his is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," August 18, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Senator Kerry (search) explained why he is against the president's plan to withdraw 70,000 troops from Asia and Europe. Kerry also announced he'd like to add 40,000 troops to our forces worldwide. But two weeks ago, Kerry said, quote, “I think we can significantly change the deployment of troops, not just in Iraq, but elsewhere in the world, in the Korean peninsula, perhaps, in Europe perhaps.” Sounds a bit like the president's plan, which he's now criticizing.
Joining me in Portland, Ore., retired U.S. Air Force General Merrill McPeak. He is an advisor to the Kerry campaign. So General, that does sounds a little bit like two weeks ago, Kerry was more or less for what the president's proposing now.
GEN. MERRILL MCPEAK, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): Well, John, this administration has a real talent for doing the right thing in absolutely the wrong way. I think what the senator has said is that this is the wrong time to do this and the wrong way to do it even if, in principle, some of it may be right. But he's also indicated that it's not right. I mean, you figure out why we're reducing our troop strength 25 percent on the Korean peninsula.
GIBSON: OK. There is a good question. Nobody anticipates a ground war there.
Why have American troops hostage to a North Korean A-bomb?
MCPEAK: The presence of American troops on the ground in the Korean peninsula has been an article of faith in this country for 50 years. And it's worked our national purposes very well. South Korea (search) in that period has evolved into a democracy, a free market economy, a strong ally. So, there is lots of reasons why we want troops there and, of course, one of them is as a tangible show of faith for the fact that we're in support of them.
GIBSON: Yes, but, general, the South Koreans are undergoing rampant anti-Americanism at any given moment. They are trying to kiss and make up with North Korea and the sunshine policy. Surely there is a point at which we don't need 37,000 Americans in South Korea and certainly not up there in the DMZ (search) Where the crazy men in the north could incinerate them in a moment's notice.
MCPEAK: Well, we have to deal with the north and the south, John, you're right. And it's not always easy. But unilaterally announcing that we're going to reduce our troop strength by 25 percent...
GIBSON: You don't believe we talked to the South Koreans in advance about this?
MCPEAK: I don't know. Can you tell me if we talked to...
GIBSON: No, but you said it was unilateral.
MCPEAK: Yes, as far as I know it was unilateral. This administration has shown a talent for unilateral action. So, I have no reason to think they consulted with South Korea before they made the announcement.
GIBSON: I just heard a guy from the White House say that both the South Koreans and Germans have spoken up in support of these moves.
MCPEAK: Well, I don't know that. But in any case, that is a separate issue from whether they were consulted in advance. This administration makes unilateral decisions, makes unilateral announcements and that's just their style.
GIBSON: But let's look at Germany.
MCPEAK: If they consulted beforehand, let's hear about the consultation.
GIBSON: OK. But you are linking this with the Kyoto treaty, which was a unilateral move. I mean you would think this is a different deal. Let's look at Germany. Why shouldn't we pull people out of Germany? A, the Germans don't want us there. B, we appear to be there just to support the local economy. We're protecting a border that doesn't exist and surely those forces could be put in Eastern Europe or somewhere else in the region where they might have to be deployed from in a quicker fashion than they could be from Germany.
MCPEAK: Yes. I'm not for reorganization — I'm not against reorganizing our forces to make sense of the world of new threats, John, so don't get me wrong. But I do think that now is an interesting time to do this. I mean, here we are involved in an unsustainable deployment in Iraq, 140,000 people there and no real understanding of how we can keep that commitment going.
So, if the administration wants to do something, maybe they ought to announce how they're going to continue that deployment. Instead, they divert everybody's attention with this grandiose plan of changing troops out of Korea and Germany. Oh, and by the way, it's not going to happen for a couple of years and even after that, it will be another 10 years before it's done. It just doesn't make any sense. It doesn't
MCPEAK: From end to end.
GIBSON: All right. But on the other hand, John Kerry has been talking about this reconfiguring of troops around the world and this announcement today that he thinks this is the wrong time and the wrong thing sounds as though he's against it now, just because Bush proposed it.
MCPEAK: Now what he said, as I understand it, John, is that he questions the timing of it. Why announce this now? And he questions the way in which it was done. Now you can argue about whether it's a plus or a minus to have more or fewer troops on the Korean peninsula. In my judgment, it's better to have more there. But you can argue about that. You can argue about whether having troops forward station in Germany puts them closer to where the next time we may have to use them.
You can claim that Germany doesn't pay for those troops. In fact, Germany makes a very hefty contribution to the cost of maintaining those troops in Germany. So, you can have all these arguments about the pluses and minuses, the pros and the cons. What John Kerry says is if we want to do these things, why don't we think about them, plan around those factors, consult with our allies and do it in the right way.
GIBSON: But general, this is a political campaign and the president is being attacked on his abilities as the commander-in-chief. This is the time where he tells the American people what he plans to do. And isn't this the kind of thing where, if he hadn't done it, the Kerry campaign would say, well, what is he going to do about the deployments?
MCPEAK: Well, I think, John, it would be a very good thing to announce these kinds of plans if you say how they improve America's security position, how this benefits it, how this increases our prestige or enhances our influence in these countries. None of that has come out of the White House.
GIBSON: All right. Retired U.S. Air Force General Merrill McPeak. General, thanks a lot. It's always good to talk to you.
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