TCS Daily

'Ami Go Home'

By Joseph Tom Goeller - August 20, 2004 12:00 AM

On August 16, President George W. Bush announced a plan to restructure US military forces abroad significantly. Bush said the realignment would bring up to 70,000 troops and about 100,000 family members and civilian workers back to the United States within a decade.

The decision will have a profound effect on the reluctant NATO ally Germany - which is host to the biggest American overseas contingent outside Iraq. But Germany, which maintains with 250,000 of its own troops by far the biggest army in Europe, does not need another 70,000 American troops to secure its borders. Germany is not at war. And the Cold War has been over for 14 years. There is no threat anymore of a land invasion from the Soviet Union. So, the intention of reducing the number of US troops in Germany makes sense in many respects and would represent an overdue adaptation to reality.

However, the consequences of such a significant troop withdrawal have a couple of downsides, too, most of all for the Germans. One mostly overlooked but important side effect is the departure of the US troops themselves. With their visible presence of African-Americans and immigrants from Asia and Latin America, they enriched the German shopping malls and restaurants, representing a multi-ethnic society. If they are gone, German society will lose a bit of color, so to speak. This step will play into the hands of right wing xenophobes whose aim is to purify the German nation. Here, by accident, the goal of the Neo-Nazis and the one of the German socialists coincides.

Certainly for the current German government, a coalition of Greens and Social-Democrats, a big step towards a dream comes true. "Ami go home!" was the cry of Gerhard Schröder and Joschka Fischer in the 1960s and 1970s, when both were active protesters against the US involvement in the Vietnam War. Both acknowledge that their political thinking was shaped at that time. The same is true for the vast majority of members of both their parties. Now running Germany, both parties and their leaders rebel against the former protecting power and oppose at every possible occasion US foreign policy, claiming for themselves that "German policy is shaped in Berlin, not in Washington."

The Bush administration understood this message early on in the game, and now is going to respond in kind. It will withdraw two divisions, the 1st Armored and the 1st Infantry, within the next ten years. Both are right now deployed to Iraq. This does not come as a surprise to the Germans, who all know about the strains between Berlin and Washington and if German Defense Secretary Peter Struck, a Socialist, expresses "regret about this hasty step" of the American president one should put his words into the right context: they are nothing but crocodile tears. The Germans easily have enough troops to compensate for the two departing American divisions.

Still, Germany will benefit significantly from the American air bases that provide aerial photographic reconnaissance and air defense for Europe for free. Not before the US decides to withdraw these air squadrons would the Germans have to realize how cozily they live under the military umbrella of America. In the meantime, Germany as a nation and the government in particular are behaving like a spoiled teenager who rebels against his parents but takes all the care they provide for granted.

One can be sure, Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld know this. It is still also in the interest of the US to keep air bases in Central Europe, from where one can fly sorties to the Middle East. This is the real reason why both sides still agree on a reduced but "certain" military presence of the US in Germany.

However, one can see the dawn of an end to the US bases in Germany. Since Germany's outspoken opposition to the American invasion of the Iraq, Rumsfeld is thinking about new allies in "New Europe": Eastern European countries like Poland, Hungary, Romania and Uzbekistan, where US troops established bases that can easily be increased in times of crisis. There, not only the governments but also the people welcome the US military presence. This is doubtless the right thing to do, sooner rather than later.


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