence, it seems worth noting that several political
observers on Capitol Hill consider Roberts a stand-up politician, less
likely than some to have been drafted by the White House for an extreme
position that would make the president appear magisterially in control by
contrast.

Roberts himself offered a spirited defense of his proposal, insisting that
only strong measures have any claim to seriousness where so many reform
efforts have failed in the past - and that no agency is more important than
national security. The presidential campaign of Democratic candidate John
Kerry immediately signaled approval of the Roberts proposal in its
entirety.

As for Bush's troop withdrawal and redeployment scheme, it includes a
political deal-sweetener that is dead wrong - no stateside military base
closures will be considered in 2005. Kerry too is playing politics with the
issue, having switched positions so that he and Bush now stand together on
something - an indication of just how phobic congressional members get
toward base closures. However dysfunctional many of the bases have become
in the post-Cold War, 9/11-inflected configurations of national security,
they do boost employment numbers and "the local economy" in many states and
districts, a job-security arrangement Congress and the Pentagon charted out
decades ago.

Kerry, incredibly, rejected the main Bush initiative for cosmetic reasons -
this from a candidate who has himself acknowledged, however indirectly,
that he'd be demanding still larger troop shifts and withdrawals ... in any
year but an election year.