With attention focused on the two wars in Southwest Asia, it is easy to miss the fact that the United States is still the one and only global military power. More than a quarter of a million U.S. military personnel are engaged in or supporting the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, the United States has some 75,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines deployed in Europe, more than 25,000 in South Korea, 33,000 in Japan and Okinawa and some 90,000 sailors and marines afloat.
The Bush Administration had a strategy to reduce the number of U.S. military personnel deployed abroad, relying on expeditionary operations instead of forward presence to deter adversaries and reassure allies. The Bush team conducted a global posture review to identify bases that could be closed and forces that could be returned to the United States.
The nascent strategy being developed by the Obama Administration would appear to reverse the policy of the prior administration. With its emphasis on building up the capabilities of partner countries and responding rapidly to regional contingencies, the need for forward deployed forces will, if anything, grow. This new strategy is already having practical impact. Two Army brigades scheduled to return to bases in the U.S. will be retained in Europe.
What the Obama Administration appears to have discovered is that only the U.S. presence prevents major regions of the world from sliding off their rails. Ironically, for an Administration committed to change, the U.S. overseas posture is likely to change relatively little in the years to come.
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