BERLIN — That's the thing with emotional acts: Often you can understand where they come, but ultimately they're counterproductive. Such is the case with the partial withdrawal of U.S. troops from Germany that Donald Trump confirmed on Monday and presented as a kind of punitive action for Germany's failure to meet NATO spending expectations.
Indeed, the president's frustration is partly understandable. In an increasingly insecure world, Germany's longstanding refusal to increase defense spending tends to border on neglect of duty, and one cannot be surprised that Berlin is accused of freeloading.
Frustration over a stubborn ally is not a good guide for strategic decisions.
Also, as Trump points out, it makes no sense in view of Russia's increasingly aggressive stance for Germany to depend even more on Russian gas supplies through Nord Stream 2 and make Eastern Europe more vulnerable to Russian blackmail attempts. Germany clearly has poor arguments on these issues and displays a level of stubbornness that even many European partners cannot understand.
But that doesn't make Trump's decision any better. Frustration over a stubborn ally is not a good guide for strategic decisions. Having a significant contingent of U.S. troops in the heart of Europe is also in line with American, not just German interests. And it makes sense that the bulk of U.S. troops are not directly on the Eastern European front line, where they would be more vulnerable.
In the event of a crisis, they could move there quickly. Germany is also a good location from a logistical point of view, as units can be relocated quickly to the volatile Middle East, for example.
Trump's partial withdrawal, on the other hand, weakens NATO, weakens America's position in Europe and damages relations with its important, though sometimes irritating ally, Germany. In sum, Trump has shown the same strategic short-sightedness that he rightly accuses the Germans of.
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