The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board is condemning President TrumpDonald John TrumpGovernors’ approval ratings drop as COVID-19 cases mount Gohmert says he will take hydroxychloroquine as COVID-19 treatment Virginia governor, senators request CDC aid with coronavirus outbreak at immigrant detention facility MORE‘s decision to pull nearly 12,000 troops from Germany, saying the move is “undermining” the president’s case that he is tougher than Democrats on Russia.
Trump announced earlier this year that the U.S. would withdraw a substantial portion of troops based in Germany. Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: US to pull 11,900 troops from Germany | Troop shuffle to cost ‘several billion’ dollars | Lawmakers pan drawdown plan | Trump says he hasn’t discussed alleged bounties with Putin Lawmakers torch Trump plan to pull 11,900 troops from Germany Don’t sink the Navy’s future MORE said Wednesday that the Pentagon would begin shifting some 11,900 troops “within weeks,” taking U.S. forces there from 36,000 to 24,000.
“Beneath the din of media condemnation, it can be hard to sort the good from the bad in President Trump’s unorthodox foreign policy,” the editorial board wrote. “Some initiatives scorned by foreign-policy elites have been wise, like pulling out of failing arms accords. Yet the Pentagon’s plan. … is far from a stroke of populist genius.”
The board goes on to argue that the move hurts U.S. interests in Europe while also doing little to “fulfill the cost-saving objective” Trump says he’s hoping to meet. The board points to souring relations between Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the decision, claiming that Trump appears to be “undermining America’s military position out of pique.”
“Moving forces south or west in the Continent is a retreat that reduces U.S. ability to surge into the theater if Russia makes a military move,” the editorial board argued, listing Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinOvernight Defense: US to pull 11,900 troops from Germany | Troop shuffle to cost ‘several billion’ dollars | Lawmakers pan drawdown plan | Trump says he hasn’t discussed alleged bounties with Putin Lawmakers torch Trump plan to pull 11,900 troops from Germany Should Biden win, why do some assume he’ll only serve one term? MORE‘s decision to invade Ukraine in 2014 after the Obama administration withdrew combat brigades in Germany as an example.
Trump has legitimate problems with Germany’s NATO defense commitments and its support for a Russian gas pipeline, the board noted. But it describes the troop reduction decision as “erratic” and one that does little to support American foreign policy.
“Expect the Kremlin to get similar signals from President Trump’s move,” the board added.
Trump in June cast his decision to withdraw troops as a response to Germany’s failure to meet an agreement to spend at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense. However, NATO allies had agreed to reach that goal by 2024. Both Republicans and Democrats have criticized the move, with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) calling it a “grave error.”
Throughout his time in the White House, Trump has faced scrutiny from Democrats for being too soft on Putin. He faced criticism from both sides of the aisle in 2018 after doubting American intelligence on Russian election interference while appearing alongside the Russian president. The U.S. intelligence community has concluded Russia interfered in the 2016 election and that it is still engaged in “information warfare.”