Many Central Europeans who are now in their late middle age or older have fond memories of American soldiers in their midst.  In France in 1944, nylon stockings and chocolates were the tools of seduction, resented by men and welcomed by ladies.  In Germany in early 1945, the G.I. came to be seen as liberator, compared to the vengeful fury of the Red Army.  During the frosty blockade of 1948-49, American soldiers saved West Berlin from famine.  For four decades thereafter, their presence provided a welcome reassurance that any Soviet attempt to shift the Iron Curtain westward would entail the risk of a global nuclear war.  That reassurance was essential to Europe’s postwar recovery and, in particular, to Adenauer’s and Erhard’s “economic miracle.”

On my first tour of Germany, as a 16-year-old in 1970, I felt real warmth and relief at the sight of two youthful-looking G.I.’s at Checkpoint Charlie.  They were just a couple of regular military guys, but their Jeep, their informality, the gum they chewed were light years away from the Volkspolizei patrols, dogs, and searchlights on the other side.  My papers were in Ordnung, but I remember thinking that many Easterners would risk their lives to see that same sign: “You Are Entering the American Sector.”

For years thereafter, whenever driving through Bavaria and listening to the American Forces Radio—a rare source of rock and country amidst a deluge of ABBA and oompah bands—I felt that same warm feeling.  Fifteen years after the end of the Cold War, however, those are but distant memories, and the continued presence of substantial American military forces in Europe is an expensive and untenable absurdity.

It was, therefore, good to hear President George W. Bush announce in August a plan to bring home up to 70,000 soldiers from Europe and Asia, or to move them to new locations as part of a global rearrangement of U.S. forces.  As he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Cincinnati, the plan was intended to transform the U.S. military into a lighter, more agile, and more lethal force in an age when security conditions facing the United States are different from those of the Cold War era.

According to the rearrangement outline, which is expected to begin in 2006 and continue for a decade, about one-half of the 70,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in Germany will return home or be reassigned in what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called a “new Europe”—or even further east.  That will bring the American military presence closer to the Middle East and Central Asia.  In addition, the United States will reduce by half her current 40,000 troops in South Korea and 35,000 in Japan.

President Bush’s plan is a step in the right direction, but it is a hesitant one.  It suffers from three flaws that may still be corrected.

The first is that it envisages withdrawing only some U.S. troops stationed in Europe and the Far East, and not all of those troops, as it properly should.

American soldiers are not needed there any longer.  The threat to Europe’s security no longer comes from Russia, which is going to be preoccupied for decades with the issues of her own survival and recovery.  That threat comes even less from a fresh bout of instability in the Balkans, or from the renewal of some old feud between, say, Rumania and Hungary.

The real and present threat to Europe’s security and to her survival comes from Islam, from the deluge of Third World immigrants, and from collapsing birthrates.  All three are caused entirely by “Old” Europe’s moral decrepitude and cultural degeneracy, not by any shortage of soldiers and weaponry.  The continued presence of a U.S. contingent of any size can do nothing to alleviate these problems, because they are spiritual rather than military.

As for the Far East, the threat to South Korea’s and Japan’s security is potentially more real, but it can and should be handled by those two very capable and affluent nations.  A continued U.S. defense shield over them is unjustified.  The withdraw of all U.S. troops from both would be beneficial to all concerned.  The United States would be disengaged from a part of the world where the dangers of continued military presence vastly exceed any possible benefits.  Japan and South Korea would finally become mature, self-reliant powers.  For decades, they chose to focus on economic development at the expense of military strength, which they could afford to do, secure in the protection provided by the United States.  Only by removing her tripwire can America finally force them to upgrade their militaries and to assume the full economic and political burden of their own defense.  The policy of disengagement may include a green light to both to develop limited nuclear capability as a deterrent to North Korea’s and China’s existing arsenals.

The second problem with President Bush’s plan is the timetable.  It is unnecessary to wait two years to start any redeployment, and it is quite remarkable that its completion should take a decade.  All problems of logistics and administrative chores can be resolved in half that time.  The reason for such a delay is likely political: to soften the economic blow to Germany at a sensitive time in transatlantic relations, and to prevent the implosion of NATO.  Neither reason is valid.

The government in Berlin has been taking American military spending in Germany for granted for too long; 15 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, its complaints that U.S. withdrawal will hurt local economies around American bases smacks of effrontery.  Having spent untold hundreds of billions on upgrading, integrating, and subsidizing the former East Germany, the Bundes-regierung should have allowed at least a fraction of that sum for job creation and development programs in cities, such as Ramstein, Pirmasens, and Kaiserslau-tern, that will be affected by the closure of American bases.  For Berlin’s coordinator for German-American relations, Karsten Voigt, to complain that the withdrawal of U.S. troops would cause “harsh damage” to the economies of such towns is simply audacious.

