The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are slowing and perhaps muddling the U.S. military’s plans to draw down in Europe, analysts say.

Ever since the ousting of Saddam Hussein evolved into a long, hard slog, the Pentagon has been too busy assessing the war to ride herd on the planned, ongoing relocation of 34,000 Europe-based soldiers to the States.

“It’s all Iraq, all the time,” said James Carafano, senior research fellow at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “[Transformation] was on the table before. It’s kind of continuing on its own momentum, but has been slowed somewhat.

“There’s not been a fundamental, ‘let’s stop and rethink everything.’”

That is changing.

Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, commander of the U.S. European Command, told Congress in March that he ordered his staff to reassess why the U.S. was closing many of its remaining Cold War bases in Germany and moving those soldiers back to the U.S.

“The theater transformation strategy, which we began in 2002, was postulated on some assumptions that we made then,” Craddock said. “And in the intervening almost five years now, there has been changes in the geopolitical environment.”

Craddock did not elaborate on the assumptions. But Jeremy Shapiro, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, an independent research and policy institute in Washington, speculated on a few:

¶ That the Army would become smaller over time. Instead, the U.S. is planning to grow its active-duty Army roster from 482,000 soldiers to 547,000 in the next five years. The total number of Marines would rise from 175,000 to 202,000. The additional 92,000 troops would need to be based somewhere.

¶ That deployments would be smaller. Special-operations forces and air assets operating out of smaller bases, Shapiro said, were thought five years ago to be able to handle many military needs in Europe and elsewhere. “That’s more in question now,” he said.

¶ “Most speculatively,” Shapiro said, “certain infrastructure paths in southeastern Europe haven’t been realized. Those countries sort of look good geographically, but it’s no good to be closer [to the world’s hotspots] if the roads, ports and airports aren’t as modern and effective.”

The U.S. plans to start ongoing training later this year at shared bases in Romania, and in 2008 in Bulgaria.

“The German infrastructure is top notch, obviously, and the U.S. has somewhat started to take that for granted over time,” Shapiro said.

Before the breakup of the Soviet bloc in the early 1990s, NATO partners were thought to be one for all and all for one. The new vision, Carafano said, has wars being fought like more of ad-hoc pick-up game, a “coalition of the willing.”

But the U.S., formerly thought to be the lone remaining superpower, might be discovering it needs nations such as Germany and France more than it thought.

“One assumption that’s being totally rethought is that at the end of the Cold War, we didn’t need enduring alliances,” Carafano said. “And that’s totally not true.

“We need these enduring alliances, but the caveat is they’re not going to be with you in everything. NATO is not in Iraq but is in Afghanistan big time. That’s the reality of it all.

“Enduring alliances are now a lot more important. But there’s a certain price tag that comes with alliance maintenance.”

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