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President Bush Proposes Troop Realignment Plan

August 16, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: Today, there are 230,000 U.S. soldiers stationed abroad, including 117,000 in Europe and 98,000 in the Pacific.

Another 150,000 troops are on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the president’s new troop deployment plan will not directly apply to them.

The president told a Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting in Cincinnati today that restructuring the way U.S. troops are deployed around the world is long overdue.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We will ensure that our forces are well prepared and well positioned to meet the threats of the future.

Our armed forces have changed a lot. They’re more agile and more lethal. They’re better able to strike anywhere in the world over great distances on short notice. Yet for decades, America’s armed forces abroad have essentially remained where the wars of the last century ended, in Europe and in Asia.

America’s current force posture was designed, for example, to protect us and our allies from Soviet aggression. That threat no longer exists.

More than three years ago, we launched a comprehensive review of America’s global force posture, the numbers, types, locations, and capabilities of U.S. forces around the world.

We’ve consulted closely with our allies and with Congress. We’ve examined the challenges posed by today’s threats and emerging threats. And so, today I announce a new plan for deploying America’s armed forces. Over the coming decade, we’ll deploy a more agile and more flexible force, which means that more of our troops will be stationed and deployed from here at home.

We will move some of our troops and capabilities to new locations, so they can surge quickly to deal with unexpected threats.

We’ll take advantage of 21st- century military technologies to rapidly deploy increased combat power.

The new plan will help us fight and win these wars of the 21st century. 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. Although we’ll still have a significant presence overseas, under the plan I’m announcing today, over the next ten years we will bring home about 60,000 to 70,000 uniformed personnel, and about a 100,000 members and civilian employees, family members and civilian employees. See, our service members will have more time on the home front, and more predictability and fewer moves over a career.

Our military spouses will have fewer job changes, greater stability, more time for their kids and to spend time with their families at home. The taxpayers will save money.

As we configure our military to meet the threats of the 21st century, there will be savings as we consolidate and close bases and facilities overseas no longer needed to face the threats of our time and to defend the peace.

The world has changed a great deal, and our posture must change with it, for the sake of our military families, for the sake of our taxpayers, and so we can be more effective at projecting our strength and spreading freedom and peace.

GWEN IFILL: For more on the president’s new plan, we go to retired Army Gen. George Joulwan, who served as supreme allied commander of NATO forces in Europe from 1993 to 1997; and to Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense in the first Reagan administration. He’s now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a public policy research group in Washington.

We just heard, General, the president say that the world has changed, therefore, the armed forces or at least the deployment of the armed forces has to change. What do you think overall of his plan?

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN: Well, first of all, this has been ongoing now for some time since the end of the Cold War and really since the first Gulf War we have been restructuring our forces.

We went from about 320,000 in 1989 and ’90 to about 100,000 in 1994 when I was the supreme commander. We adjusted our force structure then, given the instability we had in the Balkans and what was going on in eastern and central Europe.

This current restructuring — and it’s a restructuring, not just a redeployment, I think we have to understand that — when we look at the details of that with a new striker brigade going in the Grafenwoehr with the southern Europe task force in Vincenza, Italy, being beefed up to a brigade size airborne force, it’s restructuring.

I truly think it’s a good idea based on our capabilities and on threats we face to really do this. But we should be doing it in coordination with our allies importantly and particularly in Europe.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Korb, is this the kind of restructuring that the armed forces need.

LAWRENCE KORB: No. I think right now the armed forces – the army needs more people. This does not give the army any more people.

What this does is announces something that’s not going to take place for a couple of years. It’s not going to start until 2006. I don’t know why you had to do it now. It’s not going to save any money.

The president talked a lot about that. As the General knows we have wonderful facilities in Europe. If you bring those forces home to the United States, you’re going to have to build new facilities, you’re going to have to send the dependents of those people to schools.

A lot of our schools around the bases are already overextended. And the president also gave the impression particularly when it came to Germany that those forces are still in Germany to defend Germany. Both of the heavy divisions, the first infantry and the first armored division that are in Germany are actually been to Iraq. In fact, one of them is still in Iraq right now.

And this gives you a place… you’re closer to the Middle East than you would be if you brought the troops back home. So I really don’t see the need for it. And when he talked about Asia, they’re talking about withdrawing 13,000 troops from South Korea.

Well that’s not a good idea until you get the situation with North Korea settled. In fact, that might be a good bargaining chip that you might have with Kim Jung Il in return for him cutting back his weapons.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask you, General, specifically about what happens in Europe and Germany and what happens specifically where most of these troops will be coming from or going from and what would happen on the Korean Peninsula in particular.

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN: First of all, in Europe I think we have to have truth in lending here. There is really — this has been going on for… from the Clinton administration, we took nearly 200,000 troops out of Europe by the time… by ’94 and ’95.

And it started in the first Bush administration. So this has been going on for some time, and I think we’re still going to have a mixture of forces in Europe and elsewhere to include Asia that can protect our interests. This should not be a Republican issue or a Democratic issue. This is an American issue of how we structure our forces to meet the threats. And we have to have more agility.

