Troops out of Germany: Trump rocks the postwar order

Relations between Donald Trump and Angela Merkel are tense at the best of times, said Angela Cullen and Arne Delfs on Bloomberg (New York). Germany’s chancellor has clashed with the US president on issues from global trade to Berlin’s defence spending. Last month, she snubbed him by declining an invitation to a G-7 summit in Washington this month. Publicly, she cited coronavirus travel concerns; but in private, she was furious at Trump’s plan to invite Vladimir Putin, who was cast out by the group when Russia invaded Crimea in 2014. Trump postponed the summit and now – in what many see as retaliation – he is cutting the number of US troops stationed in Germany from 34,000 to 25,000, calling the country “delinquent” and claiming it owes Nato billions of dollars. It’s another sign America is withdrawing from Europe, and from the role it has played there since the Second World War.

Trump is strongly opposed to the planned Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, said Miodrag Soric in Deutsche Welle (Bonn) – fearing it will increase Moscow’s influence and harm the US shale gas industry. And he’s annoyed with Merkel for having the temerity to stand up to him on the world stage. But withdrawing US troops won’t make a jot of difference to Germany, which faces no realistic external military threats. Washington has far more to lose, agreed Christoph von Marschall in Der Tagesspiegel (Berlin). Troops in Germany are key to US operations everywhere, from Afghanistan to Africa. The Ramstein air base is the US air force’s European head-quarters, and Landstuhl military hospital has been vital for treating US soldiers wounded in the Middle East. What’s more, moving troops out would reduce Nato’s ability to curtail Russian aggression against the Baltic states. US generals have tried in vain to explain all this to Trump, said The Washington Post: it’s obvious to them that the only beneficiary of this “unilateral disarmament” will be Putin. But Trump seems to think of US troops as mercenaries who should be deployed only in return for compensation.

Even so, Trump “made the right call” by ordering troops out, said Christian Whiton on Fox News (New York). Germany regularly acts against US interests – bypassing sanctions on Iran; failing to put diplomatic pressure on China; and working with Russia on energy supplies – while benefiting from its protection. Merkel and other European leaders have spent three years trying to coax Trump into supporting the Western alliance, said David M. Herszenhorn on Politico (Brussels). But to no avail. He persists in treating America’s closest allies as “punching bags”, undermining Nato and the G-7. When he imposed a Covid-19 travel ban, he didn’t even bother to consult Europe. Now, the US’s allies seem finally to have lost patience with Trump; all they can hope is that he’ll be gone after November’s election.