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Trump pushes plan to reduce forces in Germany despite bipartisan opposition

President Trump met with Polish President Andrzej Duda at the White House Wednesday -- the first time he has hosted a foreign leader since the pandemic began. Trump reiterated his administration’s plan to base 2,000 American troops in Poland after relocating them from Germany. The move is controversial and has roiled both members of Congress and U.S. allies in Europe. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, President Trump hosted Poland's president, the first head of state visit since the pandemic began.

    The Eastern European leader arrived at the White House as President Trump confirmed plans to reduce the number of troops in longtime ally Germany, a decision that has sparked bipartisan resistance.

    Nick Schifrin has the story.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, the man who labels himself the law and order president hosted the candidate from the Law and Justice Party. And the bromance between President Trump and Polish President Andrzej Duda is between like-minded leaders.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I do believe he has an election coming up, and I do believe he will be very successful.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Back home, Duda is playing his Trump card for his right-wing base four days before a tight election. He's argued LGBT rights are worse than communism. The E.U. and Freedom House accuse him of eroding Poland's rule of law.

  • Angela Stent:

    This is a Polish president who has rolled back democracy and the rule of law in Poland, who is running an increasingly authoritarian state.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Angela Stent is a former State Department official and intelligence officer now at Georgetown's Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies.

  • Angela Stent:

    He believes that, by coming to the United States and showing his population that President Trump values him as an ally, he can get — deliver a U.S. commitment to Poland again to protect Poland against potential Russian threats.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For years, the U.S. has been conducting live-fire exercises in Poland to deter neighboring Russia. There are now 4,400 American soldiers in Poland.

    Today, President Trump said that number would increase. These exercises that I visited were led by then Lieutenant General Ben Hodges.

  • Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges (Retired):

    That is a powerful capability that will be very effective at help changing the calculus for Russia.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Hodges began his military career, back when communist Poland was the largest country in the Eastern Bloc. As a lieutenant, Hodges deployed to Western Germany, one of 300,000 service members faced off with the Soviet Union.

    Today, there are 35,000 troops in Germany. Until late 2017, Hodges commanded U.S. Army Europe. He's now at the Center for European Policy Analysis.

  • Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges:

    The presence of U.S. troops in Germany benefits the United States. Germany gives us a forward station presence that allows us to carry out our national defense strategy and to conduct operations in Africa, the Middle East, as well as all over Europe.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But President Trump wants to cut the total number of U.S. troops deployed to Germany by a third, and the number of troops who can travel through Germany in half.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I said, let's get it down from 50,000 to 25,000, because they're delinquent.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    U.S. officials are frustrated that Germany spends 1.3 percent of its GDP on defense, below the promised 2 percent, and is resisting U.S. efforts to cancel an $11 billion pipeline with Russia.

  • President Donald Trump:

    They pay the country we're supposed to protect them from. They pay billions of dollars to that country. We're supposed to protect them. Excuse me. How does that work?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But the Germany reduction in forces was met with withering bipartisan opposition. Congressional officials were not consulted. The House Armed Services Committee's most senior Republican, Mac Thornberry, wrote, it could leave behind "a fractured, more dangerous, less stable world."

    And the House Foreign Affairs' most senior Republican, Mike McCaul, and other committee Republicans wrote to President Trump: "The withdrawal of thousands of troops from Germany will place U.S. national security at risk."

  • Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges:

    A 30 percent reduction of what's there now would seriously limit our ability to contribute to NATO, to — as well as to conduct the operations we need to around this half of the world.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    German and NATO officials have said they weren't consulted either. And some military officials say the same.

  • Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges:

    I spoke to people from Army headquarters, Air Force headquarters and at NATO and at U.S. European Command. They all were caught completely flat-footed.

  • Angela Stent:

    This is really not how the United States should be conducting its foreign policy, and particularly on such a sensitive issue, with what was, at least once, one of its key allies in Europe.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But those who advocate a more restrained U.S. foreign policy see an opportunity.

  • Col. Andrew J. Bacevich (Retired):

    The argument that somehow we need to be in Europe so that we can be intervening elsewhere, for example, in the Middle East or in Afghanistan, sort of begs the larger question of whether or not we should be intervening in the Middle East and whether we should be continuing to fight a war in Afghanistan.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Andy Bacevich is a historian, retired colonel and former West Point professor. He is now president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

  • Col. Andrew J. Bacevich:

    This interventionist impulse, which has been really the defining feature of U.S. national security policy since the end of the Cold War, simply has not delivered the goods.

    I think pulling out of Europe, ending our security commitment should be one part of rethinking our overall security posture.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, President Trump said the number of troops in Germany would go down, with some going to Poland, which does meet the 2 percent goal.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We're going to be reducing our forces in Germany. Some will be coming home, and some will be going to other places, but Poland would be one of those other places, other places in Europe.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Duda worried a reduction in Germany, would send the wrong signal to Russia.

  • President Andrzej Duda (through translator):

    I do not deny that I requested the president that he not withdraw U.S. forces from Europe.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Stent worries that a move to Poland could antagonize Russia. She's the author of "Putin's World."

  • Angela Stent:

    We shouldn't be needlessly provocative. And it's not clear that moving U.S. troops to Poland is any more in the U.S. national interest than keeping them in Germany.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Congress is debating whether to block the move out of Germany. But the Pentagon is already working on options to remove troops from a historic ally in Western Europe, and increase them in its Eastern European neighbor.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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