If a more speedy withdrawal of the United States from Europe facilitates the emergence of an effective European defense force (which is now advocated most vocally by France), and if the American redeployment causes the demise of NATO (as it had morphed under President Clinton), both Europe and America would be better off.

As for the Eurocorps, it is time to dispel any suspicion that the United States is opposed to its development as a defense force independent of NATO.  In any event, it will have nothing much to do—it will not be allowed to intercept boats carrying illegal immigrants across the Mediterranean, and, when deployed in “peace-keeping” operations, it will go under a U.N. flag—but it will do just fine for Bastille Day parades.  Be that as it may, it is time for Paris and Berlin (and Brussels, Vienna, Madrid, etc.) to put some serious defense euros where their diplomatic rhetoric tends to be, if they want to be taken seriously.

As for NATO, instead of declaring victory and disbanding it in the early 1990’s, the Clinton administration locked us into an unnecessary, open-ended “multilateralist” entanglement at a time when every legitimate rationale for its existence had disappeared.  This happened because Clinton and his team—many of them now serving as advisors to John Kerry—saw NATO as an ideological tool for the realization of their global vision, a “promoter of democracy,” and a “protector of human rights” that suited their ideological preferences.  The alliance’s area of operations subsequently became unlimited, and its “mandate” entirely self-generated.  Its war against Serbia in the spring of 1999—which Kerry supported enthusiastically, and some of his closest advisors actually conducted—marked a decisive shift in NATO’s mutation from a defensive alliance into a supranational security force based on the doctrine of “humanitarian intervention.”  The sooner this monstrosity is disbanded, the better for America and the rest of the world.

The third problem with President Bush’s plan concerns the stated likelihood of a redeployment of U.S. forces “further East”—not only in Poland or Rumania but in the arid wastelands of Central Asia surrounding the oil-rich Caspian Basin, as well as in the Caucasus.  If carried out, this plan will cause instability in relations between Moscow and Washington that would be detrimental to both.  For a Russian strategist, redeployment of U.S. divisions from Germany to Uzbekistan is no less provocative than moving Russian troops from Cuba to the Rio Grande would be to the United States.

To be meaningful and strategically useful, the “redeployment” should lead to American troops coming back home to the United States, not to their repositioning in another foreign spot where their presence will generate fresh instability for the host country and new, costly, and unnecessary entanglements for America.

President Bush’s redeployment plan was immediately attacked by the Democratic camp.  It was criticized for all the wrong reasons, as was to be expected.  Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, the seedy hero of Clinton’s aggression against Serbia and now an advisor to Kerry, said the plan would undermine U.S. ties with traditional allies.  Richard Holbrooke, another old Balkan hand and a key Kerry foreign-policy advisor, called the proposal “another example of the Administration’s unilateralism” that would weaken U.S. traditional ties with her closest allies.  “The Germans are very unhappy about these withdrawals,” he said, and “the Koreans are going to be equally unhappy.”  Kerry voiced his own opposition: “[I]t needs to be done at the right time and in a sensible way; this is not that time or that way.”

Such objections fit in with Kerry’s stated support for a “multilateral cooperative tradition of democratic internationalism.”  They imply that it is the legitimate business of the U.S. government to keep Germans and Koreans happy, no doubt in line with Kerry’s view, stated some years ago, that “America has taken a rare step in human history in arguing that its interests and the world’s are one.”  President Bush would do well to respond to this idiocy by asking whether Holbrooke and Kerry support increasing American military spending abroad to the point where not only Germans and Koreans but billions of other less-affluent people needing a handout from Uncle Sam will be made happy by having a thriving U.S. base next door.

When General Clark and Richard Holbrooke complain of “weakening ties with traditional allies,” what they really mean is that President Bush’s redeployment plan may weaken NATO as it is today and encourage the growth of the Eurocorps advocated by France.  Both should happen, though, and the Evil Party’s outcry shows yet again that whatever leading Democrats reject must be studied closely as an option, and in all probability adopted as policy.

The issue of bringing boys home from their foreign bases is an illustration of President Bush’s broader ambivalence when it comes to world affairs.  He is on the right track when he says that he wants to reduce American military strength abroad because maintaining expensive bases in Baden-Wurtemberg, or Seoul, makes no strategic or financial sense.  He is wrong, however, to hesitate in making his plan more comprehensive and more rapid.  The forces to be brought home should be redeveloped into a set of highly mobile contingents that can make a potent and swift response to any unexpected emergency in all corners of the world.

Those contingents do not need to be stationed abroad in order to be effective as a diplomatic trump card or a military deterrent.  If all future “emergencies” are evaluated strictly on the basis of tangible and quantifiable American interests—as they should be—it is likely that a million G.I.’s, civilian employees, family members, and National Guard reservists, once they come home where they belong, will seldom be called upon to leave these shores.