The G-7 Follies

Originally posted on June 9, 2020

On Friday (hoping that it be old news after the weekend) Trump announced that the U.S. would be pulling 9,500 troops out of Germany. The U.S. has had troops in Germany since WWII, mostly to dissuade the Russians from flexing their military muscles in the region. But those troops and especially Ramstein AFB are important forward bases for our military activities in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

One could argue about having troops there, and how many there should be. Or whether we should have troops there at all. Presumably there are people both here and in Europe, both civilian and military, that have the knowledge and judgement to make those decisions. You would think, wouldn’t you, that any President making a decision to pull troops out of anywhere would have serious discussions beforehand. Almost needless to say, Trump didn’t consult with any Europeans, Congress, the Pentagon. He apparently did discuss this with his political appointees, who are deft at knowing what to say (and not to say) to him.

His rationale, apparently, was simply a personal grudge he held against Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel. But as I looked at the history of this impulsive and destructive “decision” it brought back memories of earlier Trump-induced controversies and I decided to combine everything in one fairly long posting.

The G-7 “Group of Seven” includes the 7 most advanced economies per the IMF: The U.S., U.K., Japan, Italy, Canada, France and Germany. The E.U. isn’t part of the group but is an invited guest. There’s a summit meeting every year, rotating among the group’s members, and 2020 was the U.S.’s turn. Trump isn’t much for international cooperation (America First”, recall?). Still, Trump saw having those world leaders come to his country and being hosted by him would make for wonderful photo ops.

Originally the Secret Service vetted a number of potential sites, reducing the options to Utah and Hawaii. At Trump’s direction, Trump’s very own National Doral in Miami (Miami, in June?) was added to the list, and was even announced as the location. But after lots of pushback from both parties he decided to remove his property, but not without a nasty tweet or two about crazy Democrats.

December 3, 2019. Trump proposes Camp David as the site for the summit. Earlier he had panned it as too remote and too small. This almost sounds like since he didn’t get his way at Doral he wants to make everyone suffer.

March 19, 2020. As the coronavirus pandemic spreads there are questions about the timing and location (or a virtual meeting) of the summit.

Thursday, May 21. Trump says the summit could still be held in person at Camp David in June. He touted it as a “show of force” against the virus.

Friday, May 29. Angela Merkel announces that she will not attend the G-7 meeting scheduled in June at Camp David due to the coronavirus. She tells Trump this in a 20-minute phone call that was termed “not a nice call”.

Saturday, May 30. Trump says he will postpone the G-7 meeting from June to September or later, due to the coronavirus. He also would invite 4 additional countries: Australia, Russia, South Korea and India.

Monday, June 1. Trump and Putin have a 55-minute phone call. Substantive topics reportedly included the G-7 meeting, the OPEC+ deal on oil output cuts and the need for effective arms control. But no transcript has been released, and it is very unlikely that we will ever really know all of what was discussed.

Friday, June 5. The White House announces its plans to cut the 9,500 troops from Germany. The decision is widely panned both here and in Europe. There is widespread speculation that (a) this was done at the request of Putin in the June 1 phone call, and/or (b) it was done to spite Angela Merkel after her May 29 refusal to come to Camp David.

Either way, it was badly handled, which seems typical for this administration.

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