Bush Tells Veterans of Plan to Redeploy G.I.'s Worldwide
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/17/politics/17prexy.html?th (must subscribe)
Published: August 17, 2004

CINCINNATI, Aug. 16 - President Bush said Monday that the Pentagon would withdraw 60,000 to 70,000 troops during the next decade from Europe and Asia in the biggest realignment of the United States military since the end of the cold war.

In a speech to a convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the political combat zone of Ohio, the president said the redeployment would create a more flexible military that would be better positioned to fight terrorism. Many of the details of the plan had been reported in early June, after the proposal was circulated among European and Asian allies.

Some troops will be brought home, Mr. Bush said, while others will be rotated through locations closer to the terrorist threat - principally the Middle East and Central Asia, as well as Southeast Asia. The administration already is striking deals for greater access rights and temporary basing privileges in nations closer to locations believed to be terrorist headquarters and havens.

"For decades America's armed forces abroad have essentially remained where the wars of the last century ended, in Europe and in Asia," Mr. Bush told an enthusiastic crowd of veterans and their families at the Dr. Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Cinergy Center. "America's current force posture was designed, for example, to protect us and our allies from Soviet aggression. The threat no longer exists."

The redeployment will affect an additional 100,000 military support staff and families, but it will not affect the troops now in Iraq and Afghanistan, deployments that have stretched the Army.

Mr. Bush's announcement, in a swing state that the White House has identified as essential to the president's chances for re-election, came with heavy political overtones. It is part of an effort leading into the Republican National Convention to promote Mr. Bush's record on national security, which polls show is his greatest advantage against his Democratic competitor, Senator John Kerry.

Mr. Kerry, a Vietnam combat veteran, is scheduled to address the same convention on Wednesday. Mr. Bush, who spent the Vietnam War in a noncombat role in the Texas Air National Guard, attacked Mr. Kerry several times in his remarks as being weak on defense.

"It's important we send the right signals when we speak here in America," Mr. Bush said. "The other day my opponent said if he's elected, the number of troops in Iraq will be significantly reduced within six months. I think it sends the wrong signal. It sends the wrong signal to the enemy, who could easily wait six months and one day. It sends the wrong message to our troops that completing the mission may not be necessary. It sends the wrong message to the Iraqi people, who wonder whether or not America means what it says."

Mr. Kerry has said he will try to withdraw some troops from Iraq during his first six months in office, but has proposed adding 40,000 troops to the Army and expanding the elite Special Operations Forces. On Monday, his campaign attacked Mr. Bush's redeployment plan as dangerous and politically motivated, and said it would weaken America's relationship with NATO.

"Withdrawing forces from Europe will further undermine already strained relations with long-time NATO allies, will be interpreted as the distancing of the U.S. from NATO and will set back U.S. efforts to encourage greater NATO participation in Iraq," Gen. Wesley Clark said in a statement issued by the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Clark, the NATO supreme allied commander during the Kosovo bombing campaign in 1999, withdrew as a Democratic candidate for president earlier this year.

The White House released few new details of the redeployment plan, but senior Pentagon officials said Monday that most of the troop reduction in Europe would come from the return to the United States of two heavy divisions that are now based in Germany.

A senior State Department official said Monday that American troop reductions in Asia would be "not very dramatic," but military and Pentagon officials declined to give any further details. The Pentagon has already announced the shift, now under way, of some 12,000 troops from South Korea to Iraq. The number represents about a third of the American force in South Korea.

That shift, which is occurring at the same time that the United States is trying to pressure North Korea to stop its nuclear weapons program, was also attacked by Mr. Clark. "Removing U.S. forces from the Korean peninsula at a critical juncture in diplomatic efforts to dismantle North Korea's nuclear program will send a dangerous signal of weak U.S. resolve to Kim Jong Il," Mr. Clark said in the statement, referring to the North Korean leader.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters on Sunday that the entire process of redeployments would take up to six years, and that he had extensively discussed the plan over the weekend in St. Petersburg with his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Sergei B. Ivanov.

The restructuring of America's global military deployments, which has been under discussion for several years, also envisions closing scores of smaller installations in Europe as a cost-cutting measure.

The plan has a heavy domestic political component as well. Reshaping the military's global footprint, and bringing forces home, will coincide with a new round of efforts to close and consolidate bases in the United States, a lengthy process expected to run into fierce opposition from political figures from those districts where bases might be closed.

In his speech to the convention, Mr. Bush rolled out a list of what he said were his administration's commitments to veterans, a politically potent group that the president and Mr. Kerry are assiduously courting.

The president said that when his 2005 budget is approved, he will have increased overall financing for veterans since 2001 by almost $20 billion, or 40 percent. Mr. Bush also said his administration had enrolled 2.5 million more veterans in health care services since 2001, had begun a $35 million program to provide housing and medical care to homeless veterans, and was modernizing old veterans' health care centers and building new ones.

"All our nation's veterans have made serving America the highest priority of their lives, and serving our veterans is one of the highest priorities of my administration," Mr. Bush said.

The Kerry campaign responded that Mr. Bush's speech was misleading rhetoric and glossed over a failed record. Phil Singer, a Kerry campaign spokesman, said the administration had pushed for the closure of veterans' hospitals and had forced veterans to pay higher health care costs. Kerry campaign officials also released comments they said were made earlier this year by Edward S. Banas Sr., the commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who Mr. Bush thanked from the lectern for his service.

According to the Kerry campaign, Mr. Banas called Mr. Bush's 2005 budget "a disgrace and a sham," and said that "what the administration is proposing for veterans is a shell game."

Thom Shanker contributed reporting from Washington for this article.