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More Troops—or Less Empire

“[W]e are stretched too thin and need a larger military,” argued The Weekly Standard in a recent editorial entitled “More Troops.”

“Researchers at conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation call for larger ground forces, as do thinkers at centrist and liberal organizations like Brookings, CSIS, and even the Center for American Progress.”

And why do we need more troops?

Because the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are going badly for lack of U.S. troops, and because, says the Standard, President Bush needs to have the strategic option to put ground forces into “Iran, North Korea, Somalia, Lebanon, or wherever the next crisis erupts.” The Standard wants the U.S. Army increased by 250,000.

Post-election, this issue will be debated in Congress and should provide the occasion for a larger debate on the issue: do we truly need more troops, or do we rather need fewer U.S. commitments to fight in places where no vital interests are imperiled? Is it not time, 15 years after the Cold War’s end, to begin dissolving old alliances and shedding commitments dating to a time when a Soviet Empire bestrode Europe and Asia like a colossus?

Case in point: South Korea. Why are 30,000 U.S. troops tied down on that peninsula half a century after the Chinese left North Korea and 15 years after the Soviet Union expired? If the 60 million Koreans, North and South, were raptured up to heaven, how would America be imperiled?

In the Korean War of 1950-53, the United States sent an army of a third of a million men. One thousand U.S. soldiers died every month in Korea, compared to the 1,000 who die each year in Afghanistan and Iraq. Americans are not going to send another army to fight for South Korea. Nor should we.

The Cold War is over and South Korea, with an economy 40 times the size of the North’s, with twice the population and the latest in U.S. weapons, should undertake its own ground defense.

Before plunging into Vietnam, LBJ said, “American boys ought not to be doing the fighting that Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.” That was a valid argument then. Why not now?

If the United States gave Seoul notice that all U.S. troops would be off the peninsula in a year and we were exercising our right to withdraw from the 1950s mutual security treaty, those U.S. troops could be returned home, and we would find Seoul suddenly far more receptive to Bush’s diplomacy than it has heretofore been.

Case in point: NATO, Ukraine, and Georgia. Until the Orange Revolution went sour, these two ex-republics of the USSR were advancing toward membership in NATO. Once in, any conflict between either nation and Russia would bring us in militarily. For the NATO charter reads that an attack against one is an attack against all. Is there a more insane idea floating about right now?

Kiev and Moscow have clashed over the pro-Western orientation of the new government and the Crimean peninsula that is home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Khrushchev ceded the peninsula to Ukraine. But eastern Ukraine is Russified in language, culture, and ethnicity, and different from the Orthodox center and Catholic west.

How is the United States strengthened by a commitment to go to war with the world’s second nuclear power, should a Russian-Ukrainian collision deteriorate into a shooting war?

Alliances are the transmission belts of war. While alliances can strengthen nations, they carry the risk of dragging their members into unnecessary wars. How would an alliance with Georgia, now in a nasty brawl with Moscow over Russian spies and the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, strengthen America? Fifty years ago, Ike refused to risk war with Russia to save the Hungarian Revolution. Now we are going to fight Russia over Georgia?

When the debate over expanding the U.S. Army begins in 2007, there need to be voices raised calling for withdrawal of U.S. ground forces from Korea and Central Asia, where they do not belong, and a bottom-up review of all U.S. war guarantees.

This will be denounced as isolationism. But was it isolationism for the Russians to go home from Cuba? Just as we wanted the French, British, Spanish, and, finally, Russians out of our hemisphere, other nations bristle at U.S. troops stationed just over their border.

We have more than enough soldiers to defend the United States and our vital interests and allies. If we will pull up the old trip wires we put down in the Cold War and bring home the troops manning those trip wires, we will also find that, suddenly, we have fewer quarrels and fewer enemies than the administration has managed to make for us.

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