US General calls Trump's withdrawal order "colossal mistake"
President Trump has ordered a quarter of U.S. soldiers to withdraw from Germany. The former US commander for Europe flagged the move as a political maneuver with immense collateral damage.
By Matthias Gebauer
The former commander of all US troops in Europe has sharply criticized the planned withdrawal of 9500 US troops from Germany. "I think President Trump's decision by the US government is a colossal mistake," Ben Hodges told SPIEGEL. Hodges was a three-star general and commander of all US Army troops. He was in Europe until 2017. After retiring, he worked for the "Center for European Policy Analysis" think tank, and his advice was in demand worldwide.
The criticism of the top military is biting. He flagged the decision of Donald Trump's core team in the White House as a "purely political maneuver". Nobody in the administration had previously sought military advice on what the withdrawal of troops actually means for the US presence in Europe. "The decision illustrates that the president did not understand how essential US troops stationed in Germany are for America's security," said Hodges.
In the past few days, the White House had decided to withdraw 9,500 from the nearly 35,000 US soldiers currently in Germany. In fact, there is to be a rigid upper limit that limits the number of US soldiers in Germany to around 25,000. This would also affect those troops who are in the course of a change of contingent or in transit to the various areas of deployment of the US Army worldwide.
Plans would limit your own options
American and German military were surprised about the upper limit, because from the strategists' point of view, it limits itself in its possibilities. The United States uses Germany as a kind of bridgehead for military missions and exercises across Europe. Missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are also supplied via Germany. Thousands of US soldiers are temporarily in Germany, which would probably no longer be possible due to the upper limit.
Hodges goes further in his criticism. Accordingly, Trump together with Richard Grenell, the former US ambassador to Germany, the United States and Europe smashed the china (irrevocably caused much damage). "The congress was not inaugurated, US commanders in Europe were ignorant, nobody spoke to Germany or NATO," he said. Such an approach, the general said, jeopardizes cohesion within the alliance. "Many of our partners will wonder if the US still feels committed to security in Europe," he said.
US government provokes Berlin
In fact, the U.S. decision caught the federal government pretty cold. When DER SPIEGEL sent the relevant ministries questions about Trump's withdrawal order and the consequences on Friday afternoon, there was initially no film at all. Rumors of the move had been picked up on Friday. But officially, the Trump administration did not report to Berlin, which can be interpreted as deliberate provocation.
The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee was disappointed with Trump, but remained diplomatic. "Such a deduction would be very unfortunate from every point of view," said Norbert Röttgen of the Funke media group. "I can't see any factual reason for the withdrawal," emphasized Röttgen. So the US soldiers are welcome in Germany, their deployment is "enormously important for the coordination of the US presence in Europe," he said.
The federal government's transatlantic coordinator went much tougher with Trump. "The German-American relationship could be severely affected by such a decision by the US President," said Peter Beyer of the dpa news agency. According to Beyer, the withdrawal would "break transatlantic bridges". Beyer also criticized the United States' dealings with Germany. It is "very irritating that the plans have not been discussed with the federal government". So far, the federal government has not received any information.
The experienced General Hodges also viewed the withdrawal as a fatal signal to Russia in terms of foreign policy. "The Kremlin has done nothing to get such a gift, and Moscow has never given in to the Ukraine crisis or Syria," he said. The fact that the United States is withdrawing just over a quarter of its soldiers from Germany must be a sign of weakness and disunity within NATO for Moscow.
Hodges made a clear appeal to the U.S. Congress to correct Trump's decision. "I hope Congress will exercise its constitutional rights and refuse to fund the deduction," said Hodges. First of all, the relevant bodies of the congress would have to convene special meetings immediately and let the Pentagon explain what the strategy for securing American interests in Europe looks like.