Not surprising but rather important: the US military presence in Saudi Arabia is ending. This had been coming for a while — the Saudis didn’t let us use those bases for Gulf War II, for example. It’s also a smart move, since those troops have been the source of a lot of tension. Bin Laden will tout it as a victory, which is a minor PR coup for him, but without them there some of his support will also fade.
The interesting question is what happens now. In the short term, we can expect to see something around 100,000 troops in Iraq. Rumsfeld claims there won’t be any permanent bases. I think that the question of a permanent presence in Iraq probably doesn’t need to be made right now, from the administration’s point of view. It’ll be a few years before we can pull out of Iraq, given our stated goals.
(For that matter, even as an anti-war advocate, I couldn’t support pulling out right now. We’d leave the country in worse shape than it was in under Saddam and you could bet on Kurdish/Arab civil war within six months.)
Anyhow, I’d bet that Rumsfeld and Powell are planning on making a decision about permanent bases in Iraq after 2004, if they’re still around, since nobody can really be sure what the Middle East will look like in a few years. Maybe the Palestinian peace process will work. Maybe there’ll be a revolution in Iran. Maybe Syria will display nuclear capacity. No point, from Bush’s point of view, in making the decision until we know more.