06/30/2010 10:31 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Pinon Canyon Protesters Put Goal Posts on Wheels

Folks who thought the Pinon Canyon controversy was all about expansion plans need to catch up. Protesters have moved the goal posts so often that they might as well be on wheels. Just when you think this dead horse can't be flogged any more, the flogging begins anew.

It began with anxiety about possible expansion of the existing maneuver site, a supplemental training area Fort Carson acquired downstate in the 1980s. Locals feared that the Army would use eminent domain to grab a big new chunk of land. They predict the death of cattle culture if more ranches are gobbled-up. Fair enough. But the aim of the protests has shifted over time, from blocking expansion to curtailing training at the existing site, taking an extreme turn that could paint the state as hostile to the military and make Fort Carson vulnerable to future closure.

The rancher-activists evidently don't just want the Army contained; they want it kicked out. A line has been crossed from justifiable anxiety to paranoid antagonism, which seems out of proportion to the situation at hand. Instead of saying "enough is enough," and calling for a truce, or a toning-down of the wild rhetoric, a number of Colorado politicos keep pandering to what seems like an anti-Army mob.

U.S. Rep. John Salazar said at one recent panderfest that the vilification of the U.S. Army was patriotic. "Don't ever let anyone tell you that it is un-American to stand up for your ranches and farms. Don't you ever let anyone tell you that you are un-American," Salazar told a crowd in Kim. "As long as I am in Washington (D.C.) the Army will not expand its Pinon Canyon."

Me thinks he doth protest too much. But the anti-Army attitudes are bipartisan. Rather than rise above the fray, and inject a little reason into the debate, one of Salazar's Republican challengers, Scott Tipton, joined in on the act.

It's one thing to speak out against eminent domain, or against Washington. I can relate to both sentiments. But this protest has strayed beyond that and taken on an unnecessarily venomous and destructive tone. The Army is not the enemy, no matter how badly it mishandled the situation. It isn't considering expansion for the fun of it, or out of a malicious intent regarding ranchers, but because it believes it needs more room to train a 21st century Army. That's been explained repeatedly, to no avail. Detractors feign deafness, claiming the Army hasn't explained itself.

The site hasn't actually been used much in the last five years -- Carson troops have been too busy spilling their blood in foreign wars to do much training there. But now that Carson's commander wants to increase use of the site, he shouldn't have to run a gauntlet of obstructionists to do so. Are such attitudes un-American? I wouldn't go that far. But they certainly are unreasonable, coming from Coloradans who pride themselves on the bedrock American values of common sense and a commitment to the common defense.