- At the White House this week, President Donald Trump said some of the thousands of troops he plans to redeploy from Germany will "probably" go to Poland.
- It's not clear if that will actually happen, but shuffling troops between European countries reveals the Trump's lack of a strategy to deal with the threats the US faces, writes Bonnie Kristian, a fellow at Defense Priorities.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Some portion of the more than 9,000 US troops the Trump administration plans to withdraw from Germany will "probably" be redeployed to Poland, President Donald Trump said last week at a press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda at the White House.
"Poland is one of the few countries that are fulfilling their obligations under NATO — in particular, their monetary obligations — and they asked us if we would send some additional troops," Trump told reporters. "They're going to pay for that. They'll be paying for the sending of additional troops. And we'll probably be moving them from Germany to Poland."
Whether this proves true remains to be seen. Trump is notoriously mercurial. The Washington Post reports the Defense Department said no redeployment decisions have been made, and there are several initiatives underway in Congress to block such a move. If the Pentagon is correct and plans may yet be changed, changed they should be.
Instead of sending these US forces to Poland, Trump should simply bring them home. The administration should also reconsider the reasoning and rhetoric Trump used to explain his Poland plan, which in four ways demonstrates a troubling disinterest in anything like a prudent grand strategy of US defense.
First, the departure from Germany, though welcome, seems minimally couched around US security interests. I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth, but this move appears most clearly connected to the president's personal sense of offense that Berlin has not complied with his demands.
"Germany has — they really owe a lot of money in NATO, and this has been going on for many years," Trump said at the press conference. "When you add it all up, you're probably getting close to a trillion dollars. And that's not treating NATO fairly, but it really isn't treating the United States fairly," he continued. "And I would imagine [Berlin would] like to wait until after the election so that maybe they could deal with somebody other than President Trump. But after the election, they'll just have to pay more."
Beyond the spat over military spending, Trump has extended this talk of "unfairness" and "bad treatment" to Germany's trade policy in other comments on the troop movements. The result is an impression of vindictiveness more than strategy.
That's unfortunate, because the strategic case for US departure is strong: Germany — like other European countries — is a wealthy, powerful nation perfectly capable of taking responsibility for its own defense. US troops should be withdrawn from Europe not — as Trump thinks — as punishment, but rather as an overdue shift of American foreign policy toward realism and restraint (and encouraging European defense policy toward self-reliance).
Second, the way Trump speaks of Poland "paying" for US troops may be intended as a nod toward fiscal conservatism, but this suggests American forces might be deployed anywhere, if it pays well enough, making the US military the world's largest mercenary force. This is a feckless transactionalism.
If he wants to save money on military spending — and he should — Trump ought to end the "endless wars" he claims to oppose instead of hawking US might to the highest or most flattering bidder.
Third, Trump's very willingness to send troops from Germany to Poland undermines his entire burden-sharing argument. "You know, the United States is a very—is the major participant in NATO. We pay more than anybody else, by far, [and we] have for many, many years," Trump complained. But swapping the defense of one European nation for another is not what a strategic pivot looks like.
Fourth and finally, moving troops east in Europe means moving them closer to Russia. "I think [putting more US troops in Poland] sends a very strong signal to Russia," Trump said at his press conference with Duda, neglecting entirely to elucidate what that message might be.
Duda filled the gap, speaking in far more detail than Trump mustered about Polish history with Russia and concluding that he likes to have a US military presence in Poland as a hedge against Russia's "very strong imperial ambitions."
That the president of Poland would want to subcontract his defense to the most powerful nation on earth makes sense. But that Washington would accept the job offer does not.
The risk is the same as in other US military interventions in Eastern Europe: Escalation of great power conflict between the US and Russia is a real possibility, and a possibility not required for keeping the United States secure.
Moscow is a declining power and interprets American moves eastward as threatening to core Russian interests. It is thus unlikely to back down in the face of American advance, but the United States need not advance into Eastern Europe. Avoiding open conflict with Russia is far more needful for us.
If Trump follows through with removing US forces from Germany, he should do so with that reality in mind. Don't send them east, to Poland. Send them west, home to the United States.
Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities, contributing editor at The Week, and columnist at Christianity Today. Her writing has also appeared at CNN, Politico, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, Defense One, and The American Conservative, among other outlets.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).
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