Thursday, August 19, 2004

Kerry off target on troop shift


Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry used his speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention here Wednesday to blast away at President Bush's plan to withdraw 60,000 to 70,000 U.S. troops from Europe and Asia, a plan the president announced Monday at the same convention. This had a nice symmetry, but Kerry's criticism was off the mark.

"Let's be clear: The president's vaguely stated plan does not strengthen our hand in the war against terror," Kerry told the VFW. "And this hastily announced plan raises more doubts about our intentions and our commitments than it provides real answers."

Kerry's anything but clear on his facts here. This was no slapdash plan, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Enquirer editorial board Monday. "We've been studying it for years, and discussing it with our allies for at least a year and a half," Powell said. "It was time to do this." The process, combined with base reductions, will take six to seven years, he said.

As we've said, the plan makes sense, moving us away from an outmoded Cold War military stance that is of little use against terrorism. Troops can respond from the U.S. mainland as easily and quickly as from a foreign base in these times of high-tech warfare. And it does strengthen our hand in the war against terror, leaving fewer military and support personnel exposed overseas as focal points for hostility.

Kerry and Bush both received warm receptions from the VFW, particularly when each spoke of a resolve to keep America strong and better serve the needs of its veterans. This response should bear witness to the truth, too often ignored this election year, that patriotism is not a matter of party identification.

But you have to wonder what the vets think of Kerry's pro forma opposition to any idea from the Bush administration, especially his criticism of the Korea pullout. "Why are we unilaterally withdrawing 12,000 troops from the Korean Peninsula at the very time we are negotiating with North Korea - a country that really has nuclear weapons?" Kerry asked. "This is clearly the wrong signal to send at the wrong time."

This is clearly the wrong way to think about the Korean situation. It is the North's nuclear capability itself that makes it sensible to take troops out but invest in more advanced technology in Korea to give us greater strategic flexibility. What's the advantage in keeping U.S. troops trapped near the Demilitarized Zone as nuke bait? "Moving troops away from the DMZ gives us strategic depth," Powell said.

Besides, it is multinational diplomacy, not troops on a border who don't have the power to stave off a nuclear threat, that holds promise. It is not U.S. might but the collective will of nearby nations "who have greater equity in this situation," as Powell delicately put it.

As for the notion that removing 70,000 troops will hurt our alliances, Powell had a succinct answer: "We don't cement our alliances with troops."

The plan sends a clear message about our intentions on dealing with 21st century threats.

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