- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 18, 2004

President Bush’s decision to withdraw 70,000 troops from Western Europe and South Korea dealt several strategic blows to Sen. John Kerry’s candidacy this week.

First, it effectively undercut Mr. Kerry’s charge Mr. Bush was a war-happy president bent on sending U.S. troops hither and yon around the globe, stretching our fighting forces to the breaking point. The president’s action also drew a sharp contrast to Mr. Kerry’s dangerous pledge to withdraw U.S. military forces from Iraq within six months of taking office without any idea how this would embolden the terrorists.

With one bold stroke, Mr. Bush is saying we need to reconfigure our forces for a new and far more dangerous world, away from an outdated, Eurocentric, Cold War strategy that is not relevant in the war on terrorism.

Ironically, Democratic leaders have long been in the forefront of those who have called for a phased withdrawal from Central Europe, saying it was time to bring our troops home. I remember Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and other Democrats making impassioned pleas for troop withdrawals and base closing in Europe back in the ‘70s. Republicans, however, counseled it would send a dangerous message of retreat and surrender in the midst of Soviet expansionism.

Now it is the Bush Republicans who are shaping a new global national security strategy and the Kerry Democrats who seem unwilling to change and adapt to a new era and new defense challenges.

“For decades, America’s armed forces abroad have essentially remained where the wars of the last century ended,” Mr. Bush told the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Monday. “The world has changed a great deal, and our posture must change with it.” Recently, Mr. Kerry has been talking about cutting military forces in Iraq and went so far as to pledge a date certain when he would begin bringing U.S. troops home — within six months of his presidency — a strategic blunder in war-making that smacked of appeasement.

Mr. Bush responded forcefully, warning it would send a signal to the terrorists in Iraq that if they waited long enough, and kept up their attacks, the U.S. would pull out under a Kerry administration no matter the state of Iraqi security at the time.

Certainly, there is no question U.S. forces are stretched too thin and have been well before the Iraq war. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has long counseled on reconfiguring U.S. troops positions in the world. So has former Secretary of State George Shultz, “though we have to come up with a different word than withdrawal,” he told me a year ago.

Still, Mr. Kerry’s call for troop pullbacks in Iraq, under the dubious idea he could convince France and Germany to commit forces there, had an irresistible appeal to undecided voters tiring of the war and growing U.S. casualties. Many Americans think we are in too many places around the world, and Mr. Bush’s latest troop decision effectively plays to that concern.

Mr. Kerry was seen gambling with U.S. force levels at Ground Zero in the war on terrorism on the hope and a prayer that European powers who did not want to topple Saddam Hussein would send troops to Baghdad if he asked them to do so.

Mr. Bush, on the other hand, is thinking globally and acting strategically, calling for a one-third reduction in the 230,000 U.S. troops stationed abroad — the first president to ever proposed such a plan.

None of this, of course, will happen soon. The troops will be repositioned over seven years or so, with the largest reductions in Germany, where a major U.S. presence is no longer needed, and South Korea whose military, backed by U.S. security pledges, is enough to withstand any threat from the North.

The idea behind all of this is to redeploy forces where they are needed at a moment’s notice, reduce mounting overseas costs to maintain military personnel and their families, and plow the savings into Donald Rumsfeld’s vision of a new military technology that is lighter, faster and far more lethal.

Under George W. Bush’s presidency we have two related geopolitical and national security changes going on simultaneously.

First, he has unleashed American military force on the most evil terrorist regimes in the world, turning them into free, democratic nations allied with the United States. His new policy was a bold, daring, pre-emptive, offensive strategy that declared we will get you before you get us.

Second, Mr. Bush is pursuing a sweeping 21st-century military reformation to strengthen America’s national security at home and abroad and strike fear into the hearts of our adversaries.

The American people seem to like what he has done so far on both fronts. The Pew Poll reported last week Mr. Bush now holds a 57-34 percent edge over Kerry on who is “a strong leader.” A new Gallup poll also found Mr. Bush’s job approval rating now is 51 percent.

No president who has had a score of more than 50 percent at this juncture in the election year has ever lost re-election.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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