Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The NY Times on Deployment
The New York Times argues against Bush's plans for redeploying (or removing 70,000 troops from Europe and Asia) here

I want to give my take on a few of their arguments.

The Bush administration justifies these movements by pointing to fundamental changes in the geography of threats since the end of the cold war. In Asia, however, that geography has not changed all that much.

The most dangerous threat still comes from North Korea, which is now thought to be building nuclear weapons. At a time when negotiating a halt to that buildup is imperative, Washington has inexplicably granted Pyongyang something it has long coveted - a reduction in American troop levels - instead of building those reductions into a bargaining proposal requiring constructive North Korean moves in return. The Korean pullback also sends a dangerous signal to the North that America is devaluing its alliance with South Korea.

To be honest, when South Koreans are bent on appeasing their hostile northern neighbor through a sunshine policy, all while protesting the presence of American troops in their homeland, and condemning us in the UN, why should we be using our scarce resources to defend an ally who doesn't act either like an ally or somebody who wants our support? At least this is the common perception. However, the New York Times is right to point out that South Korea acts more like an ally than many may want to believe - it has put quite a few troops in Iraq.

In Europe, the withdrawals are less immediately dangerous, but they will be expensive because Germany pays a hefty share of the costs for the American military bases located there.

Why again do we need bases in Germany in today's day and age? In the past there was the fear of scores of divisions of Soviet tanks bursting through the open plains of Europe, but that danger isn't present currently. Besides, why shouldn't Germany provide for its own defense? Why are our scarce troops needed there?

While sending military personnel back to Kansas or Colorado may avert some base closings and make local politicians happy, it will cost the taxpayers money. Furthermore, the military will also lose the advantage that comes with giving large numbers of its men and women the experience of living in other cultures.

Yes are soldiers will now lose the chance to learn German culture. But is that really a strong enough reason to condemn moving troops for national security purposes? Besides, one criticism of our education system has been that we spend too much time learning about strictly European cultures. If the New York Times is so concerned about this potential cultural deficiancy, I'm sure quite a few people would be delighted to see them call for American soldiers to receive a cultural education in new bases in Syria or Iran.

Although it is certainly true that American troops no longer have to sit in Germany to protect Western Europe from the Red Army, many of today's battlefields, like Iraq and Afghanistan, are in fact closer to Germany than they are to the United States.

True, but when the Germans or other countries in between don't let us use their airspace or impose other restrictions in conducting missions that we feel (rightly or wrongly) are needed for national security purposes, the value of such German bases is questionable at best.

Despite the Pentagon's denials, it seems deliberate that the two largest withdrawals have been proposed for countries that the Bush administration has had serious differences with in recent years, over Iraq in the German case, and over negotiating strategy with North Korea in the case of Seoul. Both countries have been working hard to patch up relations - South Korea is one of the few American allies with troops in Iraq - but the Pentagon does not seem interested in reciprocating.

So we have a big stick. Do we really lose more than we gain by using it?

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