US troop withdrawal: more sabre-rattling from Trump?

Following the announcement that the US will withdraw troops from Germany and station some of them in other European states, resistance to the move is growing among US Democrats and some Republicans. They argue that the plan will weaken Nato and play into Russia's hands. But rather than hoping that the withdrawal will be cancelled Europe should deal with the consequences, commentators warn.

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Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Merkel is a thorn in Trump's side

It's not difficult to identify the real reason for the troop withdrawal, Berlin correspondent Paolo Valentino notes in Corriere della Sera:

“Angela Merkel. In the eyes of Donald Trump, the German chancellor is the real political rival, much more than Vladimir Putin or even Xi Jinping. ... Above all, Trump is annoyed that Angela Merkel embodies everything he hates: multilateralism, international law, the rejection of all populism. ... They've always been polar opposites, the quantum physicist and the billionaire. The novelty now is that the 'pompous narcissist' Trump (in the words of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) - desperate at the prospect of an increasingly improbable re-election - has given up all self-control. Anyone who doesn't praise him, doesn't respect him, or steals the show has to be punished.”

Postimees (EE) /

Russia can sit back and enjoy the show

Postimees is worried about the collateral damage:

“Trump's words leave no doubt that he wants to punish Germany for its low defence spending. The last thing the world needs now is a war of words between these two partners. Defence spending issues must be clarified during talks, not through political manoeuvring. Such unexpected steps serve the interests of Russia, which hasn't had to lift a finger to drive a wedge between the allies. Europe - and above all its richest country Germany - now have to make an effort. Not so much because Trump is angry with Merkel, but to defend Europe itself.”

La Croix (FR) /

Nato on a slippery slope

The withdrawal will drive yet more wedges between European Nato members, political scientist Guillaume Lasconjarias fears in La Croix:

“'Neutral' countries that are neither very committed to Nato nor very committed to the EU will wait to see how the situation develops. Others, like France and Germany, will insist on the need for Europe to attain strategic autonomy. ... A third group of pro-Atlantic countries in Northern and Eastern Europe will endeavor to comply with Trump's demands. Nato is an alliance that has been searching for its identity for years and no longer knows what direction to head in since Donald Trump was elected.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Europe must take this message seriously

De Volkskrant detects a bitter but important message:

“Trump was chosen partly because of his promise to reduce the costs of world leadership. This desire existed before Trump and will not disappear so quickly after him. Europeans may hope that this decision will be revised by a new president, but they would do well to take seriously the message that they need to take more control of their own fate. This is not only a task for Germany, but also for Nato's frugal four.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Not all that bad

Deutschlandfunk radio recommends keeping a cool head:

“The Pentagon has prevailed with its demand that half of the 12,000 American soldiers stay in Europe. With Russia's aggressive policy in mind, they are to be transferred to the Baltic states and the Black Sea. The relocation of the European headquarters of the US forces to Belgium is also not a security policy disaster, even if the Stuttgart region would have liked to keep the American soldiers. Incidentally, the Africa Command is to remain in Stuttgart for the time being. The infrastructure for American troops in Germany is good and well-tested, and the Pentagon is aware of this. So on closer inspection the supposed withdrawal of troops is substantial, but not fundamental. And whether or not it actually takes place won't be clear until the presidential election in November.”

Polityka (PL) /

Europe is on its own

Polityka is worried:

“Some of the troops withdrawn from Europe are still to support US military operations in the region, but on a rotating basis. As long as the rotating presence of a large US contingent in Poland is maintained, nothing will change for Poland at the local level. But on the whole the withdrawal of a fast motorised brigade from Bavaria and the transfer of F-16 fighters to Italy will have a negative impact on the Baltic region and the northern border between Nato and Russia. Trump is giving Europe and Poland a painful reminder of the fact that they must above all rely on themselves.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Germany must decide

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung sees this as a chance for the much needed clarification of Germany's role:

“At first glance it may look like Trump has punished the country. But in reality the troop withdrawal opens up an opportunity: all those realpolitikers who for years have been speaking out against the majority opinion in Germany, which is partly pacifist and partly hostile to America, will now be at an advantage. ... Germany must decide: Does it want to retain the pleasant feeling of being a 'peace nation'? Until now this has meant that others have the task of ensuring peace. Or will it jump over its shadow, a shadow that lies over the past, and ensure peace for itself and its European partners?”