Foreign Policy

Trump Shores Up Relationships With Forgotten Friends in Poland

He headed to Warsaw, where he gave a very important speech Thursday that may come to define his foreign policy.

Michael Swartz · Jul. 7, 2017

President Donald Trump headed to Poland this week, where he gave a very important speech Thursday that may come to define his foreign policy. In what was in some sense a broad apologia for the West, Trump intoned, “Americans, Poles and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty.” He spoke of the ideals that separate the West from other parts of the world and much of human history. It was a very appealing and thoughtful representation of American nationalism.

Poland is a place of some significance. In 2008, just before leaving office, former president George W. Bush recognized Poland’s strategic importance as a central European ally and fellow NATO member by working with it to bolster the West’s ballistic missile defense system. That program was quickly canceled by Barack Obama, however, in a move seen at the time as a victory for Russia. Obama chose, after all, the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland. That snub by Obama was perhaps the biggest sign of neglect in a relationship between the Polish people and the Americans that has lasted since our earliest days, even before Polish nationhood.

While Obama was well-known for mistreating friends and embracing enemies, so far Trump has restored at least the idea of supporting our oldest, dearest friends. Indeed, Trump explicitly affirmed the U.S. commitment to NATO’s Article 5 provision for mutual defense. His efforts may not necessarily be in the most diplomatic tone — witness Trump’s blunt insistence on NATO allies sharing more of the burden for defending themselves, or the outrage some in the world community have exhibited over his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement — but The Donald is sending a clear message that America is returning to leadership once again.

It was a message received with approval in Warsaw, as President Trump revealed that Poland will be acquiring the Patriot missile defense system from the United States and also would be working with other European nations on importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments from American sources. Both are important policy points.

For defense purposes, Poland isn’t necessarily going to be threatened by most of its neighbors. Anyone with rudimentary knowledge of European geopolitics knows that missile defense is essentially protection for the NATO allies against Russia, although the proximity of the Middle East does leave open the possibility of a rogue Iranian strike at Europe. But, alongside the U.S., Poland is one of just a few NATO members that takes both its financial and military commitments seriously. Not only do the Poles pay their fair share, but their troops fight alongside ours in both Iraq and Afghanistan with distinction. It’s even been suggested that the U.S. relocate its European bases from Germany to Poland as both a cost-saving operation and because Poland is a better strategic location.

On the economic side, LNG exports to Poland can achieve two complementary goals: providing a market for American natural gas exports while giving Europeans an alternative to its current primary supplier, Russia — a nation that has a history of cutting off supplies for political reasons. Polish ambassador to the U.S. Piotr Wilczek wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “America’s renewed interest in our region is also visible in last month’s delivery of American liquefied natural gas to Poland. Central and Eastern Europe have long been dominated by an energy monopoly left over from the Cold War era. We no longer have to be victims of geopolitics. Thanks to the newly constructed LNG import terminals on the Baltic coast and a system of interconnected pipelines, LNG delivered by ship to (ports in) Poland can be transported throughout our region and beyond. These terminals allow us to exert greater energy independence, and we look toward our American partners for continued LNG gas exports.”

Poland has opposed the construction of a pipeline from Russia to Europe, fearing that Moscow could corner too much of the energy market — so Warsaw is a very willing partner for American energy exploration. Our resources may not be the cure-all for Poland’s situation due to the price difference of shipping the natural gas via tanker, but it would keep the other players in the game honest.

Trump’s choice of Poland as his initial European stop is also intriguing for another reason: It’s one of a select few EU nations that doesn’t admit Middle Eastern refugees — a stance that has gotten Poland in hot water with the EU but finds favor with a majority of its people. Naturally, the other side of the political aisle is panicking over the “alt-right manifesto” tone of Trump’s Warsaw speech, but note carefully that these were the same people who’ve been playing up the Russian collusion angle since the 2016 election. They can’t look beyond Trump’s strong rhetoric because to do so would dismantle their carefully scripted Russia narrative.

Yet as we’ve seen so far in his presidency, Trump has a curious way of winning when people think he’s completely lost everything. Thus, this chess game of many dimensions may challenge those with short attention spans. As Trump said about Poland, “This is a nation more than one thousand years old. Your borders were erased for more than a century and only restored just one century ago.” We can learn a little bit about patience from the Poles and see how this situation plays out.

Trump closed with these worthy lines: “I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph. So, together, let us all fight like the Poles — for family, for freedom, for country, and for God.” All in all, Trump’s remarks were welcome and important, and we hope it’s a defining moment.

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