WASHINGTON, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush's statement Tuesday pledging to "realign the global posture" of the U.S. military signals the start of one of the most sweeping reassessments of American force structures in more than half a century.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his high-powered but also highly controversial team of planners in the Office of the Secretary of Defense have been seeking ever since they took office to restructure the U.S. Army to make it far leaner, meaner and quicker-moving, with an overwhelming emphasis on special forces.
The mega-terror attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center and mauled the Pentagon itself on Sept. 11, 2001, strengthened the resolve of Rumsfeld and his lieutenants and allies. But ironically, it was their own determination to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the unanticipated eruption of full-scale guerrilla war in the eight months since then that distracted them from this goal.
However, Bush's statement signals that, with the great fight over the Medicare reform package out of the way and plans being pushed to turn Iraq over to rule by U.S.-backed Iraqis by next summer, the long-anticipated force reassessment and restructuring will be implemented at last.
Bush made clear the process, whose ambitious details have already been drawn up by OSD planners, will begin at once. "Beginning today, the United States will intensify our consultations with Congress and our friends, allies and partners overseas on our ongoing review of overseas posture," he said in his statement.
Secretary of State Colin Powell and Rumsfeld "will describe further our efforts at the NATO ministerial meetings in early December," Bush said. "High-level U.S. teams will begin consultations in foreign capitals in Europe, Asia and elsewhere following these meetings."
Bush pledged to "invite the full participation of our friends and allies." But this promise may be regarded with widespread skepticism in both Northeast Asia and Western Europe, where the leaders of longtime U.S. allies have repeatedly been alarmed by what many of them consider the unpredictable and unilateral nature of many U.S. policy decisions, especially the determination to invade Iraq and topple Saddam.
South Korean leaders and diplomats in particular have privately expressed concern about the OSD's determination to pull out most of the 37,000 U.S. troops in their country between Seoul and the demilitarized zone with North Korea.
Originally, the plan was to redeploy and retain these troops as fast, agile forces that could move quickly in small but lethal numbers to deal with terrorist groupings and threats throughout Asia. But the unexpected high troop requirements of Iraq now point to most of them being sent there instead.
The South Koreans, however, have a very different concern. They believe North Korea's isolated and secretive, even paranoid, leaders regard the long-established U.S. troop concentration as a guarantee of Washington's good behavior towards them, because if any war broke out there, those U.S. forces would be on the receiving end of bombardment from the more than 10,000 artillery tubes North Korea has deployed against them.
Consequently, the South Koreans fear that Pyongyang may interpret a full-scale U.S. troop pullout as a sign that the Bush administration might be contemplating a pre-emptive full-scale military strike against them. If they are correct in their assessment, far from easing tensions in the Korean peninsula a full-scale, rapid pullout of U.S. forces might unintentionally increase them alarmingly.
And if the U.S. reassessment scales down in practical terms the already much-reduced U.S. military posture in Western Europe, it could prompt Germany, France and even Britain to push ahead with plans for their own rapid reaction joint forces outside the old U.S.-led NATO structure. France under President Jacques Chirac and Germany under Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder have already been eager to develop such forces and command structures free of the old U.S. umbrella.
What should not be doubted is the serious intent that Bush and Rumsfeld will bring to the process. And they are likely to seek to push it through rapidly as well.
Bush, for all the intense controversies and even polarization that his policies have generated across the United States, has proven himself to be a disciplined and highly effective chief executive in pushing through the policies, from sweeping tax cuts to Medicare reform to invading Iraq, that he believes to be most important at any time.
His statement Tuesday confirms that military force restructuring has just jumped to the top of his agenda. That means he will not rest until it is accomplished. And he will demand that it happens fast too.