Foreign Policy

Officials Don’t Know What Trump is Doing in Germany

Written by SK Ashby

Trump says he's withdrawing thousands of troops from Germany, but is he really?

Senior German officials including their defense secretary say they've received no official word regarding Trump's announcement that he's withdrawing American troops permanently based there, but that is also apparently true for American officials.

German officials don't know what's happening and neither do American officials who spoke to Reuters.

Even the Pentagon doesn't know what's happening.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - 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. [...]

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a U.S. official told Reuters the Pentagon had not received a formal order to cut troops and that the decision caught some Defense Department officials off guard and scrambling to figure out its meaning and impact on relations with Germany.

Germany was not consulted before the decision was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Friday, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Given that no one seems to know when or if this is ever going to happen, I don't expect it will; at least not before the November election. And I don't think there's any doubt that a hypothetical Biden administration wouldn't reverse the decision.

Personally, I do not necessarily have a strong opinion of my own about our presence in Europe and I accept the opinion of foreign officials who say it's vital to international security particularly in deterrence of Russia. Central and Eastern European security officials know better than anyone what can happen when you let your guard down. Just look at Ukraine.

I don't know if Trump is doing this because Vladimir Putin or someone influenced by Putin gave him the idea, but that is actually the simplest explanation.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Germany and Trump loyalist Richard Grenell, who just served as the Acting Director of National Intelligence for about one month, told Reuters that this decision has been in the works for a year, but that is apparently news to anyone not named Grenell or Trump. It's possible Grenell is telling the truth, but it was only discussed between him and Trump.

Grenell regularly picked fights with the German government while he was serving as Trump's ambassador. Maybe this is petty revenge.

Given that funds for basing troops in Germany are appropriated by Congress through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) each year, I wonder if current federal law may actually obstruct Trump from carrying any of this out. Our presence in Europe, like South Korea, is almost an institution in itself and the next NDAA may not pass until December.