Donald Trump has done his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, another favor by withdrawing almost 12,000 American troops from Germany, a third of the current deployment.
Fewer than half — 5,600 — are sent to other NATO countries, including Poland. Most will be pulled out of Europe altogether. An F-16 fighter squadron will be rebased in Italy.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper claims the decision is the outcome of long-term strategic planning and will somehow enhance “deterrence of Russia”.
President Trump revealed the real reason on Twitter:
Germany pays Russia billions of dollars a year for Energy, and we are supposed to protect Germany from Russia. What’s that all about? Also, Germany is very delinquent in their 2% fee to NATO. We are therefore moving some troops out of Germany!
This is nonsense. There is no NATO “fee”. Germany has for decades underinvested in its defense, relying on American protection, but until recently neither the United States nor Germany’s neighbors objected to the lack of German remilitarization. In 1990, the Western Allies and Russia conditioned their support for German reunification on the country keeping its defense force under 370,000 men. That ceiling remains in place.
Germany never asked for American troops, nor have they always been popular. West German governments faced enormous and repeated protests during the Cold War against the presence of the American military.
Most German politicians understood they needed American troops to deter Soviet aggression, but since the collapse of the Soviet Union the benefits have been America’s:
- Bases in Germany serve as launching pads for military operations in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. (Unlike Turkey, which has refused the United States use of NATO bases for missions it does not support, Germany has never imposed restrictions, even when it opposed the Iraq War.)
- Germany has the closest medical center to treat wounded soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq: Landstuhl Regional.
- Troops stationed in Germany regularly train with Israel’s and are ready to come to Israel’s defense.
Trump’s predecessors also withdrew troops from Germany, and moving soldiers to Poland, which now guards NATO’s eastern flank, makes sense.
But it’s hard to give Trump the benefit of the doubt when he admits he made his decision to punish Germany.
It’s even harder in light of his deference to Putin, whom he has praised over and over again.
When Putin denied Russia had interfered in the 2016 election to help defeat Hillary Clinton, Trump believed him instead of America’s own intelligence agencies and allies.
Trump revealed this week he never confronted Putin about reports that Russia paid the Taliban to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan, despite speaking with the Russian leader eight times since he was briefed on the allegations. He did justify Russia’s policy (of paying for dead Americans) by pointing out the United States supported the Afghan resistance during the Soviet occupation of 1979-89.
It’s not just words.
Trump has weakened the Atlantic alliance at every turn, berating allies for not spending enough on their defense (at a September 11, 2001 memorial of all places), encouraging far-right nationalist parties in their opposition to Atlanticist politicians, pulling out of the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which had effectively banned American and Russian nuclear weapons from Europe, and the Open Skies Treaty, which allows countries reciprocal flights over military facilities.
Trump raised tariffs on European agricultural goods, aircraft, aluminum and steel but lifted sanctions on Russian industrialist Oleg Deripaska, a Putin ally who funded pro-Kremlin parties in Ukraine who were, in turn, advised by Paul Manafort, who served as Trump’s presidential campaign manager.
Trump betrayed the Kurds in northern Syria, who, with American and European support, had fought the self-proclaimed Islamic State as well as the Russian-backed dictatorship of Bashar Assad.
Trump gave Russia free rein in Syria and conditioned military support for Ukraine, which is fighting a Russian-backed insurgency in its southeast, on the launch of a phony corruption investigation that might hurt his rival, Joe Biden; such a blatant abuse of power that it caused Democrats in the United States to initiate impeachment proceedings.