CINCINNATI, Aug. 16 -- President Bush announced plans Monday to recall as many as 70,000 troops from Cold War-era bases in Europe and Asia as part of a global rearrangement of forces that is aimed at making the military more agile in an age of unpredictable enemies.
The plan could significantly change the face of the U.S. military at home and abroad, in what administration officials called the largest restructuring overseas since the end of the Korean War. The typical three-year tours abroad would be sharply curtailed, and administration officials hope to ease the pressures placed on military families by the need for frequent moves.
The repositioning is to unfold gradually over seven to 10 years and cut by one-third the 230,000 U.S. service members now stationed overseas. The largest reductions would occur in Germany, which would lose two Army divisions, and South Korea. The two countries account for more than half of the U.S. troops stationed permanently on foreign soil.
"For decades, America's armed forces abroad have essentially remained where the wars of the last century ended," Bush said at the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, held in the swing state of Ohio. "The world has changed a great deal, and our posture must change with it."
Bush's announcement of the plan -- which drew mixed assessments from military analysts -- gave him a chance to talk about bringing troops home at a time when his opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), has pledged to substantially reduce U.S. troop levels in Iraq. The administration plan, which will not affect the number of troops in Iraq, has been under development for many months. Its main outlines were reported publicly last week.
Kerry, who was vacationing in Idaho, did not immediately respond to Bush, but several of his allies attacked the plan vigorously. The Democratic National Committee organized a conference call with retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark, NATO's former supreme allied commander, who said the plan "will significantly undermine U.S. national security."
"As we face a global war on terror with al Qaeda active in more than 60 countries, now is not the time to pull back our forces," Clark said.
Richard C. Holbrooke, a former assistant secretary of state and ambassador to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton, accused Bush of trying to deflect attention from the strain on the military by prolonged deployments in Iraq. He criticized Bush for slipping a "historic announcement" into essentially a campaign speech.
"It's not good diplomacy," said Holbrooke, who argued that the plan will undermine relations with allies. "It sends the message that this administration continues to operate in a unilateral manner without adequately consulting its closest allies. It's a mistake, driven by the fact that we're stretched too thin in Iraq and the presidential election."
Senior administration officials briefing reporters at the Pentagon, however, said the moves would make the military more flexible in a world where threats are less predictable, while allowing troops and their families to be stationed in the United States.
The shift is part of a broader Pentagon plan that includes closing bases in what Bush's aides have called "old Europe." Instead, the administration would build training camps and smaller bases in the former Soviet satellites of Eastern Europe that could be used for rapid deployments to the Middle East. The new bases would house equipment but would be sparsely staffed and far smaller than the massive, citylike bases in Germany.
"More of our troops will be stationed and deployed from here at home," Bush said. "We'll move some of our troops and capabilities to new locations, so they can surge quickly to deal with unexpected threats. We'll take advantage of 21st-century military technologies to rapidly deploy increased combat power. The new plan will help us fight and win these wars of the 21st century."
The plan prompted debate among military and government analysts over the potential costs and benefits of what was a relatively vague though dramatic announcement.
"I think the redeployment of U.S. overseas forces is long overdue, a decade or two," said Loren Thompson, a defense expert with the Lexington Institute. "The reason why the U.S. has 70,000 personnel in Central Europe is because that was the high tide line for communist expansion. There's no reason to be there in those numbers."