Lawmakers torch Trump plan to pull 11,900 troops from Germany

Lawmakers in both parties are panning the Trump administration’s plan to pull nearly 12,000 U.S. troops out of Germany.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) blasted the move as a “grave error,” while Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said President Trump shows a “lack of strategic understanding.”

“Once more, now with feeling: U.S. troops aren’t stationed around the world as traffic cops or welfare caseworkers – they’re restraining the expansionary aims of the world’s worst regimes, chiefly China and Russia,” Sasse said in a statement.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin “are reckless – and this withdrawal will only embolden them,” Sasse added. “We should be leading our allies against China and Russia, not abandoning them. Withdrawal is weak.”

Republicans and Democrats alike have been pushing back since reports first surfaced last month that Trump was on the verge of a massive drawdown in Germany, but the latest comments come after Defense Secretary Mark Esper filled in details of a plan he argued would help the United States deter Russia, contrary to criticism.

Right now, about 36,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Germany, which is home to the headquarters for U.S. European and Africa commands.

Under the plan outlined by Esper on Wednesday, about 11,900 troops are set to leave Germany. About 5,600 of them will move elsewhere in Europe, while about 6,400 will come back to the United States.

For those returning to the United States, many will be turning around and conducting rotational deployments into Europe, Esper added. 

Esper cast the move as a strategic realignment of forces that had been in the works for months, saying Trump’s June decision merely accelerated the process.

But Trump has repeatedly cast the move as punishment for Germany not fulfilling NATO’s goal of countries spending at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense.

On Wednesday, moments after Esper argued the drawdown is about strategy, Trump reiterated that he is doing it to penalize Berlin.

“We’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills,” Trump told reporters while departing the White House. “It’s very simple. They’re delinquent.”

Democrats quickly pounced. Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said that “champagne must be flowing freely this evening at the Kremlin” and called on Republicans to “stand up to the president and put an end to this abdication of his oath to protect the United States from enemies foreign and domestic.”

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, lamented that former Defense Secretary James Mattis might have been able to stop the drawdown in the past and said Wednesday’s announcement was “just a thin outline of an irrational and ill-conceived proposal.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), meanwhile, said he is “very concerned” about “an arbitrary cap” on the number of U.S. troops stationed in Germany.

“By the secretary’s own admission, this plan was not drafted in consultation with U.S. allies or with the military services, but instead all parties – including Congress – were notified after decisions had already been made,” Smith said in a statement. “Not only does the plan fail to consider major logistical issues, questions about deterrence and implementation of the National Defense Strategy, and concerns about implications for U.S. efforts in Africa and elsewhere, but also it will almost certainly result in significant costs to the department.”

Among Republicans, Romney, who is a frequent foil for Trump on foreign policy, quickly criticized the move.

“The plan outlined by the administration today to remove thousands of U.S. troops from Germany is a grave error,” Romney said in a statement. “It is a slap in the face at a friend and ally when we should instead be drawing closer in our mutual commitment to deter Russian and Chinese aggression.”

Romney offered an amendment to the Senate’s version of the annual defense policy bill that sought to prevent a Germany withdrawal, but the measure was not granted a vote.

The House’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), though, does include a bipartisan amendment aimed at blocking a drawdown by requiring several certifications before it can move forward. The two versions of the bill now need to be reconciled.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who will be a key negotiator for the final version of the NDAA, is one of the few Republicans backing the Germany drawdown. Inhofe first announced his support last week after being briefed by Pentagon officials and reiterated it after Esper’s announcement.

“As I said last week after I was briefed, any plan for realigning our posture in Europe must maintain a strong forward presence, sustain force projection, and take care our military families,” Inhofe tweeted Wednesday. “The concept @EsperDOD outlined today adheres to these principles.”

The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry (Texas), remains skeptical of the plan, but was more muted Wednesday than in previous criticism. Thornberry last month organized a letter co-signed by most of the committee’s Republicans urging Trump to reverse course on withdrawing from Germany.

“The administration’s plans to redistribute U.S. forces across Europe are complex and will have long-lasting consequences,” Thornberry said in a statement Wednesday. “While some of the proposed moves clearly have merit, other aspects – such as an arbitrary limits to the number of troops stationed in certain countries — remain troubling.”

Tags Adam Smith Ben Sasse Bob Menendez Donald Trump Germany Jack Reed James Mattis Mac Thornberry Mark Esper Mitt Romney troop withdrawal Vladimir Putin
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