Monday, April 21, 2003

Is Strategic Disengagement in the Cards?

I was pleased, if somewhat skeptical, about this L. A. Times article about the Bush administration’s future plans in the Middle East. If true, then I may have to give the administration a little more credit:
WASHINGTON -- With the threat of Saddam Hussein all but extinguished and Arab suspicions of American intentions running deep, senior administration officials say the U.S. military has begun taking steps to significantly reduce its presence in much of the Middle East.

Last week's quiet removal of 30 of the 80 fighter jets and almost half the 4,500 personnel from Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, where the U.S. has maintained thousands of troops since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, is just the beginning, officials said.

Within months, the Pentagon plans to close down most of its operations at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, leaving only a skeleton crew, and to move most of its aircraft and troops out of Qatar and Oman.

The plans, which are preliminary and subject to review, are a response to pressure from Arab governments incensed by the U.S. military buildup in the region over the last 12 years, the financial burden of maintaining vast numbers of troops overseas and the strain it has caused for families and military readiness.
(I recommend reading the rest -- these are only the first few paragraphs.) This is, of course, the strategy that libertarians have been advocating all along. Interestingly, the article also provided probably the most persuasive argument for invading Iraq I’ve heard yet:
"One of the unstated goals of the [Iraq] war was to be able to lance that boil and get out of this steady state of a very high-level commitment of forces in an area where that not only wears out the force, but causes all sorts of political problems," said retired Army Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, who commanded U.S. forces in the Mideast from 1991 to 1994 and helped negotiate agreements to base U.S. troops throughout the region after the Gulf War.

"The [Iraq] war has always been envisioned as a way to get out of the need to have forces in place designed to protect against an immediate assault," he said.
I wonder why no one said that *before* the war? On the downside, however, there doesn’t seem to be universal agreement on this approach within the administration. For instance, according to this article, “An undersecretary of State told Israeli officials in February that the U.S. will ‘deal with’ Iran, North Korea and Syria next.” Time will tell whether the administration is serious about making a strategic retreat.

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