This week, in a seemingly gratuitous tweak, he tore one of those ropes by announcing a plan to withdraw nearly 12,000 troops from Germany. This thin green thread of strength, woven through historic German cities, rolling fields and dense forests, has helped for three generations to secure peace in Europe, embodying an unwavering commitment between former enemies.
The relationship now however, particularly if Trump is re-elected later this year, is in freefall, destination unknown.
His decision, if his tweets were correctly guessed, appears to be to punish Germany.
“Germany pays Russia billions of dollars a year for energy, and we are supposed to protect Germany from Russia. What is it about? Trump wrote in an article.
The head of the German parliament’s external relations committee, Norbert Roettgen, responded on Twitter on Wednesday: “Instead of strengthening #NATO, this will weaken the alliance. The military weight of the United States will not increase, but will decrease relative to Russia and the Near and Middle East. ”
The governor of the state of Bavaria, Markus Soeder, whose region hosts several US bases, also criticized Trump: “Unfortunately, this is seriously damaging German-American relations. You can’t see a military advantage. It weakens NATO and the United States itself. ”
It is therefore not surprising that the Kremlin happily exploits Europe’s dismay, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling CNN: “We have never hidden this [we think] the fewer American soldiers there are on the European continent, the quieter it is in Europe. ”
Trump is the gift that never ceases to give to the Kremlin: his unpredictability, although often distressing, for them is continual water for their propaganda mill.
It took the 45th U.S. President nearly four selfish and destructive years to reach this point, but by pulling the trigger to withdraw troops from Germany, a third of the total stationed in the country, he signaled the end of what Franklin D Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States, conceived of as a post-war order based on common interest and collective aspirations.
Roosevelt and other leaders of his generation witnessed the worst times when the great powers collided, propelled by a few self-possessed wicked men; assuming Trump is not completely ignorant, he chose to ignore this obvious fact.
The problem for NATO and America’s other allies is that it seems like little can hold Trump back from his impulses. Defense Secretary Mark Esper echoed the president’s words, saying: “Germany is the richest country in Europe. Germany can and should pay more for its defense. ”
This argument will ring hollow in the cavernous halls of NATO headquarters in the leafy suburb of Brussels, where the 2% of GDP pledge came long before Trump began his presidency, as did General John Hyten’s claim. , vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said the pullout would “strengthen” America’s support for its allies because it “would distribute forces better across Europe and increase the use of rotational forces ”.
Esper spoke of a “strategic depot” as some troops could move to Poland and others could end up in the smaller Baltic states. And Jens Stoltenberg, the ever-optimistic NATO secretary general, said that “the United States had consulted closely with all NATO allies prior to today’s announcement” – although German officials have expressed their surprise when they first heard about a possible withdrawal a month ago.
Stoltenberg has fought persistent rearguard action against Trump’s urges to break away from NATO since the US president took office in January 2017. Recently, at the last NATO leaders meeting in Luton, England, in December 2019, Stoltenberg let Trump sound his own trumpet by announcing increased GDP defense spending commitments he had squeezed from alliance members.
He is still trying to save the day now, claiming instead that Trump’s decision “underscores the United States’ continued commitment to NATO and European security.”
The reality is that Trump intimidated German Chancellor Angela Merkel from the start, and not just on the lower than Germany average defense spending commitment of 1.38% of GDP, but on BMW car exports. and trade in general. During their first White House meeting in spring 2017, the president barely looked Merkel in the eye, refusing to shake her hand; at a NATO summit in 2018, he berated her over breakfast. And now this.
Ironically, Trump’s generals move US military European command EUCOM from Germany to Brussels, NATO headquarters, to “improve EUCOM’s operational flexibility,” says EUCOM commander Tom Wolters – despite the glaring deficit of Belgium’s contribution to NATO; at 0.93%, it is even lower than that of Germany.
Whatever Trump’s motive, be it petulance or even a strategic pivot to Asia, as Esper has explained in recent weeks, the reality leaves allies reeling and working against it. long-term benefits of the United States; now these European countries must look to themselves for defense – not for a quick fix, but as a major strategic change.
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said it was “a pity” that Trump was withdrawing troops from Germany, adding: “I want us to finally move faster towards a European security and defense policy common ”.
While not every European leaders’ cup of tea or iced latte, the only thing the EU has managed to do in recent weeks is to show that it can compromise and overcome huge differences. internal opinions, as she has done for four days and four nights, agreeing on her next seven-year budget and an even more thorny Covid-19 bailout.
Trump didn’t bring about a Common European Defense Agreement overnight, but he cut the wait until there is one, and none of it is good for America for the time being.
As Trump seeks friends to strengthen his sanctions against China and Iran, a less attached and restless Europe will seek to forge relationships that align with its national security and business interests. And these may not always match America’s.
It simultaneously enables Russian President Vladimir Putin, a strategic enemy who is already on the offensive, while disabling vital allies in this same fight. It’s a double-handed goal, typical of an American president who insists on playing by his own rules.
If the Covid-19 pandemic, which seems to shorten the time of his presidency, cannot teach him that the convention sometimes has the answers, there is little chance that he will reverse the course of the 12,000 troops.
Perhaps a new US president will be elected in November with enough time and persuasive powers to mend the rift Trump has created with his country’s allies. It won’t be easy, as Trump’s trust deficit is compounded by all who have stood by his side.
On this side of the Atlantic, it looks like Trump is embarking on a journey into uncharted waters, ignoring well-publicized stormy weather warnings.