On withdrawing troops from Germany, Trump admin advances gambit

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the move is designed to "strengthen NATO" and "deter Russia." In reality, that's backwards.
Image: German Chancellor Angela Merkel confers with US President Donald Trump following the family photo session during the G7 Summit in La Malbaie, Canada
German Chancellor Angela Merkel confers with US President Donald Trump following the family photo session during the G7 Summit in La Malbaie, Canada, June 8, 2018.Pool via AFP - Getty Images file

Some hoped cooler heads would prevail, and Donald Trump would not dramatically scale back the United States' military presence in Germany. This morning, those hopes were largely dashed.

The Trump administration gave more details Wednesday of its plan to withdraw almost 12,000 American troops permanently stationed in Germany, saying it will bring some of them back to the United States and redeploy others elsewhere in Europe. The move, reducing the permanent U.S. troop presence in Germany from around 36,000 to 24,000, would be a significant drawdown from one of the U.S. military's major international outposts.

As regular readers know, it was in early June when the Wall Street Journal first reported on the president's plans to slash the U.S. troop presence in Germany.

The move stunned foreign officials and blindsided members of Trump's own team. Reuters reported soon after that the president made the decision without even notifying many leading officials at the Pentagon, the State Department, and the National Security Council.

Soon after, however, it seemed there was no actual plan to follow through on the withdrawals, and the president himself was non-committal last month.

As of today, however, the administration is going through with it.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said at a briefing this morning that the move is designed to "strengthen NATO" and "deter Russia." As analyses go, this is bizarre, since the move -- as U.S. allies in Europe have already made clear -- undermines NATO and delivers an unexpected gift to the Kremlin.

For critics of the new strategy, there may be a saving grace: it'll take a while to implement such a dramatic shift in policy. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has endorsed Trump's gambit, but the Oklahoma Republican has conceded it will take “months to plan, and years to execute.”

If U.S. leadership were to change -- say, on Jan. 20, 2021 -- it's easy to imagine we may have a different kind of announcement out of the Pentagon on the U.S. troop presence in Germany.