President Bush has announced (at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention) that he plans to reduce the number of troops in Europe and Asia by 60,000 to 70,000 over the next decade.
If this suggests a serious reconsideration of the policy of keeping U.S. troops in places where they are not only not needed but are increasingly resented, or the first step in a program of more comprehensive disengagement, it is welcome news.
But the devil is in the details and the president didn’t provide many details.
Ted Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, said the president “deserves the gratitude of the American people for deciding to withdraw 70,000 troops from Europe and East Asia,” and explained that from a defense standpoint these commitments make little sense.
He said, however, he is concerned about a timetable of 10 years: “A lot of good intentions can disappear over that period.”
Chalmers Johnson, University of California political science professor emeritus and author of “The Sorrows of Empire,” was even more skeptical. “Are they planning to bring those troops home or transfer them to Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan — or Iraq?” he asked. “If that’s the plan, it will meet resistance within the military and do little or nothing to reduce our exposure overseas.”
Johnson also suggested the move may be retaliation against Germany and South Korea, which have not been especially supportive of U.S. policy in Iraq, or an effort to move U.S. troops from places where they have become more an irritant than an asset. He noted that just last weekend, a U.S. helicopter crashed on a college campus in Okinawa, setting off a new round of protests against U.S. bases.
Whether the move represents serious rethinking of U.S. military policy or not — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has talked seriously for some time about realigning U.S. forces and making the military leaner and more agile but not about reducing overseas commitments — this move is overdue. South Korea and Germany are quite capable of handling whatever threats they may face.
However, as Shakespeare once put it, “If ’twere done, ’twere well if ’twere done quickly.” There’s no reason to take 10 years to do what should have been done 10 years ago.