WASHINGTON – In vowing to pull thousands of American troops from Germany, President Donald Trump is following a pattern of disruptive, sometimes punitive, moves against allies that have dismayed his fellow Republicans and cast doubt across the globe about the future of partnering with the United States.
Trump has consistently promised to bring American troops home, dismissing the conventional view that a far-flung U.S. military presence, while costly, pays off in the long run by ensuring stability for global trade.
“President Trump has had America’s alliances in his sights for a very long time,” said Mira Rapp-Hooper, a senior fellow on Asia policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of “Shields of the Republic: The Triumph and Peril of America's Alliances.” She recalled newspaper ads Trump bought in 1987 to urge Washington to stop paying to defend countries like Japan that can afford to protect themselves.
He also has argued for a faster withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Addressing newly minted officers graduating from West Point last Saturday, Trump said, “We are ending the era of endless wars. In its place is a renewed, clear-eyed focus on defending America’s vital interests. It is not the duty of U.S. troops to solve ancient conflicts in faraway lands that many people have never even heard of.”
Germany, long the centerpiece of American defense strategy in Europe, has lately been the focus of Trump’s ire. His former national security adviser, John Bolton, writes in his new book that Trump wanted U.S. troops out of not just Germany but also as many other countries as possible.
On Monday, in announcing that he would reduce the U.S. troop level in Germany to 25,000 from the current 34,500, Trump asserted that the Germans had long shortchanged the United States on trade and defense, declaring that “until they pay” more for their own defense, he will reduce U.S. troops.
Twenty-two Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee fired back with a letter to Trump saying a reduced U.S. commitment to Europe's defense would encourage Russian aggression and opportunism.
Removing thousands of U.S. troops from Germany could be a lengthy process, and if Democrat Joe Biden is elected in November, he might reverse Trump's decision. The former vice president has said he would act to strengthen U.S. alliances.