The Trump administration’s decision to withdraw nearly 12,000 troops from Germany has come under bipartisan attack in the Senate, amid warnings that it will disrupt US alliances.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed back on pressing questions in the Senate on Thursday and in doing so falsely claimed to have fought along the East German border while stationed there as a lieutenant in the army in the late 1980s. There was no fighting in Germany during the Cold War.
The Pentagon insisted the pullout was ordered as part of a comprehensive strategic repositioning of US forces abroad, but Donald Trump made it clear he saw it as Germany’s punishment for failing to not having spent enough on defense.
Pompeo said the State Department was involved in the redeployment discussion, which involves 6,400 troops being brought to the United States and 5,500 more are placed elsewhere in Europe, primarily in Belgium and Italy.
Questioning Pompeo during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen said: “The only country that has publicly supported the withdrawal of US troops from Germany today is Russia.
Republican Senator Mitt Romney, reflecting widespread unease in the GOP over the move, told Pompeo: “I have heard from the highest levels of the German government that this is seen by them as an insult to the Germany, and I cannot imagine at a time when we have to attract our friends and allies to be able to collectively face China, we want to insult them.
Pompeo insisted that withdrawing troops from the United States did not mean they were “off the field.”
“These units will be participating in rotational activities. They will be deployed forward, ”he said. “They will not be stationed or garrisoned, but make no mistake, they will be fully available to ensure that we can properly pursue the challenges that we have from the world powers.
His remarks appeared to reflect assurances from the Defense Department that troops returned to the United States would be available for temporary tours to the Baltic states, Poland or the Black Sea region.
Pressed by Shaheen on the impact of the pullout on the relationship with Berlin, Pompeo did not respond directly, but said, “It’s personal to me. I fought on the East German border when I was a young soldier. I was stationed there.
Pompeo served as a lieutenant in a tank regiment in West Germany from 1986 to 1991, during which time the east-west border was entirely peaceful. He did not participate in any combat during his military career.
Shaheen reminded him that his old unit was among those recalled to the United States. Foreign policy cited Defense Ministry documents on Thursday in which German troops were told the redeployment “would likely take months to plan and years to execute.”
Trump said he ordered the move because Germany was not spending enough on its own defense and American taxpayers were “taken for con”.
However, Germany recently increased its spending and said it was on track to meet the 2% of GDP defense spending target that NATO has set for 2024.
Belgium and Italy, where large numbers of American troops are to be redeployed, spend less than Germany as a percentage of national income.
Diplomats and former officials have suggested that Trump’s decision may have been motivated by personal animosity towards Germany and its Chancellor, Angela Merkel.
Fox News reported in June that the pullout was the idea of Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell in retaliation for Angela Merkel’s decision not to attend a G7 summit at Camp David during the height of the pandemic .