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Mitt Romney calls Trump decision to remove U.S. troops from Germany ‘grave error’

Sen. Mitt Romney sits and listens while attending the HELP Hearing: Implementing the 21st Century Cures Act on Capitol Hill in 2019. Cheryl Diaz Meyer, for the Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mitt Romney called the Trump administration’s decision Wednesday to pull thousands of U.S. troops out of Germany a “grave error.”

“It is a slap in the face at a friend and ally when we should instead be drawing closer in our mutual commitment to deter Russian and Chinese aggression. And 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 Utah Republican said in a statement.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper outlined a plan Wednesday to remove nearly 12,000 service members from Germany after President Donald Trump repeatedly said the country is “delinquent” on defense spending.

About 5,400 of the troops would be sent to other NATO allies in Europe, including Poland. Another 6,400 would return to the U.S., although they or similar units would be redeployed to other European countries on a “rotational” basis, Esper told reporters at the Pentagon. He said some of the moves could begin within weeks.

“These changes will achieve the core principles of enhancing U.S. and NATO deterrence of Russia, strengthening NATO, reassuring allies and improving U.S. strategic flexibility,” Esper said.

Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart said in Twitter post that he supports the decision and moving U.S. troops east would “clearly” enhance Russian deterrence.

Repositioning some U.S. troops will act as an incentive for Germany to fulfill their financial commitments to NATO — something they haven’t done,” said Stewart, a former Air Force pilot. “I hope that Members of Congress and the Senate will take time to really understand this issue.”

Trump last month announced that he planned to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Germany from 34,500 to 25,000. He has explained the move as a response to Germany not meeting NATO’s goal of spending at least 2% of gross domestic product on defense.

“They’re there to protect Europe. They’re there to protect Germany, right? And Germany is supposed to pay for it. Germany’s not paying for it. We don’t want to be the suckers anymore,” Trump told reporters Wednesday. “So we’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills. It’s very simple, they’re delinquent.”

As the wealthiest country in Europe, Germany can and should pay more to its defense, Esper said.

“It should certainly meet the 2% standard, and I would argue go above and beyond that,” he said.

Romney, who last week called the plan a “very bad idea,” contends Germany is already spending 1.5% on defense and is on track to getting to 2%.

“The plan outlined by the administration today to remove thousands of U.S. troops from Germany is a grave error,” he said Wednesday. “The move may temporarily play well in domestic politics, but its consequences will be lasting and harmful to American interests.“

Romney was leading a bipartisan effort to slow down or stop the troop withdrawal. Earlier this month, he proposed an amendment to the defense bill that would limit the use of funds to reduce the number of active-duty service members in Germany. The Senate ultimately did not consider the amendment.

The issue has “extraordinary significance” to American foreign policy, he said in a recent speech on the Senate floor.

“How could we possibly allow the administration to make a decision like this without the input of the United States Senate?” Romney asked.

Now is the time to “link arms” with allies, in part because of China’s ambition to become the dominant player in the world, to displace the West, to displace the United States, and to supplant democracy with authoritarian despotism, Romney said earlier.

China brutally represses minorities, invades foreign countries, steals technology and attacks industry after industry through predatory pricing techniques that drive Western companies out of business, he said.

“In my view, to divert China from that dangerous path, we need allies, allies like Germany,” Romney said.

Germans welcome American troops and the U.S. has a hospital there that cares for 250,000 soldiers and their families across Europe, he said. It also cares for those injured in Afghanistan and Iraq.