According to the New York Times, President Trump has ordered the Pentagon to begin preparing for a draw down of US troops in South Korea.
President Trump has ordered the Pentagon to prepare options for drawing down American troops in South Korea, just weeks before he holds a landmark meeting with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, according to several people briefed on the deliberations.
Reduced troop levels are not intended to be a bargaining chip in Mr. Trump’s talks with Mr. Kim about his weapons program, these officials said. But they acknowledged that a peace treaty between the two Koreas could diminish the need for the 28,500 soldiers currently stationed on the peninsula.
Mr. Trump has been determined to withdraw troops from South Korea, arguing that the United States is not adequately compensated for the cost of maintaining them, that the troops are mainly protecting Japan and that decades of American military presence had not prevented the North from becoming a nuclear threat.
There are two separate and distinct issues involved.
First, has Trump given such a directive? The only person named in the NYT article has this to say:
A spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Col. Patrick Ryder, said he had no information about troop options being prepared for the president.
But others have since commented:
Pentagon: "The NYT story is false. The President has not asked the Pentagon to provide options for reducing American forces stationed in South Korea. The Department of Defense's mission in South Korea remains the same, and our force posture has not changed," statement says
— Lucas Tomlinson (@LucasFoxNews) May 4, 2018
President Trump said Friday that reducing the number of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea is “not on the table” in upcoming talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“Not really, not at this moment, certainly not,” Trump said when asked if a reduction of American troops is a bargaining chip in the talks.
These people just never cease to amaze. This is clearly not a mistake and it doesn’t appear that any real effort was made by the New York Times to confirm their story. Rather it is part of a narrative that is being spun by the media that Trump is not ready for prime time, that he’s going to be outfoxed by Kim Jong Un, and he’ll give away the farm and get nothing back.
The second question is about US troops remaining in South Korea should negotiations be successful. Back to the Times:
“But from the perspective of the U.S.-South Korea alliance,” Mr. Cha said, “it would represent a major retrenchment.”
Kelly E. Magsamen, a top Asia policy official at the Pentagon during the Obama administration, said, “U.S. presence in South Korea is a sacrosanct part of our alliance.”
Note the way they are framing any troop reduction as a betrayal of allies. That is simply a false premise.
First off, a drawdown is not the same as a withdrawal. Having some experience in that area, you don’t have to be in Korea very long before you realize that most Korean would like nothing better than to see the last of the US military presence. It was acceptable, barely, when there was military and economic parity between the two Koreas but now the South Korean military simply overmatches the North Koreans in every military category from training to equipment to readiness. Our ground forces are completely superfluous. And dumping some 28,000, mostly unaccompanied, US military personnel in a very homogeneous and monocultural nation does little to build “understanding.” As I understand it, even the most frequent cultural contact between GIs and Koreans…that would be hookers…is now either off limits or the girls are Russians, which is undoubtedly more of Trump’s collusion.
We went through a similar experience in Europe after the Soviet Union went belly up. I was at a major planning conference in 1990 and an up an coming US Senator named Al Gore was told that it was necessary to keep US troop levels up as a “force for stability” in a time of uncertainty. His response was “we are not going to be a night light and comfort blanket for our allies.” If an agreement is reached with North Korea, or if one isn’t but the negotiations indicate goodwill and the North and South sign a peace treaty, then our presence is going to be reduced to airpower at Osan AFB and the logistics hub that comes out of Pusan and would allow rapid entry of US forces into the theater. The only purpose US troops serve in South Korea is to deter North Korea. If that mission goes away, so does the need for the troops.