Trump’s move to pull troops from Germany draws bipartisan warnings

President Trump is pressing forward with plans to withdraw thousands of troops from Germany, a controversial decision that has led military experts to warn the U.S. will lose influence in the region and cede power to Russia.

Trump confirmed Monday his administration’s plans to cut the U.S. troop size roughly in half, sparking a fresh round of criticism against the idea from both sides of the aisle.

“The United States’ military presence in Germany is mutually beneficial to both nations, and bolsters the transatlantic alliance. It’s also an invaluable hub for U.S. military operations,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, said in a statement Tuesday.

“Congress should not stand idly by while President Trump inflicts lasting damage to our transatlantic relations and harms our national security objectives,” she added.

The conservative Heritage Foundation, meanwhile, blasted out a news release Tuesday labeling Trump’s planned drawdown as a “mistake” and calling on Congress to block any funding to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Europe.

“With all the security challenges along Europe’s periphery, and with a revisionist Russia threatening the U.S. and its NATO allies, American military capability in Europe should be increased, not reduced,” Heritage said in the release. “Closing bases and removing U.S. troops from Europe will not be cheap when considering the cost of building new infrastructure in the U.S. for any returning units and the up-front cost of closing down facilities in Europe.”

In pushing forward with a drawdown, Trump is carrying out thinly veiled threats he has issued throughout his presidency.

Trump has fumed repeatedly about the fact that Germany is not meeting NATO’s defense spending goal, incorrectly describing Berlin as being “delinquent” on payments to the alliance.

In 2014, NATO countries agreed to each spend 2 percent of their gross domestic products on their defense budgets by 2024. Just eight countries are at the 2 percent mark right now. Several others have plans to meet it by the deadline, but Germany is not on track to meet the goal.

When he announced plans Monday to drop the number of service members from 52,000 to 25,000, Trump pointed to Germany not meeting NATO’s defense spending goal and indicated he is unhappy with trade negotiations with Berlin.

“One of the only countries that hasn’t agreed to pay what they’re supposed to pay is Germany, so I said until they pay, we’re removing our soldiers,” Trump said. “And then when we get down to 25,000, we’ll see where we’re going.”

NATO’s defense ministers are scheduled to meet virtually Wednesday and Thursday, when Trump’s now-confirmed plan to draw down is expected to be a topic of debate.

At a pre-ministerial press conference Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg downplayed concerns by arguing Trump has not made a “final decision” on “how and when” to draw down.

But Stoltenberg, who said he talked to Trump about the matter last week, also warned that such a move would mean a loss of U.S. influence in a key part of the world.

“My message was that the U.S. presence in Europe, it’s good for Europe, but it’s also good for North America and the United States, because the transatlantic bond is essential to the strength and the success of the alliance,” Stoltenberg told reporters.

“But also the fact that the U.S. presence in Europe is not only about protecting Europe, but it’s also about projecting U.S. power beyond Europe,” he added, saying bases in Germany like the Ramstein Air Base are “essential” for what the U.S. has done for decades in the Middle East, including Afghanistan and Iraq, and in Africa.

Germany is home to the headquarters for the U.S. military’s European and Africa commands.

Right now, there are about 35,000 U.S. troops in Germany, and the number can be as high as 52,000 under the existing cap.

U.S. defense and security experts have challenged Trump’s rationale, arguing the troops in Germany served the U.S. strategically both to bolster its alliances in Europe and to counter historic adversaries like Russia.

“Could many nations in NATO provide more funding for their internal defense budgets? Yes, absolutely. But I continue to claim that what we receive in strategic advantage by having the right force in Europe is far beyond any allied fiscal deficiencies that some perceive,” tweeted Mark Hertling, who previously served as commanding general of the U.S. Army in Europe.

Congress has in the past used the annual defense policy bill to ensure Trump does not withdraw troops overseas, such as last year’s bill prohibiting funding to reduce the number of troops in South Korea.

A Senate Armed Services Committee aide told reporters last week that the Germany issue came up too late in the panel’s process to address it in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which the committee approved last week. But the House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to take up its version July 1.

In a relatively rare public rebuke last week, 22 Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee urged Trump to reverse course, prior to him confirming such plans.

Led by Rep. Mac Thornberry (Texas), the top Republican on the panel, GOP lawmakers pointed to the U.S. troops being stationed in Germany since World War II, arguing that their presence “has helped to prevent another world war and, most importantly, has helped make America safer.”

The U.S. has had troops in Berlin since the Cold War, but the number of service members stationed there has steadily dropped from roughly 200,000 since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

The House Republicans also voiced concern that capping the number of service members in the country at one time at 25,000 would hurt training and readiness practices with U.S. forces and allies and create “serious logistical challenges” going forward.

The move comes amid questions over whether Trump was motivated to pull U.S. troops in response to a souring relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. His decision came shortly after Merkel declined Trump’s invitation to an in-person Group of Seven (G-7) conference this year for nations with large economies.

While Trump planned to hold the summit virtually amid the coronavirus pandemic, the president also floated the possibility of an in-person meeting in Washington, in which he advocated that Russia join the meeting.

Russia was previously a member of the then-Group of 8 but was expelled over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were reportedly among the leaders who most strongly pushed back against Trump’s idea, and Merkel also joined other global leaders in being noncommittal about in-person attendance.

Some reports have indicated that former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell was behind the idea, and that he pushed for it to occur after pressing Germany to step up funding. The former diplomat hasn’t directly denied his role.

Grenell, who is also the former acting director of national intelligence, has voiced support for the withdrawal, telling Bild, a German newspaper, that Americans are “tired” of paying for the defense of other countries.

“Donald Trump was very clear, we want to bring troops from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, from South Korea, Japan and from Germany,” Grenell told Bild in an interview earlier this month, noting that no one should be surprised by the move.

Tags Angela Merkel Donald Trump drawdown Germany Jeanne Shaheen Jens Stoltenberg Mac Thornberry Military NATO reduction Richard Grenell troops U.S. United States
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