Friday, August 20, 2004

Searching for coherent reasons to oppose the Bush foreign policy and deflect criticism of his many votes to slash the defense budget, John Kerry has come up with a new plan of attack: bashing the president’s eminently sensible proposal to realign U.S. forces in the world, taking account of the fact that the Cold War ended 15 years ago.

In a speech Wednesday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Mr. Kerry blasted President Bush’s plan to bring home as many as 70,000 troops from bases in Asia and Europe. “Why are we unilaterally withdrawing 12,000 troops from the Korean Peninsula at the very time we are negotiating with North Korea — a country that really has nuclear weapons? This is clearly the wrong signal to send at the wrong time,” Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Kerry hasn’t always been so worried that troop reductions send the wrong signal. In 1990, he criticized the United States for keeping 300,000 troops in Germany to protect that country from the Soviets. The following year, he voted to slash the number of U.S. personnel in Europe by 30,000.

In January of this year, Mr. Kerry promised to be a president who “reduces the overall need for deployment of American forces in the globe — and I mean North Korea, Germany and the rest of the world.” On April 14, Mr. Kerry said that the president should be “trying to find ways to reduce the overexposure, in a sense, of America’s commitments.” U.S. foreign policy, he added, should be trying to achieve “the reduction of the American presence” on the Korean Peninsula.

During an Aug. 1 appearance on ABC-TV’s “This Week,” moderator George Stephanopoulos asked Mr. Kerry if some troops would be home by the end of his first term. In response, Mr. Kerry — specifically mentioning Europe and the Korean Peninsula —said he would “have a significant, enormous reduction in the level of troops” abroad. He added that, so far as moving troops from these areas of the world was concerned, “there are great possibilities open to us.”

So, why has Mr. Kerry moved from speaking favorably about reducing the number of American troop cuts less than three weeks ago to denouncing the president for actually trying to implement them? What tectonic geopolitical change has caused the senator to change his deeply held beliefs about troop withdrawals?

We suspect that the complaints result less from some extraordinary re-evaluation of the merits of the issue than the fact that Mr. Kerry, faced with the daunting challenge of trying to unseat an incumbent president, will search for any pretext to disagree with Mr. Bush. Perhaps he is an aficionado of that old Groucho Marx song: “Whatever it is, I’m against it.”

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