- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 21, 2004

Our so-called mainstream media just doesn’t get it. A major, historic announcement was made last week — and most of the press potentates missed it. Maybe that’s because it wasn’t made during the prurient trials of Scott Peterson, Kobe Bryant or Michael Jackson — where most of our national press corps seems to focus its celebrity-seeking.

Maybe that’s why reporters weren’t paying attention last Monday when President George W. Bush announced as many as 70,000 troops and their families will soon return home from the European and Asian theaters.

Maybe Mr. Bush erred in saying it to my comrades-in-arms at their annual VFW convention in Cincinnati, because when he gave this stunning announcement, no reporters rushed to their laptops to file a story. They didn’t all immediately grab their cellphones to call their editors. None of the big, hotshot television anchors rushed to check the tape.

Nope, they just let it go with a yawn. Kind of like A-Rod batting a foul ball into the stands on his first pitch.

There is hope though. John Kerry must have had a spy in the crowd, and as soon as he heard about the president’s redeployment plan, he came out against it. Now that the Democrat presidential candidate has announced his opposition, there’s hope. The masters of the media love controversy. Now they can come out against it too.

Kerry surrogate Wesley Clark also paid attention. Air Force One had barely lifted off for Washington before the little, retired general was looking for a microphone to whine “now is not the time to pull back our forces.” Mr. Clark ought to try that line on his pal Mr. Kerry who wants to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq where they are needed, instead of out of Europe where they are not.

In his address to the annual VFW convention, Mr. Bush noted the world has changed dramatically since the post-World War II era, when we needed tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Europe and Korea. The War on Terror has replaced the Cold War. The Middle East has supplanted Europe as the global military hotspot. Meanwhile, U.S. military capabilities have grown exponentially.

Yet Mr. Kerry now charges bringing servicemen and -women home from Europe will somehow threaten U.S. national security. Why? Doesn’t he trust them? Or was he so “seared” by imaginary events in Vietnam he didn’t notice the Berlin Wall has come down, the Evil Empire has collapsed and the Middle East is now the nexus of Global Terror?

More likely, the Kerry critique, delivered last Wednesday to a cool response before the same VFW audience, was simply the same blind, knee-jerk opposition the Democrats have had for every Bush administration initiative. And therein lies the shame, for the president’s proposal makes imminently good sense, given the realities of a New World disorder.

Despite Kerry campaign assertions the Bush redeployment plan is some kind of “August Surprise,” it is the culmination of more than three years of work by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon planners. And — again contrary to allegations from prominent Democrats — it is supported by both NATO and South Korean leaders.

They know, if Kerry & Co. do not, there is no longer a need for 100,000 U.S. military personnel to protect Europe’s democracies. Western Europe is no longer threatened by legions of Soviets and their satellite soldiers staring across the Fulda Gap. The major threat Europeans now face is the same one we do: radical Islamic Jihadism.

The president’s plan to “thin out” our forces overseas would improve our military capability of contending with that threat. In Germany, 30,000 troops trained and equipped to fight a European ground war will be replaced by a brigade of 5,000 equipped with Stryker armored vehicles. This more mobile force will be able to deploy quickly and fight anywhere — rather than lie in wait in the German countryside for a communist enemy we defeated years ago.

In a conference call coordinated by the Democratic National Committee, Mr. Clark, who should know better, claimed, “This redeployment will do nothing to ease the strain on our overstretched military forces.” He is simply wrong.

The president’s plan is part of a major overhaul of the Army that will add 10 new, mobile combat brigades — without increasing end strength. Those new brigades will ensure the men and women fighting the Global War on Terror — a long-lasting war no matter who wins this November — won’t need to deploy as often as today.

If Mr. Kerry and his colleagues truly care about the U.S. military’s welfare, they should applaud Mr. Bush’s plan to bring the troops home. Instead, it seems they are more concerned about appeasing America’s most vociferous European critics.

Shortly after the Bush announcement, Kerry adviser and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke claimed, “A withdrawal weakens the NATO alliance and will inevitably lead to less cooperation with our closest allies.”

It sounds like the Kerry camp is less concerned about U.S. national security than about the anxieties of Peter Lang, mayor of Baumholder, who said without U.S. troops contributing to its economy, his southern German town “would bleed to death.”

Let’s hear the Democrats spin that to people in an American town that has had a congressionally imposed base closure. It could be as interesting as a Kerry Vietnam War story.

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, host of “War Stories” on the Fox News Channel and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.

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