Today was a day of retreats for Donald Trump.
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While one of those retreats — the announcement of the successful negotiation for the withdrawal of federal troops from Portland, Oregon by that state’s Democratic Governor Kate Brown — was much welcome, the other is proving much more controversial.
Trump’s decision to withdraw 12,000 American troops from our NATO ally Germany faced opposition from a bipartisan group of legislators who see the move as playing into the hands of Vladimir Putin who has long wished to see a less robust defense on Russia’s western front.
While Trump cited Germany’s failure to live up to its promise to dedicate 2% of its GDP on its own defense as the reason for the planned troop withdrawal, the fact that the troops will likely be moving to Italy and Belgium — two countries that pay an even smaller share of their GDP for defense than Germany — belies that rationale and raises significant questions about Trump’s real motivations for the move.
Even progressives — who applaud any move that reduces America’s highly bloated defense budget so that taxes can instead be redirected into more socially productive areas like health care, education, and infrastructure — were dismissive of Trump’s move in Germany since it will cost billions to execute and take years to complete without reducing the Pentagon’s overall share of the nation’s expenditures.
One of the chief critics of the president’s troop withdrawal from Germany within his own party was the only Republican to vote in favor of convicting the president at his impeachment trial earlier this year, Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT).
Romney posted a statement on Twitter that objected to the new plan based on its abandonment of a key U.S. ally and as a favor to the Kremlin at a time when the reports of Russian bounties on the lives of American troops make sanctions rather than favors the proper response to Putin.
It is a gift to Russia coming at a time when we just have learned of its support for the Taliban and reports of bounties on killing American troops. The move may temporarily play well in domestic politics, but its consequences will be lasting and harmful to American interests.
— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) July 29, 2020
Romney’s tweet points to the difficulty America will have in reducing its spending on a defense that has grown to include bases around the world as it ponders its self-appointed role as a global police force.
With an economy highly dependent on what President Dwight Eisenhower warned was “a military-industrial complex,” any cutback in the Pentagon budget will have knock-on effects on jobs around the nation as military contractors cut back as contracts shrink.
It seems that the only way to implement the scaling back of America’s military presence around the globe and to reduce our out-of-proportion defense budget would be to reallocate that money to a program like the Green New Deal that would create an off-setting number of new jobs with a beneficial rather than destructive outcome: the rebuilding of a climate-friendly infrastructure and a sustainable economy not dependent on building the latest weapons of war.
While Senator Romney may be right in criticizing this particular withdrawal of American troops from Germany, he does so for all of the wrong reasons.
If there are no defense budget savings that will result from the move and no reinvestment of that money into more productive uses, then the move is purely another gift from Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin that may eventually result in a Trump Tower Moscow, but deliver no benefit to the American people.
Still, anything that further fractures the Republican party — already in severe disarray with less than 100 days before the election — can’t be all bad.
Don’t trust Romney’s motives in opposing Trump on this issue. Rather progressives should leverage the opportunity to parlay this latest troop deployment controversy into a larger share of federal dollars to be spent on socially beneficial programs.
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