Some of us have been calling on this for 10 or 15 years and more flexibility in our force to meet those threats. We still need heavy forces. We need power projection. We need to be able to do that.

I don’t think this current plan where it’s going to take us down from 117,000 or whatever the number is now down to maybe half of that forward deployed permanently deployed are coming home.

But there will still be more forces sent over there to these forward operating bases so we don’t really know what the bottom line number is going to be in Romania or Poland or wherever we may station these forces. I think we need to get into those details.

But strategically I think it’s important that we realize we need heavy forces and hopefully we will keep those heavy forces in the force but we need to be able to align ourselves to be able to respond quickly and effectively to threats that we face around the world.

GWEN IFILL: When we talk about looking at this strategically, does this have any direct or indirect effect on what we’re doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, ongoing wars?

LAWRENCE KORB: None whatsoever. I mean, the key problem facing the military today is your active- duty army is too small to maintain your deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

You’re over-relying on reserve units. You’ve called up a lot of reserve units more than once. You’ve extended them. You’ve got — many active duty units have had to go back without having spent very much time back in the United States.

You’ve got a stop loss provision to prevent people from getting out even when their enlistment expires. That’s the problem you need to be dealing with. Maybe over the next ten years this is something you want to work on but that’s not your immediate problem.

And that’s what I wish the president would have addressed today rather than this other plan.

GWEN IFILL: Gen. Joulwan.

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN: As a commander that has spent a lot of time in Europe, I’ve spent 18 years in Europe. I’ve commanded every level in Europe, we’re still maintaining which needs to be mentioned here Ramstein Air Base will still be there. Keizerslanden, the logistics base, much of that will remain.

We will have, as I said, forces in Italy. Aviano Air Force Base will remain so we have to look at the numbers here. What is really going to happen? What are the permanently assigned forces with the families coming home, what will replace them in six-month deployment rotational forces?

That has yet to be decided. I really think this gives us a more flexibility strategy. I just hope we do not get rid of the armored forces once they come back to the United States. That’s going to be key in this.

GWEN IFILL: Do you agree that there’s no direct connection between what’s happening here and what’s happening with the forces deployed in Iraq?

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN: Well, first of all those forces in Iraq are from the first armored… the first infantry division and the first armored division was there.

I am very concerned… we did this after the first Gulf War where we prematurely brought forces home and their families suffered a great deal.

While those forces are in Iraq, we should not have this concern by families in Europe that somehow while their husbands or wives are in Iraq they’re going to be sent back immediately back to the United States.

But the numbers will not affect our troop strength in Iraq. The families are concerned for the redeployment.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let’s talk about numbers in a broader sense. There seems to be a fundamental disagreement about whether military forces are indeed stretched thin around the world and whether this sort of restructuring will exacerbate that or will fix it, will help it.

What is your opinion on that?

LAWRENCE KORB: I don’t think it’s going to at all because as the general mentioned and I said the forces from Germany have gone to Iraq. So the fact that you have them in Germany is not keeping you from sending them to Iraq.

The forces in Korea, if you take them out of Korea before this situation is settled — you can’t be sending them all over to Iraq or Afghanistan so I don’t think it does anything at all to deal with what’s the immediate problem. The General was mentioning, well, I hope we don’t get rid of these armored divisions.

Well, the fact of the matter is you’re going to need some peace-keeping and reconstruction units, whatever you might want to call them, to go in after the conventional wars are over as we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan where we don’t have them. That’s what you need to be working on.

GWEN IFILL: General.

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN: Let’s again have truth in lending here. Right now we’ve got about 33 brigades in this new concept the army is going to.

There is a plan to go to 43 to maybe 48 brigades. That is a very sizable force. Now that increase needs to be approved but that is where the army is heading. That to me is extremely significant for where we’re going in the future.

That shows to me an increase in capability and an increase in end strength for the army but the army is planning now hopefully with both political approval and congressional approval to go to 43 and hopefully then 48 brigades.

And that’s extremely significant.

GWEN IFILL: Will this save money?

LAWRENCE KORB: No. In fact it’s going to cost you money. One of the things again with the… you got the impression that these troops are over there and it’s a big expense to the taxpayer. As a matter of fact, you have very good bases, a lot of them built with money from the host country, in this case mainly Germany.

You have subsidies that are given by the German government according to the Pentagon we’ve got about a billion dollars worth of subsidies last year. You got wonderful facilities. You bring them back here. You have to construct new facilities. You’re going to have to pay the base closings.

If you move some of these troops as the General was talking about and the Pentagon seems to be indicating to Eastern Europe you’re going to have to fix the bases up there. You have terrible environmental problems you’re going to have to deal with in those bases.

GWEN IFILL: Let me ask you the General the same question.

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN: The jury is still out on that. The devil is in the details here about the rotational forces.

There was something called Brigade 75 back in 1975 where we tried this bringing a rotational brigade over. It costs a lot of money to do that particularly if you’re going to rotate on these forward-operating bases every six months.

But the key is though the strategic look of what we’re trying to do globally.

Then you have to put a price tag on it. I don’t really think it’s going to save that much money to be very honest with you.

GWEN IFILL: Gen. George Joulwan, a moment of agreement, and Larry Korb, thank you both very much.