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Germany US troops pullout: Trump’s last gift to Putin before the election?

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This week in one apparently wanton yank, he ripped one of those cords by announcing a plan to withdraw nearly 12,000 troops from Germany. This thin green thread of forces, woven through Germany’s historic towns, rolling fields and dense forests, has for three generations helped ensure peace in Europe, embodying an unbreakable commitment between the former foes.

The relationship now though, particularly if Trump is reelected later this year, is in freefall, destination unknown.

His decision, if his tweets have been correctly divined, seems to be to punish Germany.

“Germany pays Russia billions of dollars a year for Energy, and we are supposed to protect Germany from Russia. What’s that all about?” Trump wrote in one post.

“Also, Germany is very delinquent in their 2% fee to NATO. We are therefore moving some troops out of Germany!”

His undiplomatic data grenades were tossed out in a few moments in the middle of the night, but it could take years to undo the damage German official fears it will inflict on the military alliance.

The head of the German parliament’s foreign relations committee, Norbert Roettgen, replied on Twitter Wednesday, saying, “Instead of strengthening #NATO it is going to weaken the alliance. The US’s military clout will not increase, but decrease in relation to Russia and the Near & Middle East.”

Trump's decision to move troops from Germany slammed as 'a gift to Putin'

Bavaria’s state governor Markus Soeder, whose region hosts several US bases, also criticized Trump: “Unfortunately this seriously damages German-American relations. A military benefit cannot be seen. It weakens NATO and the U.S.A. itself.”

Little surprise, then, that the Kremlin is gleefully exploiting Europe’s consternation, with spokesperson Dmitry Peskov telling CNN: “We never hid that [we think] the less American solders there are on the European continent the calmer it is in Europe.”

Trump is the gift that keeps on giving for the Kremlin: his unpredictability, while often a pain, for them is continual grist for their propaganda mill.

It has taken America’s 45th president almost four self-serving and destructive years to reach this point, but in pulling the trigger on withdrawing troops from Germany, one-third of the total stationed in the country, he has signaled an end to what Franklin D. Roosevelt, America’s 32nd president, conceived as a post-World War II order based on common interest and collective aspirations.

Roosevelt and other leaders of his generation witnessed the worst of times as the great powers collided, propelled by a few evil self-possessed men; assuming Trump is not completely ignorant, he has chosen to ignore this obvious fact.

Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, and US President Donald Trump in 2018.

The problem for NATO and America’s other allies is that there seems little that can hold Trump back from his impulses. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper echoed the President’s words saying, “Germany is the wealthiest country in Europe. Germany can and should pay more to its defense.”

This argument will ring hollow in the cavernous halls at NATO HQ in Brussels leafy suburbs, where commitment to 2% GDP came long before Trump began his presidency, as will the claim by Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said the drawdown would “bolster” America’s support of its allies because it would “better distribute forces across Europe and increase the use of rotational forces.”

Esper talked about a “a strategic laydown” as some troops may move to Poland and others could end up in the diminutive Baltic states. And Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s perennially optimistic secretary general, said “the US had consulted closely with all NATO allies ahead of today’s announcement” — even though German officials expressed surprise when they first heard about the possible drawdown a month ago.

Stoltenberg has fought a persistent rearguard action against Trump’s impulses to cut loose from NATO since the US President took office in January 2017. As recently as NATO’s last leaders’ meeting in Luton, England, in December 2019 Stoltenberg let Trump blow his own trumpet by announcing increasing GDP defense spending commitments he’d squeezed from the alliance’s members.

He is still trying to save the day now, claiming rather hopefully that Trump’s decision “underlines the continued commitment by the United States to NATO and to European security.”

Trump names retired Army colonel and Fox News regular as nominee for US ambassador to Germany

The reality is Trump has bullied German Chancellor Angela Merkel from the get-go, and not just on Germany’s sub-par defence spending commitment of 1.38% of GDP, but about exports of BMW cars and trade in general. At their first meeting in the White House in spring 2017 the President barely looked Merkel in the eye, refusing to shake her hand; at a NATO summit in 2018 he berated her over breakfast. And now this.

Ironically Trump’s generals are moving the US military’s Europe command, EUCOM, from Germany to Brussels, home of NATO, to “improve EUCOM’s operational flexibility,” according to EUCOM’s Commander Tom Wolters — despite Belgium’s glaring NATO contribution deficit; at 0.93% it is lower even than Germany’s.

