Andrzej Duda wanted to avoid it. But it did not work. Donald Trump used him to punish Angela Merkel one more time. Now it is not clear what Poland will gain from it.
The American president has long made a specialty out of criticizing the chancellor. However, during Wednesday’s news conference following his meeting with Andrzej Duda, our country’s most important political and economic European partner got quite a lot of it. Trump stated that, depending on how the contribution is calculated, Germany is paying less than 1% of its gross domestic product for defense. Trump said that Germany should settle outstanding payments of up to $1 trillion. He indicated that Germany takes tremendous advantage of America in trade. He stated that it is pointless to defend a country that is importing gas through Nord Stream 2 and providing billions of dollars to Russia. Trump accused Berlin of betting against him in the November election and doing business with ‘Sleepy Joe’ (Biden). And finally, he concluded that the U.S. might send military troops from Germany to Poland.
During the news conference, the Polish president thanked Trump every two minutes, although he later tried to push back, albeit gently. Duda said that although Americans will decide how to employ their troops, it is extremely important for U.S. troops to remain in Europe. However, Duda did not dare suggest Trump leave U.S. troops in Germany. He reassured Trump that Poland would naturally welcome additional U.S. forces to avoid repeating the history of nearly 100 years ago when Russians stood outside the gates of Warsaw.
Unfortunately, this situation with Trump came as no surprise. Trump is known to be unpredictable. He invited Duda to Washington only a few days after announcing that he was withdrawing nearly 10,000 U.S. soldiers from the Rhine. Just before Duda left for Washington, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg cautioned him against interfering in the dispute between the United States and Germany and about the eroding cohesion among NATO countries.
So, the basic question is: was it worth paying such a high price?
If the U.S. would offer a qualitative improvement in its military presence in Poland, the answer might be yes. However, no steps have been taken to confirm that this will happen.
Washington mentioned an additional 1,000 troops, the same number that was discussed by Trump and Duda a year ago. There are currently 4,500 U.S. troops in Poland, ordered there after the Russian occupation of Crimea. They were deployed not by Trump, but by former President Barack Obama. There is also no question that they were to be permanently stationed in Poland. The rotation of American troops indicates that the Russia-NATO Constitutional Act of 1997, which excluded the permanent placement of allied forces on the Vistula, still applies to some extent for the United States.
Duda himself did not talk much about military cooperation. He emphasized the importance of early access to vaccines and a guarantee from Trump for drugs to treat COVID-19. But here, too, the situation is awkward. In the end, we are talking about a president who, according to American health officials, allowed the pandemic to bring the most powerful country in the world to its knees. The White House response caused the infection of 2.5 million people and 125,000 deaths. Moreover, according to scientists, the situation may be twice as serious by the November election. So, Trump is not the best partner for fighting the plague.
But the most important aspect of the visit that we are left with is this: the hope that a photo with the American leader would save Duda’s campaign and increase his chance of reelection.
Duda tried to paint this simple goal in patriotic colors. He indicated that the visit was planned two months ago and the pandemic forced him to postpone it. But here again, Trump was much less subtle. He openly sang Duda’s praises to Polish voters and said he would gladly help Duda in his election campaign. Trump made it clear that the Polish people need his endorsement in order to make the right choice.
But Trump also pulled the Polish president into his own reelection campaign. Trump said that he would not allow the defunding of police forces, as the Democrats seem to be asking for, so that American cities could become as dangerous as Afghanistan or Honduras. He announced that the U.S. would secure its borders just as Poland has. Further, Trump said he would not allow the destruction of monuments of Washington or Lincoln, which in America means that Trump will not let white voters lose their dominant place in the United States. The Polish president helped him out here, thanking Trump (once again) for the restoration of the Kosciuszko monument destroyed by demonstrators, a thinly veiled message about whom Polonia should vote for this coming fall.
Other Western leaders have avoided Washington. They believe that showing solidarity with this sinking American president is not a good strategy for them. Can they all be wrong and Duda be the one who has bet on a black horse? We will find out soon enough.