- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 17, 2004

CINCINNATI — President Bush yesterday announced the withdrawal of up to 70,000 U.S. troops from Europe and Asia during the next decade in the most comprehensive repositioning of American forces in nearly half a century.

“The world has changed a great deal and our posture must change with it,” Mr. Bush said at the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “We’ll deploy a more agile and more flexible force, which means that more of our troops will be stationed and deployed from here at home.”

The plan calls for the closing of hundreds of U.S. bases in Europe and Asia, the redeployment of between 60,000 and 70,000 uniformed military members, and the withdrawal of 100,000 family members and civilian employees.

Although there will be no immediate impact on American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the repositioning will eventually allow easier troop deployment to the Middle East, which has become the focus of the president’s national security strategy since September 11, 2001.

“We’ll move some of our troops and capabilities to new locations so they can surge quickly to deal with unexpected threats,” Mr. Bush said. “We’ll take advantage of 21st-century military technologies to rapidly deploy increased combat power.”

The plan was quickly denounced by Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign, which dispatched retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark to say it “will significantly undermine U.S. national security.”

“This is an ill-conceived move, and its timing seems politically motivated rather than designed to strengthen our national security,” Gen. Clark told reporters on a conference call. “And, frankly, this redeployment will do nothing to ease the strain on our overstretched military forces.”

Mr. Bush disagreed.

“Our service members will have more time on the home front and more predictability and fewer moves over a career,” he said. “Our military spouses will have fewer job changes, greater stability, more time for their kids and to spend time with their families at home.”

The president said the positioning of U.S. forces across the globe reflects an outdated national security strategy.

“For decades, America’s armed forces abroad have essentially remained where the wars of the last century ended in Europe and in Asia,” he said. “America’s current force posture was designed, for example, to protect us and our allies from Soviet aggression. The threat no longer exists.”

The United States has about 100,000 troops in East Asia and another 100,000 in Europe, including about 70,000 in Germany. White House officials declined to say how many troops would be withdrawn from each nation.

“Those are conversations that we’ll continue to have with our allies as we move forward,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters aboard Air Force One.

Pentagon officials said the 1st Infantry Division and 1st Armored Division might begin leaving their bases in Germany by 2006. They would be replaced by a smaller, more lightly armed brigade.

Kerry surrogate Ashton Carter, who was assistant secretary of defense for President Clinton, said withdrawing troops from the Korean Peninsula would send “the wrong signal, both to North Korea and to South Korea, at a critical time: a message of lessened American commitment, lessened resolve.”

He added: “This weakens deterrence on the Korean Peninsula at the very moment when North Korea is plunging forward unchecked with its nuclear program, and at the time when our alliance with South Korea is already frayed.”

But a White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Asia would be less affected than Europe by the repositioning.

“I would anticipate that, as the threat has changed most in Europe, that would be more affected over time,” said the official, who added the repositioning might take as few as seven years.

Kerry adviser Richard Holbrooke, who was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Mr. Clinton, said Mr. Bush’s plan would harm U.S. relations with Europe.

“A withdrawal weakens the NATO alliance and will inevitably lead to less cooperation with our closest allies — just when we need more in the war on terrorism and Iraq,” he said.

The Bush official insisted the administration is being diplomatic with allies.

“They are transforming their own forces, so we’re doing this in a way that’s complementary with them,” the official said.

Yesterday’s announcement by the president came just days after Mr. Kerry promised to significantly reduce U.S. forces in Iraq within six months of taking office as president. There are about 140,000 American troops in Iraq.

Mr. Bush called that promise irresponsible.

“It sends the wrong signal to the enemy, who could easily wait six months and one day,” he told the veterans.

“It sends the wrong message to our troops, that completing the mission may not be necessary. It sends the wrong message to the Iraqi people, who wonder whether or not America means what it says.”

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