House panel votes to limit Trump’s Germany withdrawal
The House Armed Services Committee has approved a bipartisan amendment seeking to constrain President Trump’s ability to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany.
The National Defense Authorization Act amendment, offered by Reps. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) and Don Bacon (R-Neb.), would block funding to reduce the number of troops in Germany and Europe at large until several certifications are made.
It was approved in a bipartisan, 49-7 vote.
“At this time, we can’t afford to reduce our presence in Europe,” Gallego said. “Russia is a major threat to our country and to the free world.”
Trump last month abruptly announced that he planned to reduce the U.S. troop presence in Germany from 34,500 to 25,000. Trump has cast the move as a response to Germany not meeting NATO’s goal of spending at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.
Trump on Monday approved a Pentagon plan to fulfill that order after being briefed by Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley on options, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.
“The proposal that was approved not only meets the president’s directive, it will also enhance Russian deterrence, strengthen NATO, reassure allies, improve U.S. strategic flexibility and U.S. European Command’s operational flexibility, and take care of our service members and their families,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.
The statement did not say when the troops are leaving or where they are going, but Trump has indicated some will go to Poland and some will return to the U.S. National security adviser Robert O’Brien has also argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that forces are needed in the Indo-Pacific region.
Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Germany sparked a bipartisan backlash from lawmakers who say the troops are necessary to act as a buttress against Russian aggression, foster U.S. relationships with its allies, and coordinate U.S. military operations globally. Germany is home to the headquarters for U.S. European and Africa commands.
“I fully agree that every NATO ally needs to meet their 2 percent commitment,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (Texas), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday. “But I was very concerned by the proposals that floated from apparently a couple people in the White House that not only would we bring up a lot of troops out of Germany, but we would put troop caps on how many Americans could ever be in the country at any one particular time.”
“This proposal was not put together with the input or consideration of the Department of Defense,” he continued, adding that the amendment is the “right thing to do.”
“This does not say you can’t move people out of Germany or Europe; it says you’ve got to study it and you got to consult with your allies and you got to figure out what the effects are going to be,” Thornberry said. “Now I don’t think that’s too much to ask, especially since we’ve had some proposals that did not meet that criteria.”
Gallego and Bacon’s amendment would require the Defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to separately certify that reducing the number of American troops in Germany is in the country’s best interest and would not significantly undermine the U.S. and allies’ security. They would also have to certify that NATO allies and other partners in Europe have been “appropriately consulted.”
Officials would also have to submit several reports to Congress, including an analysis of the effects of a drawdown on U.S. and allies’ security and interoperability, an analysis of the effects on the ability to deter Russia, and a detailed plan for how a drawdown would be implemented.
The administration would also have to make identical certifications and submit reports if it wants to reduce the number of forces in Europe in general.
The amendment would also block the Pentagon from divesting property in Europe unless it certifies that “no military requirement for future use of the infrastructure or real property is foreseeable.”
Despite garnering bipartisan support, the amendment was opposed by some of Trump’s most ardent supporters.
“It’s not as if our presence in Germany stopped Russia from marching into Crimea,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said. “It’s deeply disappointing that when you have Republicans and Democrats around the country seeking to put our nation first, seeking less U.S. involvement, that there seems to be tremendous bipartisan belief on the committee that we ought to be engaged everywhere.”
The United States had been drawing down in Europe before Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014 prompted officials to reverse course.
Progressive Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) also joined in opposition to the amendment.
“The reality is progressives have always been for the rational reduction of troops abroad,” Khanna said. “What we need is a strengthening of our alliances, a clear sense to Russia through effective diplomacy that we are not going to stand for further aggression and interference in our elections, but that should not be a knee jerk reaction to not reduce troop levels.”