I don’t think this issue is quite as cut and dried as you guys are making it out to be, and I also think Kerry’s position is defensible. On balance, wrong. But certainly not idiotic.
You have to think of the larger geopolitical value to having troops garrisoned around the world. Due to the military presence in Germany, something like 300,000 Americans live fairly integrated in German society. Some would argue that their presence there keeps us tied together somewhat - it’s a constant re-affirmation of allied cooperation. Move all the troops out, and you’ll cause some hostility as Germany is forced to accept a minor shock to its economy. And at a time when Germans are already feeling somewhat hostile to Americans, that might not be a good thing.
It may also put even more pressure on the EU to move away from the U.S. sphere of interest and start arming more heavily to replace the defensive force it got from having an American tripwire in Europe. These changes won’t be felt next year, or even much in a decade, I’d guess. But over the long haul, it could have substantial repercussions.
South Korea is a similar situation. Even though withdrawing troops may make sense from a purely strategic standpoint, we have to keep in mind the signals a troop drawdown may send to North Korea. One could be that the U.S. is overextended and occupied elsewhere, and that the time is ripe for an attack. Or more likely, they’ll just get more belligerant and demanding, and less likely to come to the negotiating table.
But having said that, I think that Rumsfeld’s vision of the military is the correct one. It doesn’t make strategic sense to tie up a good percentage of your forces defending a peaceful, integrated Europe from itself. Garrisoning troops around the world is SO 20th century. The U.S. military has gotten so good at rapid deployment that it’s feasible to keep them home until needed. And also, the universe of likely spots on the planet where U.S. troops may have to go is pretty diverse. It’s not hard to imagine the U.S. having to rapidly deploy forces to the Phillippines, or Venezuela, or Africa, or Taiwan, or Malaysia. When everyone knew where the front was, you could station troops along it. When the front can be anywhere on the planet, the only option is to become more agile and flexible.
And the Bush administration isn’t exactly running willy-nilly into this. They are talking about a ten year timeframe, which makes sense. Moving 300,000 people out of Germany in one shot would hurt the Germans. It should be done gradually.