Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, on Thursday faced a backlash on Capitol Hill over the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw almost 12,000 US troops from Germany, with some senators framing the drawdown as advantageous to Russia.
Mr Pompeo defended Wednesday’s announcement during testimony before a Senate committee, saying Germany was no longer the front line for the US in Europe. Some troops would be deployed “closer to the Russian border” than before, he said, describing Moscow as a “destabilising authoritarian force”.
But Mitt Romney, a Republican senator from Utah who frequently breaks with Donald Trump, said he had “heard from highest levels of the German government that this is seen by them as an insult to Germany”.
The US instead should be “drawing in our friends and allies so that we can collectively confront Russia”, he added.
Jeanne Shaheen, a Democratic senator from New Hampshire, said the only country that “has publicly supported the removal of US troops to date has been Russia”.
Moscow has said it supports any reduction in US forces stationed in Europe. “We have never hidden that the fewer American soldiers on the European continent, the calmer Europe will be,” said Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesman.
US troops in a training exercise in southern Germany © Christof Stache/AFP/Getty
However, it has warned that redeploying them further east to Poland or the Baltic states — which Pentagon officials this week floated as a possibility on a rotational basis — would breach promises made under a deal between Nato and Russia.
“If these 12,000 troops are deployed on the territory of one [of the] ‘new’ Nato member states, it would mean a grave violation of Nato-Russia Founding Act,” said Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s permanent representative to international organisations in Vienna.
Mr Ulyanov said those defending the decision by claiming that the troops were not “substantial forces” and would not be permanently deployed were using “common sense mockery”.
Mr Pompeo was harshly criticised in a Democratic report released this week about low morale at the US state department. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, accused Mr Pompeo of presiding over a state department “at risk of catastrophic failure”, citing its policies over Iran, Russia, North Korea, China and Africa, among others.
“Under your watch, the United States has faced setback after setback on the world stage, ceding leverage and influence to our stated adversaries,” Mr Menendez said.
While Mr Pompeo praised the “wonderful work” of US diplomats, he was critical of Steve Linick, the state department’s former inspector-general, whom the secretary of state recommended should be fired in May, saying he “didn’t act with integrity” over a leak investigation.
Mr Linick, the fifth inspector-general replaced since Mr Trump was acquitted of impeachment charges in February, was reportedly looking into whether Mr Pompeo broke rules when fast-tracking arms sales to Saudi Arabia and used his office to promote his own personal domestic political agenda.
Mr Menendez also criticised Mr Pompeo for “continually” sending nominees to the Senate who had “made offensive or racist statements” and whose conduct he said would usually disqualify them for service in any other administration.
The senator’s comments came after a nomination hearing for Anthony Tata, Mr Trump’s pick to serve as the Pentagon’s new policy chief, was abruptly cancelled. Jim Inhofe, the Republican chairman of the Senate armed services committee, said there was bipartisan concern that some senators “didn’t know enough” about Mr Tata.
“It’s fair to say members on both sides of the aisle have raised serious questions about this nominee,” Jack Reed, a Democratic senator from Rhode Island, said on Thursday.
Muslim and other civil rights groups are among had opposed the retired army brigadier general’s nomination, accusing him of a history of “anti-Muslim, anti-black words and acts”.