President's redeployment plan gets mixed reviews
President Bush is on the right track in suggesting that there is less of a need for American troops and their dependents to be stationed in Western Europe today than there was during the Cold War.
And Japan doesn't need U.S. troops to protect its interests; indeed the presence of troops in recent years has been the source of some friction.
But yanking troops out of South Korea at a time when North Korea is being ruled by a mentally unstable despot who is actively developing nuclear weapons and delivery systems while his own people starve, is a bad idea.
Not only would it inevitably reduce the ability of the United States to aid its South Korean ally in responding to a conventional threat from North Korea, but it would send the wrong message to Kim Jong Il.
At a time when the administration is fond of talking about how the United States must speak to its enemies from a position of strength, any reduction in force would almost inevitably be interpreted by Kim as a weakening of resolve. And when dealing in matters of war with madmen, perception can be everything.
We are hardly alone in our reservations about the Korean redeployment. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said during a hearing Tuesday, "I'm particularly concerned about moving troops out of South Korea when North Korea has probably never been more dangerous than any time since the end of the Korean War. I hope, as some critics allege, this is not a retreat to fortress America. & quot;
And the South Koreans themselves reacted after Washington notified Seoul of its plans to withdraw 12,500 of about 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea by the end of 2005, by asking at least for a delay in those plans.
The administration maintains that the deployment is part of an overall realignment of troops to reflect the reality of a post-Cold War world, not a response to the military manpower shortage attributable to the war in Iraq. While it would be nice to take the administration at its word, it is difficult to ignore the fact that some 3,600 Americans have already been sent from South Korea to Iraq.
Meanwhile, in Europe
On the other hand, the logic behind redeploying troops in Europe is almost unassailable.
U.S. troops stayed in Germany in 1945 as an army of occupation, then morphed into force designed to protect Western Europe from the Communist threat during the Cold War. The Cold War has been over for more than a decade, Western Europe has been in an economic position to provide for its own protection far longer than that. And, yet, the U.S. troops remain.
It is time to bring tens of thousands of them home -- not as a sign that the United States is abandoning Europe, but as a sign that it is time for Europeans to provide for and pay for a much larger share of their own defense.