A senior member of the National Security Council once advised President Donald Trump to withdraw U.S. armed forces from Eastern Europe as a gesture of goodwill towards Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Daily Beast reports.
Although the proposal was never enacted, it is the first known cases of Trump’s senior aides seeking to relocate the U.S. military to appease the Kremlin.
Kevin Harrington, the NSC’s senior strategic planning official, argued in February 2017 that U.S. troops in close proximity to Russian borders should be removed in an attempt to start a new, friendlier relationship with Russia.
Harrington has neither military nor government experience but he does have a lot of influence. He was the managing director of Thiel Macro hedge fund and was friends with Peter Thiel, who is close to Trump.
The strategic planner was of the opinion that economic sanctions on Russia were counterproductive to the United States. He also openly wondered whether the Baltics — the nations once under the dominion of the Soviet Union — provided any real strategic importance to the U.S.-Russia relation.
American forces have remained in the region for 70 years to daunt the Soviet Union forces and later to support allies close to the Russian borders. According to one former Trump official, Harrington considered it a friendly overture to Putin that would enable the Trump administration to see if its desire for amicable relations was returned by Russia.
However, an anonymous former official said Harrington’s ideas were dangerously naïve and ill-advised. Such a move would have been perceived by the Kremlin as a go-ahead from the U.S. for further aggravation in Syria, Ukraine and other places.
European allies, who were already concerned about Trump’s tendencies to dismiss the defense of Europe, would have been further alarmed if U.S. forces had decided to abandon the Baltics.
“I sensed we were giving something and it wasn’t clear what we were gaining in return,” said the former official.
Harrington’s primary listeners were reportedly ex-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and other senior White House aides, including the then-chief strategist, Steve Bannon. He said Harrington did not push for the proposal later, since current National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster would have objected to it.
Although the United States does not have a permanent base in the Baltics for a large number of troops, it reportedly deployed 150 soldiers to the region after Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea. It has consistently rotated the military’s presence since then.
The U.S. has also sent Abrams Tanks to drills just a few days before Harrington came up with this proposal, as a sign that Washington remained committed to the defense of the region.
Banner/Thumbnail credit: Reuters, Carlos Barria