Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Carter's press conference on removal of US troops from South Korea

Three decades ago, when a different Democrat had just moved into the White House, there was talk about removing US troops from a different theater of operations over a matter of months. 

Jimmy Carter, responding to human rights abuses by the Park Chung-hee regime, was determined to withdraw all USFK (United States Forces Korea) personnel. Air support in the event of war with North Korea would have been the primary US military commitment after that. 

Of course, things changed. The assassination of Park and then the subsequent turmoil left things too messy for a troop withdrawal. A few years later, the much less dovish Ronald Reagan was elected president and the talk of removing troops quickly subsided. (Forgive me if I'm getting this slightly wrong; I was but a wee child during the Carter administration so I can't rely on memory like I do with Bush-43, Clinton, and Bush-41.)

Anyway, through an incident of serendipity, here is the transcript from the March 4, 1977 Carter press conference where he talks about the troop removal:
Q. At the risk of oversimplification, sir, I believe I understand during the campaign you proposed a gradual withdrawal of American troops from Korea.


Q. Yet, after your revised budget went to Congress, the Army has gone to Congress and asked in fiscal 1978, for a doubling of military construction funds for Korea and in the 3 ensuing years, for more than $110 million for similar construction. How does that square with your withdrawal plans?

THE PRESIDENT. My commitment to withdraw American ground troops from Korea has not changed. I'll be meeting this afternoon with the Foreign Minister of South Korea. This will be one of the matters that I will discuss.

I've also talked to General Vessey, who is in charge of our Armed Forces in South Korea. I think that the time period as I described in the campaign months, a 4-or 5-year time period, is appropriate. The schedule for withdrawal of American ground troops would have to be worked out very carefully with the South Korean Government. It would also have to be done with the full understanding and, perhaps, participation of Japan.

I would want to leave in place in South Korea, adequate ground forces owned by and controlled by the South Korean Government to protect themselves against any intrusion from North Korea. I would envision a continuation of American air cover for South Korea over a long period of time. 

But these are the basic elements, and I'm very determined that over a period of time, as described just then, that our ground troops would be withdrawn.
It's definitely not something I would have supported—I'm a firm believer in the power, importance, and success of the Pax Americana—but I understand where Carter was coming from vis-à-vis human rights. 

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