President Bush, citing the need for a more "agile and more flexible" military, announced today that during the next 10 years the United States will bring home from Asia and Europe 60,000 to 70,000 U.S. troops and more than 100,000 civilians.
The long anticipated announcement, which is already an issue in the presidential campaign, constitutes the most significant redeployment of America's overseas military since the end of the Cold War.
In a speech to a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Cincinnati, which the president also used to repeat his defense of the war in Iraq and his criticisms of his Democratic opponent, Bush said the new "global force posture" will save money, promote stability in military families and help the United States "win the wars of the 21st century."
"Our armed forces have changed a lot," Bush said. "They're more agile and more lethal. They're better able to strike anywhere in the world over great distances on short notice.
"Yet for decades America's armed forces abroad have essentially remained where the wars of the last century ended in Europe and in Asia. America's current force posture was designed, for example, to protect us and our allies from Soviet aggression.
"The threat no longer exists," he said. "Over the coming decade, we'll deploy a more agile and more flexible force, which means that more of our troops will be stationed and deployed from here at home," he said.
Supporters of Democratic nominee John F. Kerry were ready with an organized critical response. Former ambassador Richard Holbrooke, a foreign policy aide to Kerry, appeared on CNN immediately after Bush's speech to say the president's plan "will weaken our national security. . . .
"How can we withdraw troops from Korea while we are engaged in delicate negotiations with North Korea," which "really does have weapons of mass destruction. This is another example of the administration's unilateralism," he said, "which is not going to save us money."
Holbrooke called U.S. forward deployments in Europe and Asia "essential."
But Bush, in his speech, said the plan will enable U.S. forces to "surge quickly to deal with unexpected threats. We'll take advantage of 21st-century military technologies to rapidly deploy increased combat power.
Plus, he said, "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 time with their families at home."
And, he added, "the taxpayers will save money. As we configure our military to meet the threats of the 21st century, there will be savings as we consolidate and close bases and facilities overseas no longer needed to face the threats of our time and to defend the peace."
As widely reported during the weekend, two-thirds of the reduction will come from deployments in Europe, most of them Army soldiers in Germany, and most of the troops will be reassigned to bases in the United States.
Officials said exact details of the moves have not been finalized, but some of the troops from Germany and South Korea will be moved to expansion countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Eastern Europe.
The plan is the latest iteration of a discussion that has been going on for several years between the Pentagon and the White House about reconfiguring troops abroad now that the Soviet Union is extinct and the United States is the world's lone superpower.
Administration officials have talked for more than two years about their intention to move 60,000 troops out of Europe, mostly from Germany, and 30,000 from East Asia, mostly from Japan and South Korea.
Officials would not say how long the redeployment would take but said it would involve lengthy negotiations with the countries where the troops are stationed. The administration has been discussing the plans for months with several of the governments, including South Korea.
The new plan flows from the notion that U.S. Army bases in Germany no longer serve a genuine military purpose. While the U.S. government believes it is important to retain at least one major air base in Germany -- primarily as a way station for U.S. troops en route to Europe and the Middle East -- the belief is that moving ground troops farther east is a natural consequence of the post-Cold War expansion of NATO.
Eastern European nations -- most notably Poland and Bulgaria -- have been far more enthusiastic supporters of U.S. policy in Iraq than have been older NATO allies and Belgium. Also, U.S. commanders long had chafed at environmental rules that have severely restricted training and maneuvers on German soil.
In East Asia, U.S. commanders recently have taken moves to reshape the U.S. military presence in South Korea, both moving troops from downtown Seoul and also redeploying troops southward from posts along the Demilitarized Zone to bases in the middle of South Korea.