Is there hope amid the growing political rift between Germany and the US?

Trump's abrupt announcement that he will reduce US troops in Germany by half to 25,000 - a decision that has brought concern across NATO - is the culmination of mounting tensions between the leaders of the Western alliance's two most populous nations. What does the future hold?

Is there hope amid the growing political rift between Germany and the US?
Trump and Merkel speaking at a "Launch Event Women's Entrepreneur Finance Initiative" at the G20 Summit in Hamburg in 2017. Photo: DPA

President Donald Trump has clashed with plenty of US allies. But toward German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he appears to hold special enmity.

Trump called Germany a “delinquent” to NATO — a reference to its failure to meet a target of spending two percent of GDP on defense — and said, “they treat us very badly on trade.”

The latest episode came after Merkel, a scientist before entering politics who acted early on the coronavirus pandemic, snubbed Trump's plan to convene the Group of Seven leaders in Washington this month.

READ ALSO: German role in NATO now more important 'than during Cold War', says Merkel

Trump postponed the summit — and said he would expand it to other leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was kicked out over the takeover of Crimea.

While Merkel's spokesperson cited public health concerns, Trump had been hoping to show a return to normal in the United States as he seeks a second term in November 3rd elections.

Merkel and Trump at a NATO meeting in Watford in the UK in December. Photo: DPA

No patience for Trump

Trump's 2016 election shocked US allies but most tried to deal with him. Japanese, British and French leaders all flattered Trump with invitations, even if French President Emmanuel Macron was also vocal on disagreements over issues from climate change to Iran.

Merkel from the start did little to hide her disdain for Trump, who ran on a platform of closing US borders and had explicitly criticized Germany's welcome to millions of migrants.

Several months after Trump took office, Merkel made waves when she said that the United States under Trump and Britain, which voted to leave the EU, were no longer reliable partners and that Europe should “take its fate into its own hands.”

Trump in turn shattered norms of polite behavior between allies. In 2018, he wrote on Twitter that Germans were “turning against their leadership” over the “big mistake” on immigration and incorrectly said that crime was “way up” in Germany.

Trump — himself of German ancestry — has frequently clashed with powerful women, taking sharply personal tones with domestic rivals including Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi.

Sudha David-Wilp, a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said that while gender could be a factor, Merkel had also been “joined at the hip” with Trump's predecessor Barack Obama toward the end of his presidency.

For Obama, “Germany was seen as the indispensable partner, especially in light of Brexit,” David-Wilp said.

“So I also think President Trump of course was probably wary of Angela Merkel and the other way around,” she added.

And in personality, “President Trump and Chancellor Merkel are diametrically opposite,” she said, with Trump likely realizing immediately that she had no patience for attempts to charm her.

David-Wilp noted that Trump's talk of Germany “free-riding” on US security is not new, with the real estate mogul criticizing the major auto exporter as far back as the 1980s.

Trump and Merkel at a meeting in Portsmouth in June 2019. Photo: DPA

Better under Biden?

David-Wilp said that US-German relations may improve if Trump loses to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who was vice president under Obama.

But she noted that US-German differences, if expressed more subtly, were not absent under Obama, who had faulted Germany for not doing more for the whole of the European Union.

Germany, which took a harsh stance during Greece's economic crisis, has recently shown a softer side in supporting a post-pandemic relief package for the continent.

“The issues are longstanding and they are not going to go away. But under a Biden administration, there will certainly be an effort to repair the damage that's been done,” David-Wilp said.

Ivan Krastev, chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, a research group based in Bulgaria, told a conference at the Brookings Institution that the mood had appeared to shift in Germany, “once the most pro-Atlantic country.”

He believed that opinions could change. But he said that Europeans, even if they liked Obama, did not entirely approve of his policies.

“I do believe people are going to make a mistake if they believe that simply because Biden is back, Europe is back in its relations with the United States.”

By Shaun Tandon

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Deutsche Bank set ‘to cut ties with Trump’

Deutsche Bank will cease its longstanding relationship with outgoing US president Donald Trump, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

Deutsche Bank set 'to cut ties with Trump'
Deutsche Bank's headquarters in Frankfurt. Photo: DPA

Deutsche Bank was Trump's primary lender for two decades, and he owes the institution more than $300 million, according to the newspaper, which cited an unnamed source as saying the German lender “has decided not to do business with Mr. Trump or his company in the future.”

Deutsche Bank declined to comment to AFP.

The move comes on the heels of last week's violent attack on the US Capitol by Trump supporters at the president's incitement, and follows steps taken by other companies to cut ties with Trump and his businesses.

READ ALSO: Trump under investigation for Deutsche Bank ties

Christiana Riley, head of Deutsche Bank's US division, called the violent
siege on the Capital “a dark day for America and our democracy” in a post on LinkedIn last week.

“We are proud of our Constitution and stand by those who seek to uphold it to ensure that the will of the people is upheld and a peaceful transition of power takes place,” Riley said.

“It is my hope that these shocking events will result in a reinvigoration
of the principles our nation was built upon.”

Trump's relationship with Deutsche Bank has sparked numerous probes in the United States, including in New York, where the Manhattan District Attorney is investigating whether Trump committed financial crimes as he sought loans.

READ ALSO: 'Worlds between us': What Trump's German family's town thinks of him today