WASHINGTON -- For 60 years, American troops in the tens of thousands have been sitting in Germany essentially where Eisenhower left them at the end of World War II. For 50 years, American troops in the tens of thousands have been sitting where Matthew Ridgway left them at the end of the Korean War. For three years, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been making plans to undo this colossal idiocy.
On Monday, President Bush formally unveiled plans to withdraw 60,000 to 70,000 American troops from obsolete battle stations. Some are to come home. Others are to be redeployed to Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia to smaller, more flexible bases closer to the new front of the new war, the war on terror.
The move is long overdue. The U.S. military presence in Germany was meant to anchor an American commitment to defend Europe against Soviet invasion. The Soviet Union disappeared 13 years ago. What in God's name are two heavy divisions still doing there?
During the Cold War their purpose was "to keep America in, Russia out, and Germany down.'' Well, Russia is not exactly set to invade Europe. It is not America's job to keep Germany down. And America has other places its troops must more urgently go -- and where many of its allies are not prepared to tread.
The Democrats' response is a classic demonstration of reactionary liberalism, the reflexive defense of the status quo long after its raison d'etre has evaporated. Kerry adviser Wesley Clark protested vigorously: ``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.''
He cannot be serious. How exactly are the 72,000 American troops in Germany fighting al Qaeda? A lot of good they did in uncovering the al Qaeda cell in Hamburg that carried out 9/11. This hugely expensive deployment -- with its large logistics tail and tens of thousands of dependents added to the bill -- could be put to infinitely better use elsewhere.
Critics are particularly vociferous about drawing down 12,500 of our troops in South Korea. We all know what our troops are doing there. They are intended to be sitting ducks. Thirty-seven thousand Americans are not going to repel a million-man North Korean army. Their purpose is to die in the first hours of a North Korean invasion -- setting off a tripwire that forces the United States to enter the war.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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