Withdrawing U.S. troops from Korea would sure shake up that already-shaky peninsula. That may be just what’s needed now.
At times, one dramatic act can transform an unfolding dramatic saga. Shakespeare demonstrates this clearly in Macbeth, right after he murders the good King Duncan. As Macbeth is being probed and then increasingly suspected, Lady Macbeth suddenly faints.
Her swoon immediately draws everyone’s attention. It stops that inquest. It transforms that scene.
Something now must transform the scene in Korea. North Korea’s tyrant plays the only card he’s got – the nuclear card. And so far, it’s the winning hand. Last week’s announcement of its withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) set off another worldwide gasp. It triggered another round of ineffectual flittering in major capitals.
While North Korea plays the nuclear card, South Korea plays the resentment card. There’s rising anti-Americanism, caused by 50 years of dependence on our power and persistence for their peace and prosperity.
Long-term dependency yields dysfunctional relationships and warped perspectives. The incoming South Korean president dishonestly poses as an "honest broker" between us -- their saviors and current protectors -- and North Korea, their invaders.
But why this notion of beginning to withdraw American troops from Korea? Especially from a hawk, like me?
Because beyond Korea, it would send a timely message on Iraq, and transform the East Asia region. It could break today’s dysfunctional paradigm of a still-dependent but increasingly resentful South Korea, a duplicitous China, a free-riding Japan, and a you-handle-the-messy-stuff Russia.
More specifically, withdrawing at least half of our 37,000 troops from Korea would reap three benefits.
First, it would show the world what Americans instinctively know -- that, no, we’re not an imperial power. Americans don’t want troops stationed anywhere abroad where they’re not wanted. The default position of U.S. foreign policy is isolationist, not expansionist.
That’s a critical message to beam just now. U.S. troops shouldn’t stay in Iraq after liberation any longer than they’re wanted by the freely elected Iraqi government post-Saddam. Despite what the political left claims, Americans seek no conquest or riches by our military presence abroad.
Second, to challenge South Koreans on whether our presence is indeed unwanted. It sure seems so, but I doubt it really is so.
Yet, if our protection is deemed no longer vital to ward off aggression from the North, fine, let’s end it. The American government shouldn’t be more concerned about South Korean security than South Koreans.
Third -- and surely most potently -- withdrawing troops from Korea would send shockwaves across Asia. This, to my mind, is a good thing.
Russia, China, and especially Japan -- now languishing -- would bolt up. Thus far, these three neighbors -- whose security is far more endangered by a nuclear-packed Korean peninsula than is ours -- have laid back.
Under the current set of circumstances, they can get away with that. Both North and South Korea are successfully spinning the North’s nuclear crisis -- both kicking out the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors and withdrawing from the NPT -- as a face-off between America and North Korea. Everyone else can just relax as spectators.
Even a leak that the Bush administration was considering U.S. troop withdrawals would jolt their stance of "what, me worry?"
It sure would shake them up. It would force these neighboring states -- which have most at stake, and have most power -- to take most responsibility, instead of fainting their way out of yet another dicey predicament.
Kenneth Adelman is a frequent guest commentator on Fox News, was assistant to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 1975 to 1977 and, under President Ronald Reagan, U.N. ambassador and arms-control director. Mr. Adelman is now co-host of TechCentralStation.com