Whatever Trump’s motive, be it petulance or indeed a strategic pivot to Asia, as Esper has explained in recent weeks, the reality leaves allies rattled and runs counter to the US’s long-term benefit; now those European countries must look to themselves for defense — not for a quick fix, but as a major strategic shift.

Germany’s Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said it was a “pity” Trump was pulling troops from Germany, adding, “I want us to finally advance more quickly towards a common European security and defence policy.”

While that’s not every European leader’s cup of tea, or iced latte, the one thing the EU has managed to do in recent weeks is show that it can compromise and overcome huge internal differences of opinion, as it did during four days and nights, agreeing its next seven-year budget and an even thornier Covid-19 bail-out plan.
Tourists take photos of actors dressed as soldiers at former Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, where US and Soviet tanks confronted each other in the early years of the Cold War.

Trump hasn’t caused a common European defense agreement to spring up overnight but he has compressed the wait until there is one, and none of this is good for America right now.

As Trump looks for friends to bolster his sanctions on China and Iran, a less tethered and more fretful Europe will be looking to secure relationships that fit its national security and trade interests. And those may not always align with America’s.

He is simultaneously enabling Russian President Vladimir Putin, a strategic foe who is already on the offensive, while disabling allies vital in that same fight. It is a double own goal, typical of a US President who insists on playing by his own rules.

If the Covid-19 pandemic, which appears to be running the clock down on his presidency, can’t teach him that sometimes convention does have the answers, there is little likelihood he’ll reverse course on the 12,000 troops.

Perhaps a new American president will be elected this November with enough time and persuasive powers to repair the rift Trump has caused with his country’s allies. It won’t be easy, as Trump’s trust deficit is compounded by all those who stood by his side.

From this side of the Atlantic it appears Trump is casting off for a voyage into uncharted waters, ignoring well-publicized stormy weather warnings.

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Trump Withdraws Controversial Nomination Of Anthony Tata To Pentagon

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WASHINGTON, Aug 3 (Reuters) – President Donald Trump has withdrawn the nomination of Anthony Tata, a retired Army brigadier general who has called former President Barack Obama a “terrorist leader,” to be undersecretary of defense for policy, the White House said on Monday.

The White House statement came a day after a Pentagon spokeswoman said Tata, who failed to secure a Senate confirmation hearing, had taken a different, less-senior policy role at the Defense Department.

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2020 election: Trump continues to lose ground as nation grapples with coronavirus

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Given the continuing widespread coronavirus pandemic, the persistent economic devastation millions of Americans are experiencing in its wake and President Donald Trump’s inability to wrest control of the crisis in the minds of a majority of Americans, it is probably not all that surprising that his reelection chances have taken a substantial hit.

From launching a law-and-order message in the face of mostly peaceful protests for racial justice, to Trump shaking up the campaign by demoting his campaign manager, to a short-lived attempt at having the President portray himself as a leader in command of the Covid-19 response, the race for the White House has continued to move in Biden’s direction.

While the cliché is true that the three months from now until Election Day is an eternity in American politics and the race is almost certain to tighten, it is also true that Americans are just six weeks away from beginning to cast ballots and the defining characteristic of this presidential race thus far is Trump’s failed leadership in managing the coronavirus pandemic and an inability to convince enough of the public that Biden is an unacceptable alternative.

Whatever thin cushion existed for Trump’s reelection prospects at the start of this election year has completely evaporated. The President’s path to 270 electoral votes is as narrow as it has ever been. For his part, former Vice President Biden is shoring up some traditionally blue-leaning battleground states, expanding the 2020 battleground map into what has recently been more Republican leaning terrain, and opening up multiple pathways to victory.

Based on public and private polling, where the campaigns are placing their strategic bets with millions of advertising dollars, where the candidates and their surrogates are spending time in person or virtually, conversations with Trump and Biden campaign advisers, Republican and Democratic political operatives, members of Congress, and political professionals involved with outside groups, our current Electoral College outlook reflects that substantial movement in Biden’s direction.

Since our last outlook, we have moved five states (and one congressional district) in the direction of the Democrat. Michigan and Pennsylvania, two states Trump won in 2016 that had been reliably blue for the better part of two decades in presidential elections, are being moved from battleground to lean Democrat, placing an additional 36 electoral votes to Biden’s total. We’ve also moved Virginia from lean Democrat to solid Democrat as the demographics and population shifts in the commonwealth continue to trend away from Republicans and both campaigns appear to be disinclined to spend substantial dollars competing there.

