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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Unveils Troop Removal Plan

CINCINNATI -- U.S. President George W. Bush on Monday announced his long-anticipated plan to remove as many as 70,000 U.S. troops from Europe and Asia in a sweeping reorganization that he said would better prepare the military to handle crises.

But Democrats attacked the plan as an example of unilateralism that would damage global alliances and ultimately weaken U.S. security. They said bringing the troops home would further alienate many of the country's staunchest allies, who have already parted company with the administration over Iraq.

The intense exchange between the two camps offered a glimpse of the serious underlying differences between Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry, and their conflicting visions of how best to assure the nation's security in the post-Cold War world.

White House officials billed Monday's announcement as the biggest troop realignment since the end of the Cold War, although Bush offered few details during remarks tucked into a campaign speech delivered here to the annual meeting of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He said the return stateside of 60,000 to 70,000 troops and more than 100,000 relatives and civilian personnel would take 10 years. The president said the move would improve life for military families and save money -- while also making the military more agile.

From Europe to Africa, Asia and the Middle East, the U.S. military would rely more heavily on Special Forces and small contingents of "forward forces" to provide rapid-response capability, while shifting heavier equipment and regular divisions back home.

The plan would involve closing hundreds of military facilities around the world, administration officials said -- substantially trimming the U.S. presence in historically strategic places such as Germany and the Korean peninsula. Half of U.S. military installations in Europe, particularly smaller bases, would be closed.

Changes would not directly affect the roughly 150,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Elements of the troop repositioning plans have been discussed since last year, but the Bush administration remained vague about details, citing ongoing negotiations with a number of current and potential base host nations, but it was clear that Germany would give up the most.

Two divisions would return to the United States from Germany, while one of the Army's new lightly armored Stryker brigades would be stationed there, said officials who briefed reporters at the Pentagon on condition of anonymity. The 20,000 to 30,000 soldiers of the 1st Armored Division and the 1st Infantry Division would not leave Germany before 2006, officials said. They would be replaced by a much smaller Stryker brigade of 3,000 to 5,000 troops.

That cut alone would mark about a 15 percent decrease in the roughly 213,000 troops permanently stationed overseas -- 109,000 in NATO countries and 104,000 in the Pacific.

Pentagon strategists, looking eastward for help, are expected to move some troops from what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has dubbed "Old Europe" to what he calls "New Europe" bases in the former Soviet bloc nations of Poland and Romania.

The Pentagon also plans to rely on more temporary bases -- referred to as "forward operating locations" -- in such previously nonallied nations such as Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, key partners in the war in Afghanistan.

"The new plan will help us fight and win these wars of the 21st century," Bush said. "It will strengthen our alliances around the world, while we build new partnerships to better preserve the peace. It will reduce the stress on our troops and our military families."

Bush pledged that the United States will maintain "a significant presence overseas," and he reiterated that the country will not abandon Iraq or Afghanistan.

But Kerry surrogates immediately attacked the move. "This is another example of the administration's unilateralism. It's going to weaken our national security. It is not going to save us money. It will cost billions of dollars to bring these troops home," Richard Holbrooke, a Kerry foreign policy adviser and UN ambassador under former President Bill Clinton, said on CNN.

And retired Army General Wesley Clark, also speaking for Kerry, said, "As we face a global war on terror with al-Qaida active in more than 60 countries, now is not the time to pull back our forces."

The political value in all these proposals, one Bush strategist said, is that they portray the president as "an agent of change" willing to rethink fundamental assumptions. By contrast, they argue, Kerry's hostility to the idea paints him as wedded to obsolete assumptions.

"This is about modernization of defenses and pursuing transformational change, while Democrats are defenders of a pre-9/11 status quo," the Republican strategist said.