Donald Rumsfeld's announcement that U.S.troops will be removed from Saudi Arabia representsa significant and welcome change in U.S.policy toward the Persian Gulf. This wise decisionto shift U.S. forces out of the kingdomshould be only the first of several steps to substantiallyreduce the American military presencein the region. In addition to the removal oftroops from Saudi Arabia, U.S. forces should bewithdrawn from other Gulf states, includingQatar, Kuwait, and Iraq, and the U.S. Navyshould terminate its long-standing policy ofdeploying a carrier battle group in the PersianGulf.
The United States need not have troops stationedin the Persian Gulf in order to remainengaged in the region. The Gulf's energyresources are important to the global economy,but goods and services flow on the world marketabsent explicit "protection" by military forces.Further, the United States will continue to exerta stabilizing influence from a distance by drawingon its economic assets and its political standing.In the highly unlikely event that regionalconditions threaten vital U.S. security interests,the United States can draw on the military'scapacity for projecting force over great distances.
The American troop presence is not merelyunnecessary; it is also costly, both in dollars andin the hardships it imposes on the all-volunteerforce. The presence of U.S. troops may have stabilizedthe Persian Gulf, but, as the recent terroristincident in Saudi Arabia demonstrated, thetroops have also been, and remain, a source oftension and instability.
In keeping with the goal of minimizing thecosts and risks of a continued military presence,American efforts in Iraq should be limited,focusing solely on the swift transitioning to anIraqi interim government empowered to movetoward self-government. Beyond that, the UnitedStates must be willing to accept the wishes of theIraqi people and should not assume that afriendly government can or should be imposedat the barrel of a gun. Likewise, policymakersshould not presume that an Iraqi governmentthat does not possess all of the attributes of a liberaldemocracy would be hostile to the UnitedStates, much less threatening to U.S. vital securityinterests.