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The Salt Lake Tribune
Bad Time To Bash U.S.
October 2, 2001
For the first time in two years, the U.S. Navy was able to shell its training range on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques last week without interruption by protesters. The throngs of islanders and U.S. celebrities who have regularly trespassed on Navy property in hopes of blocking the exercises are lying low, lest they appear unpatriotic in America's time of crisis.
The protesters might have felt they had no option but retreat, since TV images of them shaking signs and fists at U.S. military police would go over in America today about as well as the pictures of Palestinians dancing in the streets after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Backing off also might be problematic, however, because of the implicit question raised by the retreat: If it would be unpatriotic to impede America's military preparations now, was it really any less so before?
The Vieques training range is America's premier naval training site in the Western Hemisphere, and many Navy officers consider it irreplaceable. While the importance of U.S. preparedness was recently hammered home to even the most dovish of Americans, it was no less vital before the terrorist attacks. Preparing for the worst is best done before the worst occurs, which is why a few hundred Vieques protesters should not have been allowed to interfere with America's national security.
President Bush might have a hard time admitting this, but he must be having second thoughts about ordering the Navy to abandon Vieques by May 2003. No one knows where this new war on terrorism will lead this country, but it makes little sense to hamper the Navy's ability to do its part. Perhaps as war plans solidify, the president will find a graceful way to rescind his decision. He can no longer afford the luxury of trading the certainty of military preparedness for the possibility of picking up a few votes.
As for the protesters and their celebrity allies, they are also in a tough spot. If they remain quiet, their hard-fought victory might slip away. On the other hand, any trouble they cause for the Navy from this point on will be seen as the assault on national security that it always was.