In addition, Georgia, Ohio and Maine’s 2nd Congressional District had all been leaning in Trump’s favor in our last outlook and have now all been moved to the battleground category, which reduces Trump’s electoral vote count by 35 votes.

In this new outlook, Trump starts with a solid base of 125 electoral votes from 20 states that are most likely to be uncontested in the fall. When you combine that base of solid states with the additional 45 electoral votes that are currently leaning in his direction, it brings Trump’s total to 170 electoral votes — 100 votes away from reelection.

Biden’s quest for the White House starts with a solid base of 203 electoral votes from 16 states and the District of Columbia. When you add in the 65 electoral votes that are leaning in his direction, it brings his total to 268 electoral votes — just 2 away from winning the presidency.

That leaves us with six states and a congressional district worth a total of 100 electoral votes that will likely prove decisive in selecting the direction the country heads in for the next four years: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin.

If Biden were to win everything in dark or light blue on this map, Donald Trump would need to run the table and win every single battleground to get reelected.

Solid Republican:

Alabama (9), Alaska (3), Arkansas (6), Idaho (4), Indiana (11), Kansas (6), Kentucky (8), Louisiana (8), Mississippi (6), Missouri (10), Montana (3), Nebraska (4), North Dakota (3), Oklahoma (7), South Carolina (9), South Dakota (3), Tennessee (11), Utah (6), West Virginia (5), Wyoming (3) (125 total)

Leans Republican:

Iowa (6), Nebraska 2nd Congressional District (1), Texas (38) (45 total)

Battleground states:

Arizona (11), Florida (29), Georgia (16), Maine 2nd Congressional District (1), North Carolina (15), Ohio (18), Wisconsin (10) (100 total)

Leans Democratic:

Colorado (9), Michigan (16), Minnesota (10), New Hampshire (4), Nevada (6), Pennsylvania (20) (65 total)

Solid Democratic:

California (55), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), DC (3), Hawaii (4), Illinois (20), Maine (3), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (11), New Jersey (14), New Mexico (5), New York (29), Oregon (7), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), Virginia (13), Washington (12) (203 total)

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Maryland Gov. Hogan overrules county mandate for private schools to go virtual

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday revoked the authority of county officials to mandate schools close amid a clash with local health officials.

Local health officials in Maryland’s Montgomery County last week made the decision to keep private and parochial schools closed through October for in-person learning, arguing that having students in the classroom would present a danger to pupils and teachers as the state grapples with COVID-19.

But Hogan amended an emergency executive order, which he issued April 5, that allowed local health departments to have the authority to close any individual facility deemed to be unsafe. He called the Montgomery County mandate “overly broad.”

“The recovery plan for Maryland public schools stresses local flexibility within the parameters set by state officials,” Hogan said in a statement. “Over the last several weeks, school boards and superintendents made their own decisions about how and when to reopen public schools, after consultation with state and local health officials.”

HOGAN CLASHES WITH OFFICIALS OVER MANDATE FOR PRIVATE SCHOOLS TO GO VIRTUAL

Hogan added that “private and parochial schools deserve the same opportunity and flexibility to make reopening decisions based on public health guidelines.”

“The blanket closure mandate imposed by Montgomery County was overly broad and inconsistent with the powers intended to be delegated to the county health officer,” Hogan said, adding that the state’s recovery “continues to be based on flexible, community-based approach that follows science, not politics.”

“As long as schools develop safe and detailed plans that follow CDC and state guidelines, they should be empowered to do what’s best for their community,” he said, thanking parents, students and school administrators “who have spoken out in recent days about this important issue.”

TENNESSEE MAN, 27, RECOVERING AFTER CORONAVIRUS PNEUMONIA: ‘IT WAS PRETTY SCARY’

Hogan’s move Monday came after Montgomery County Health Officer Travis Gayles in a statement Friday said that opening those schools in any capacity would be unsafe, and as private and parochial schools had signaled their wishes to open for in-person learning, citing their classes, which are smaller in size than public schools, could make them more flexible to follow social distancing guidelines.

Montgomery County Public Schools, as well as most other public school districts across the state, have announced their decision to offer virtual-only instruction this fall.

“At this point the data does not suggest that in-person instruction is safe for students or teachers,” Gayles said Friday, according to The Baltimore Sun. “We have seen increases in transmission rates for COVID-19 in the State of Maryland, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Virginia, particularly in younger age groups, and this step is necessary to protect the health and safety of Montgomery County residents.”

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