- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 17, 2004

On Monday, President Bush announced long-expected plans to withdraw up to 70,000 U.S. troops, and nearly 100,000 employees, from Europe and Asia as part of the administration’s troop realignment strategy. The initiative is enormous in scope, constituting the largest restructuring of deployed U.S. forces and personnel since the end of the Korean War, and will take as long as a decade to complete. Not only does the administration’s policy, spearheaded by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld early in 2001, make good military sense, it highlights the shifting strategic concerns of the United States in the 21st century.

The major troop reductions will occur in both Germany and South Korea. With regards to Germany, the withdrawal is long overdue, considering that the U.S. presence was a direct result of the Soviet threat. While North Korea continues a dangerous and aggressive policy, the U.S. withdrawal will only comprise a third of the 37,000 troops stationed on the peninsula. More importantly, as the president emphasized in his announcement, the United States will increase its presence nearer to hot spots in the war on terror, while at the same time allowing more troops to return home.

So close to the election as it is, it didn’t take long for the Democratic analysts to unleash criticism of the administration’s plan. The substance of their arguments, however, was pretty thin. Retired general and former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark said that the withdrawal will “significantly undermine U.S. national security,” adding that the plan is “ill-conceived” and “politically motivated.” We don’t particularly agree with Mr. Clark’s analysis, especially when we remember that as supreme allied commander of NATO forces, Mr. Clark also advised reducing U.S. troop levels in Germany. Nor are we impressed with former ambassador and current Kerry adviser Richard Holbrooke’s prediction that the Germans are going to be “very unhappy.” Both critics stressed that reducing our military commitment in such places as Germany and South Korea will diminish our diplomatic clout, as well as further alienate our allies.

But soldiers aren’t diplomats, and while their presence can help sway a country’s state of mind, the United States cannot continue to ask tens of thousands of its troops to continue playing a balancing act. The critics also forget the original intent of stationing the troops in Germany and South Korea — for defense, not diplomacy.

We doubt Messrs. Clark and Holbrooke take their own criticisms seriously. In the end, the administration’s plan, as massive as it may be, is the bare minimum that any restructuring of U.S forces would allow. Given the 10-year timeframe, just more than 6,000 troops would be redeployed per year. Also, America’s European bases will not be significantly altered, adding credence to Mr. Rumsfeld’s vision of a more agile strike force, ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. As Mr. Bush said, “The world has changed a great deal and our posture must change with it.” German sensibilities notwithstanding, we applaud the change.

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