WEST POINT, New York (Reuters) – President Donald Trump, facing criticism in recent days for plans to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from Germany, told West Point’s graduating class on Saturday that their job will be to defend “America’s vital interests” and not fight “endless wars” in faraway lands.
Trump’s reported plans to withdraw 9,500 troops from Germany, one of America’s strongest allies, and relocate them to Poland and elsewhere has drawn the ire of German officials and raised concerns in the U.S. Congress about a retreat from the world stage.
In his commencement address to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Trump told more than 1,000 graduating cadets, arrayed in a social-distancing pattern, that the job of the American soldier is not to rebuild foreign nations but “defend, and defend strongly, our nation from foreign enemies.”
“We are ending the era of endless wars,” Trump said. It is not the job of American forces “to solve ancient conflicts in faraway lands that many people have not even heard of,” he said.
As president, Trump has pulled troops from Syria and pushed U.S. allies worldwide to pay more for the commitment of American forces to defend them.
In relatively rare criticism from his own party, 22 Republicans on the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee wrote to Trump saying a troop cut in Germany would hurt national security and could encourage Russian aggression.
Trump came to West Point at a time of tension with U.S. military leaders over whether the military should be used to quell nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd, a black man, by police on May 25.
U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley said on Thursday he should not have joined Trump as he walked from the White House to a nearby church for a photo opportunity after authorities cleared the way of protesters using tear gas and rubber bullets.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper also split with Trump over whether active duty troops should be deployed to gain control of cities convulsed by protests.
Trump has since expressed confidence in Esper and brushed off Milley’s comments.
In his remarks on Saturday, Trump only touched obliquely on the debate over racial injustice in the United States, saying the cadets were examples of America’s diversity.
“You have come from the farms and the cities, from states big and small, and from every race, religion, color, and creed. But when you entered these grounds, you became part of one team and one family, proudly serving one American nation,” he said.
Reporting by Steve Holland, Editing by Soyoung Kim and Sonya Hepinstall