With provocative troop decision, Trump blindsided his own admin

Trump didn't just surprise our allies by deciding to move troops out of Germany; he also surprised the Trump administration.
Image: Senior State Department Management Officials Forced To Resign
The State Department in Washington on January 26, 2017.Win McNamee / Getty Images file

Late last week, the Wall Street Journal reported on a striking geopolitical decision out of the White House: Donald Trump is slashing the U.S. troop presence in Germany by nearly 30%. As part of the same directive, the American president is capping the number of American servicemen and women who can be deployed to Germany at 25,000, despite troop levels that are routinely twice as high.

As we discussed, the WSJ had a follow-up report noting that the Republican White House's decision "surprised" the United States' allies, whom Trump hadn't bothered to consult or inform in advance of the move. Evidently, as Reuters reported, the Trump administration was caught off guard, too.

President Donald Trump's decision to cut U.S. troop levels in Germany blindsided a number of senior national security officials, according to five sources familiar with the matter, and the Pentagon had yet to receive a formal order to carry it out, Reuters has learned.

One U.S. official told Reuters that personnel at the Defense Department were left "scrambling" to figure out the effects of Trump's announcement on relations with Germany. Another source said senior officials at the State Department, Pentagon, and National Security Council were blindsided and "learned something was up when calls started coming around and the WSJ article hit."

Part of the problem with the American president's gambit is substantive: with this one move, Trump is undercutting NATO and handing the Kremlin a victory for no apparent reason.

But the process is just as jarring. Ordinarily, before a decision of this magnitude, one would expect a White House to conduct a thorough policy analysis, accompanied by a multi-agency review and detailed international diplomacy. But in this instance, Trump appears to have kept most of the relevant players -- in his administration, in Berlin, in other foreign capitals, on Capitol Hill -- in the dark. (One is tempted to describe this as an example of post-policy governance. Someone ought to write a book about that. Oh wait, someone did.)

Trump did speak to Vladimir Putin before making the announcement, but it's not clear if they spoke about troop withdrawals in Germany.

For their part, some House Republicans hope to persuade the American president to choose a different foreign-policy course, but there are nearly 200 GOP members in the chamber, and only 22 are on board with the effort.

Or put another way, those hoping to see Trump change direction should probably keep expectations low.