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World Opinion Roundup by Jefferson Morley

Withdrawal Symptoms

Europe and Asia Respond to Bush's Military Plan

By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 24, 2004; 9:15 AM

Americans know what Sen. John F. Kerry thinks of President Bush's plan to redeploy U.S. military forces around the world. Bush's proposal to recall as many as 70,000 U.S. troops from overseas "raises more doubts about our intentions and our commitment," said the Democratic presidential nominee last week.

So far absent from the U.S. presidential debate, and media coverage of the campaign, is what the people in the affected countries think of Bush's blueprint for the U.S. "global force posture." For Kerry, who has promised to restore America's standing in the world by listening to allies more carefully, this is no small omission.

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In Asia, Bush's plan is controversial.

"The unilateral nature of the announcement, and the abrupt timing of the plan has incited alarm in South Korea," wrote Ahn Byung-joon in the Korea Herald .

Bush's proposal, he wrote, "fuelled rumors to the effect that withdrawal must have something to do with the rising tide of anti-Americanism in South Korea, and especially with the country's reluctance and delay in dispatching an additional 3,600 of its own soldiers to Iraq."

Ahn, like Kerry, also worried that the planned withdrawal of 12,500 U.S. troops from forward positions might embolden North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

"South Koreans genuinely fear that the plan may weaken deterrence by sending North Korea -- which is demanding a U.S. military withdrawal while refusing to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions -- the message that intransigence pays."

But North Korea sounds too defensive to claim a victory. The government-controlled Korean Central News Agency blasted Bush plan as the latest "desperate effort" of U.S. imperialism to prepare for "a war of aggression" against the North.

In Europe, the Independent of London spoke for many when it said Bush's proposal marks "a new era" in U.S.-European relations. From the polemics, Americans had no way of knowing the poignant tone of some of the reaction from Europe, especially Germany.

Bush's plan confirms how Europe and America have drifted apart over the years, according to Berthold Kohler of Frankfurter Allgemeine (in German), the most respected conservative newspaper in Germany.

"The withdrawal of Americans from Europe reflects the dying off of joint interests that acted like a clamp between both coasts of the Atlantic in the past," Kohler wrote last week.

Observers across the European political spectrum agree that Bush is uninterested in what Europeans think.

"The alliance with the United States has become more costly and less rewarding [for Europe]," notes Stefano Silvestri, a pro-American commentator for the Italian business daily Il Sole-24 Ore (in Italian).

Suspicion is widespread that Bush acted to boost his lagging reelection bid.

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