I know that this blog may have seemed a little preoccupied with Bush’s troop realignments, but given that these moves are slated to take place over the next 2-10 years, I think our attention to this topic is appropriate.

I want to briefly respond to Kathryn’s and Sarah’s posts questioning the “unilateralism” of the move by expanding a bit on my previous comments. They are probably technically correct in criticizing Tracy’s use of the much abused word “unilateral,” if by unilateral, one means “without any prior consultation or warning to other parties.” As the Germans and South Koreans will confirm, the United States has told them that such a move might be in the works since sometime last year. But Kathryn and Sarah miss the big picture in the much the same way as the defenders of the Iraq adventure who cite the size of the Coalition of the Willing as evidence that the invasion wasn’t unilateral. Such Iraq hawks are also correct in the grammatical sense: the U.S. did not “go in” to Iraq “unilaterally” in the sense that it completely lacked political support. Nor am I willing to ignore the worthy contributions of countries both large and small–I don’t think it’s a good idea for multilateralists to mock the political or material support of any nation.

The bigger picture here doesn’t involve tallying up the number of nations that sign on for any particular venture. The bigger picture is involves the way in which the U.S. approaching other countries to sign on to these ventures. For me and for a lot of people outside of the U.S., true multilateralism involves acting through and building international institutions, laws, and alliances that commit everyone equally to norms of mutual cooperation, reciprocity, and equity. In contrast, for neoconservatives and proponents of benign American hegemony, multilateralism involves American leadership of Coalitions of the Willing–the U.S. sets the agenda and determines the parameters of action, and those countries who are wise enough to see it in their interest (perhaps with some additional material incentives, in the case of geopolitically important allies in certain cases) will sign on. Relations between nations cannot be equitable or reciprocal because such equity is simply at odds with the reality of overwhelming American power. This view could be called the “posse” model of international cooperation–as in the Wild West, no reliable source of law or standing army exists, so it’s up to the sheriff (the U.S.) to get together anyone in the neighborhood who’s tough enough to hunt down the bad guys on a case-by-case basis.

And the reason the troop realignment should concern “internationalists” is that it takes yet another step away from the institutionalized model of international cooperation and toward the posse model. We can see this if we look at the concrete rationale of the troop realignment. I’ve been a little amazed to see not just writers on this blog, but also many respectable journalists around the globe accept the Bush administration’s and Pentagon’s mumbo jumbo about the troop realignment fitting into its “transformation” plans to “streamline” and its forces to be “more agile and flexible” and more suitable to the “challenges of the 21st century.” Setting aside the point that the generally worthy goal of military transformation has recently become a jargon-laden means to justify anything the Pentagon feels like doing, few writers who support the Bush administration’s proposed realignment have explained exactly how the troop realignment renders the U.S. military posture more suitable for fighting terrorism and meeting future challenges.

First, let’s separate the realignment from any talk about making U.S. forces “lighter and faster” or “more agile and flexible” in any tactical sense. Restructuring U.S. forces to place more emphasis on lighter, more mobile troops, and niche capacities like special forces, is at present a wholly independent issue from where they are positioned. Lighter units still rely on armored ground vehicles and the U.S. employs many forms of air support that don’t fit on a carrier, so it’s impracticable for the U.S. to eschew forward bases in places like Germany, assuming that it wants to maintain the kind of worldwide commitments that both Democratic and Republican administrations have taken on in the post-Cold War environment. And in any case, most of the world’s current hotspots are much further from the Continental U.S. than they are from Western Europe. So having gotten that conflation out of the way, let’s examine the logic the Bush administration has (largely successfully) injected into our conventional wisdom:

(1) The U.S. had to put forces in Western Europe to defend it against the Soviets in the Cold War.

(2) The U.S. still has forces in Western Europe.

(3) Therefore, the U.S. force posture is optimized for the Cold War and not toward meeting the challenges that now face us.

As I alluded in my previous post, this line of thought unfortunately doesn’t recognize that the U.S. has already thoroughly reconfigured and drawn down its forces in Western Europe so that they are no longer configured to repel the Warsaw Pact, but instead to project power into some of the world’s most significant hotspots: the Middle East, Central Asia, and Central Europe. As the U.S. will still require a forward presence to deal with problems in those regions in the foreseeable future, it’s going to incur massive sunk costs as a result of establishing new bases. In its 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review, the Rusmfeld Pentagon suggests that it would replace many U.S. permanent bases with temporary bases and temporary access arrangements. But relying on temporary access arrangements of 6-12 months can be really dicey, especially if they are with regimes that are not stable established allies. Witness the failed negotiations with Turkey in the Iraq invasion, which forced the military to significantly reshape its warplan.

So with all of the costs that I’ve pointed out, what advantage does the Pentagon and the Bush administration see in this troop realignment? Am I saying that they’re just lying about it? Not entirely, although I do think it’s accurate to say that the the Bush administration hasn’t been forthright about its true rationale. As I mentioned in its previous post, the kind of flexibility in force posture that the Pentagon wants to achieve through the troop realignment is purely political. It wants to extract U.S. forces from permanent basing arrangements in politically and economically assertive states like Germany and South Korea and instead rely on shorter agreements with states against whom it has much greater bargaining power–less assertive states in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, or a client state like Iraq–so that the U.S. will be forced to make fewer political concessions in return for situating its forces in these countries and using them staging areas. When Bush says that the troop realignment is necessary to complete the military’s shift away from a Cold War posture, he’s not talking about the geographic distribution of troops. That realignment was already accomplished by the first Bush and Clinton administrations. Instead, Bush is talking about making a break from a different strategic legacy of the Cold War: the lasting and institutionalized alliances the U.S. created with other Western democracies.

As the Bush administration has demonstrated over and over, it regards these kinds of binding institutions and alliances as irritating and unnecessary constraints on U.S. power, and it has made cutting the U.S. loose of such ties a major strategic imperative. It would much prefer a world in which the U.S. was not bound to any such institutions and just led Coalitions of the Willing to deal with pressing national security threats. But if you don’t think this kind of a world would be a very safe or just world to live in, then you have good reason to give more credence to Holbrooke, Clark, and Kerry’s worries about Bush’s troop realignment proposals.

P.S.: If NATO and foreign reaction to the troop realignment has been generally sanguine, especially compared to the number of pixels on our blog, there are three reasons for this. First, foreign NATO supporters realize they don’t gain anything from yelling too loudly even when they’re royally disrespected by the U.S. In the wake of September 11th, NATO invoked for the first time in its history its Chapter 5 clause that an attack on the U.S. was an attack on the alliance as a whole. The U.S. responded to that remarkable declaration by turning its back to the alliance–a huge affront to the alliance and anyone workingrelevance. But NATO has little to gain from stamping its displeasure at the nation that serves as its keystone. Second, considering that the Bush administration has already hit a nadir in terms of its reputation for international cooperation, the troop realignment is only a medium-sized affront in the series of cooperation-eroding moves it has made in its tenure. And third, there was probably some discounting for the proposal being “cheap talk” due to its timing–long-range foreign policy pronouncements that are made at the height of electoral campaigns aren’t always great predictors of actual actions. You can find a list of some worried foreign reaction that I helped compile here, however.