German Nationalist Party Praises Trump Withdrawal of U.S. Troops, Says it Aligns With Their Program

The far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party celebrated President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw some 12,000 U.S. troops from Germany Thursday, saying it welcomed the move but adding that frosty relations with Washington D.C. is cause for concern.

The Pentagon and Defense Secretary Mark Esper have claimed the drawdown is being conducted for strategic reasons, but Trump has been clear that the move is to punish Germany for failing to meet its NATO commitment to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense—an issue that has colored Trump's relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel throughout his time in office.

AfD told Newsweek Thursday that its co-party leader Tino Chrupalla has welcomed the troop withdrawal as "the implementation of our election program, our party program."

The far right party has called for American troops to leave the country, along with U.S. nuclear weapons deployed to bases in Germany. Such a move, Chrupalla said, "even makes Europe a bit more peaceful."

Armin-Paulus Hampel, the foreign policy spokesperson for the AfD parliamentary group in the German parliament, nonetheless attacked Merkel's government for its "apparent indifference" to deteriorating relations with the U.S.

"The federal government is pretending that the American pressure comes only from President Donald Trump," Hampel told Newsweek. "This should be taken all the less seriously because he is in the election campaign and may no longer be president in the autumn."

"Berlin completely overlooks the fact that there is consensus in all political camps in the USA to urge Germany to fulfil its alliance obligations and that the country is now generally seen as an unreliable cantonist from the U.S. perspective," Hampel added, referring to German defense spending.

Trump has branded Germany "delinquent" for failing to meet the sending threshold, agreed by NATO members at a 2014 summit in the U.K. Members have until 2024 to hit the target, and so far only nine of NATO's 30 nations are meeting the threshold. Germany spends around 1.4 percent of its GDP on defense.

Trump has been vocal in his criticism, but frustration at Germany's low defense spending has been a theme of successive U.S. administrations. "Under Obama, too, German deficits in defense spending were criticized and the chancellor was bugged by the NSA," Hampel said.

Combined with tensions over the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project with Russia, Hampel warned that the American troop departure and dispute over defense spending threaten to sink Washington-Berlin relations.

"There is no trace of any political will to approach the Americans," he said. "A German realpolitik in the German interest must firstly fulfil the contractual obligations entered into, secondly, it must overcome petty personal animosities, thirdly it must restore trust and fourthly it must awaken understanding for legitimate German interests."

"None of this is currently happening. The price we have to pay for this policy denial will continue to rise."

The AfD is currently the third largest party in the German parliament, and the official opposition given that the two largest are in a governing coalition. The AfD has been criticized for its nationalist, anti-immigration platform, with some opponents comparing the party with Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime.

AfD officials welcomed Trump's election in 2016, with then-leader Frauke Petry suggesting the new president could help ease tensions with Russia and provide a new approach to transatlantic relations.

The party has consistently urged Germany to strengthen its military capabilities. Hampel told Newsweek that NATO "can no longer fulfil the very purpose for which it was founded due to the weakness of Europeans, especially Germany."

"Europeans must be able to protect themselves from threats from conventional weapons from the east, south-east and south on their own," he added. "In addition, they have to build up the IT infrastructure with their own industrial companies and make it future-proof in such a way that strategic dependencies on other powers—especially on China—are avoided or reduced."

Merkel's government has criticized Trump's troop withdrawal plan. Deputy government spokesperson Ulrike Demmer said in August that Merkel believed it to be "important and good" to have U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany, and that bilateral ties remain "extremely important" despite the plan.

Republican and Democratic representatives, meanwhile, united in criticism of President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw thousands of American troops from Germany during a House Armed Services Committee hearing Wednesday, blaming White House staffers for what they said was an ill-thought out and strategically damaging move.

Acting Defense Undersecretary for Policy James Anderson appeared in front of representatives Wednesday to explain the decision, but faced frustrated lawmakers from both parties who were skeptical of the Pentagon's argument that the redeployment of troops would give U.S. forces more flexibility in Europe.

Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, for example, suggested the decision came from "a couple of staffers in the White House" who "decided that they wanted to try to sell the president on an absolute troop cap for Germany," according to Defense One.

"They clearly hadn't thought through the consequences, they didn't know how it would be implemented and so what's happened is Secretary Esper and the folks at the Pentagon are trying to put lipstick on the pig or make lemons out of lemonade," Thornberry said.

Alabama GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne said: "From a lay person's point of view, it looks like we've reduced our troop presence in Europe at a time that Russia is actually becoming more of a threat...It looks like we're pulling back and I think that bothers a lot of us."

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This file photo shows an American soldier during the Allied Spirit X international military exercises at the U.S. 7th Army training center on April 9, 2019 near Hohenfels, Germany. Lennart Preiss/Getty Images/Getty