Retired Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Christman said U.S. forces would lose the intangible advantages of living and working in allied countries, and he said the moves could send the wrong messages to adversaries. The shift would pull some U.S. ground troops from the Korean Peninsula, a hot spot where the United States has been working to deter North Korea's nuclear capabilities.
"I couldn't imagine a worse time to be pulling troops out of Korea at the same time we're trying to get Pyongyang to give up its nukes," Christman said. "It seems like preemptive concession."
The White House provided few details of where troops would be moved beyond saying that, over the next decade, the military would close hundreds of U.S. facilities overseas and bring home 60,000 to 70,000 service members, plus about 100,000 family members and civilian defense employees.
Defense officials declined to talk about costs or specific redeployment figures, saying they are still working on details with several countries. The plan figures to be quite costly, as U.S. bases would have to be refurbished or expanded to handle the influx of troops and their families.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in a report in May that greatly reducing the U.S. presence overseas could save more than $1 billion a year but could cost nearly $7 billion upfront.
"Restationing Army forces would produce, at best, only small improvements in the United States' ability to respond to far-flung conflicts," the CBO said.
John P. White, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and a former deputy secretary of defense, said he believes such money should only be spent with an "imperative need" to do so. "I don't understand how we gain strategic ability to respond by moving people to the U.S., further away from the likely trouble spots," he said. "I don't get it."
Senior defense officials said yesterday that two heavily armored divisions now stationed in Germany would return to the United States as part of the realignment, and a Stryker brigade -- with its more modern attack vehicles -- would move into its place.
The major moves are not likely to begin until at least fiscal 2006 or later, with a bulk of those returning to the United States coming over several years.
Bush said changes are necessary "for the sake of our military families" and added: "Our service members will have more time on the home front, and more predictability and fewer moves over a career. Our military spouses will have fewer job changes, greater stability, more time for their kids and to spend with their families at home."
The overture to military families in a national security speech reflected the political stakes and timing of the speech. This is the second week of an effort by Bush and his campaign to undo any success Kerry had in using the Democratic National Convention to portray himself as worthy of the title commander in chief. Veterans and military families, traditionally a Republican constituency, are thought to be in play this year because of Kerry's credentials in Vietnam and concern over unexpectedly long deployments and continuing casualties in Iraq.
The appearance was paid for by Bush's reelection campaign, and he laced his remarks with digs at Kerry. He entered to "Hail to the Chief" and received standing ovations before, during and after his speech.
Continuing the two campaigns' mirrored schedules, Kerry is to address the VFW on Wednesday.
White reported from Washington.