- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

The Bush administration yesterday held out the possibility that it would reduce U.S. military presence in South Korea and Germany, both of whom have expressed increasing displeasure over the basing and use of U.S. troops there.
"There is a school of thought to rethink the numbers and types of forces we have in different locations as events warrant," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "Our objectives would be to maintain our military presence, to assure our friends and allies, while deterring, if necessary, and defeating adversaries."
Although the administration said troop reductions have nothing to do with recent diplomatic rifts between the United States and the two nations, a senior official said the sudden action contains a not-so-subtle message.
"Let's just say that if they take it as a slight, they're paying attention," the official said.
Some congressmen, who acknowledged that studies are under way to reduce deployments in Europe and elsewhere, said the move was not aimed at punishing Germany, which, along with France, opposes a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
"Forward stationing of troops and rotating of troops into different parts of Europe on a rotating basis rather than the permanent stationing" is under consideration, said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. "But I don't think that has anything to do with our relations with Germany."
Others, however, said Germany's recent actions have given new prominence to the idea of reducing U.S. troops there and at other overseas locations.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, also sent a thinly veiled threat to Germany and announced congressional hearings on whether to relocate U.S. military bases in Europe.
Asked specifically whether the hearings are a reaction to Germany's opposition to war against Iraq, Mr. Hunter said, "The debate that has occurred has brought this issue to the forefront."
"It is a legitimate area for scrutiny. It would be wrong to examine bases at home and not overseas," Mr. Hunter said.
He said an expanded number of U.S. allies in Eastern Europe, including such former members of the Warsaw Pact as Poland, has provided the Pentagon an opportunity to put forces in "new locations with lower training and deployments costs."
Before the current deployment of more than 150,000 troops along Iraq's borders and in the Persian Gulf, the United States had 247,000 service members posted in 752 military installations in more than 130 countries.
Among the deployments are 71,000 troops in Germany, 40,000 in Japan and 37,000 in South Korea. About 60,000 troops are in Afghanistan.
Although Mr. Fleischer said current deployments are "based on Cold War needs," the number of U.S. troops overseas has been cut in half since 1990, a year after the collapse of Soviet-dominated regimes in Eastern Europe and a year before the demise of the Soviet Union itself.
U.S. troops have stood guard along the 38th parallel in South Korea for 50 years, since the Korean War ended in armistice. More than 50 of them have been killed in skirmishes since 1953.
Although North Korea recently acknowledged that it has a secret nuclear weapons program, South Koreans have increasingly opposed the presence of U.S. troops in their country.
A recent opinion poll conducted by Korea Gallup found that 54 percent of South Koreans surveyed disliked the United States, up from 15 percent in 1994. The new president, Roh Moo-hyun, takes office Feb. 25, and some Bush administration officials expect him to ask the United States to reduce its troop presence.
That expectation has led to a quiet agreement in recent weeks by the two nations to explore ways to reduce the number of U.S. troop installations in South Korea from 41 to 25 during the next 10 years, a senior U.S. official said.
Germany also has expressed displeasure with U.S. troop deployments as anti-Americanism in the country increases. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder tapped anti-American sentiment by campaigning strongly against the U.S. policy on Iraq; one Cabinet member even compared President Bush's tactics to those of Adolf Hitler.
Said Mr. McCain: "Look, we all know why the Germans are where they are. It's because Gerhard Schroeder wanted to get elected and he played the anti-America card."
Germany has recently hardened its opposition to a U.S.-led effort to force the U.N. Security Council to enforce its resolution demanding that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein disarm.
At a NATO meeting Monday, Germany, with France and Belgium, vetoed a proposal to help Turkey in the event of a war with Iraq. Turkey has agreed to U.S. forces using its territory in such a war and fears military retaliation by Baghdad.
German officials said yesterday that 11 of the 15 Security Council members prefer Berlin's proposal to increase the number of U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq before moving to military action.
Mr. Bush campaigned on a plan to reduce U.S. military presence overseas. In his first major campaign speech on foreign policy, in the fall of 1999, he criticized President Clinton for sending troops off on "aimless and endless deployments."
Congress will be involved because military base closures are first examined by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which makes recommendations to the president. If the president approves the report, it is forwarded to Congress, which has 45 days to act.
Mr. Hunter did not rule out examining base closures in the Pacific theater but said Europe is the committee's top priority and will be the subject of the first hearings by the committee this year. He also hinted that Germany is his main target.
"It's extremely important how the community treats our people," he said.
Staff Writer Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.

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