American troops took over bases in Germany and Japan at the end of World War II and are still there in force. The same goes for South Korea after the 1950-53 Korean War and the Middle East since the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The Pentagon continually evaluates where ships, aircraft and soldiers are needed, but the relatively easy victory over Iraq makes this a fine time to take another look at staffing -- especially in the Middle East.
The overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime removes a threat to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and other U.S. allies in the region. In addition, with Hussein gone, fewer if any planes will be needed to patrol the "no-fly zones" in southern and northern Iraq.
The Defense Department took note soon after the victory in Iraq and removed 30 of the 80 fighter jets and nearly half of the 4,500 personnel from Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. That has been home to thousands of Air Force members since the 1991 Gulf War. Plans also call for shutting most operations at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, leaving only a skeleton crew. In addition, U.S. planners will cut aircraft and troops in Qatar and Oman.
The reductions in forces in Saudi Arabia are a particularly good idea. More than 200,000 troops landed in Saudi Arabia after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, when Hussein threatened to continue on into the kingdom. Several thousand are still there.
Osama bin Laden cited the presence of foreign "infidel" forces in the kingdom, which houses the two holiest shrines of Islam, as a pretext for years of attacks on U.S. installations overseas and against New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.
There's no reason to believe that paring the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia will end Al Qaeda's attacks. Waiting until the war in Iraq ended showed it was the United States' determination of its own best interest, not Bin Laden's threats, that led to a drawdown. Which is not to say that the U.S. should ignore the opinion of the Arab population.
Many people in Arab countries strongly opposed the war with Iraq, forcing governments to soft-pedal their assistance to U.S.-led forces. Saudi Arabia and Qatar blocked media access to some bases containing U.S. troops and the region's government-controlled media were careful not to mention the extent of their nondemocratic regimes' assistance to coalition troops. The even larger issue, of course, is the U.S. presence in the Middle East -- anathema to all who object to Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory and the U.S. support for Israel. If a lower U.S. military profile decreases the resentment among the general Saudi population, that's simply smart strategy.
That doesn't mean bringing home all the troops. The U.S. will no doubt hold on to air bases in Iraq for some time -- although Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld denied that the United States had plans to establish permanent military bases in the country. And minimal staffing elsewhere will ensure that facilities are ready to accommodate a surge of soldiers and aircraft if conflict is threatened in the sensitive region and governments request help. But the slogan for stationing troops overseas should be the fewer, the better.