- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
U.S. President Donald Trump brought a handful of important messages for his bused-in Polish audience in Warsaw on Thursday. He assured Poles that “America loves Poland, and America loves the Polish people.” He finally reaffirmed U.S. commitment to NATO after deliberately failing to do so in Brussels.
And he argued that the United States, and the West in general, is locked in a civilizational struggle.
“While we will always welcome new citizens who share our values and love our people, our borders will always be closed to terrorism and extremism of any kind,” Trump said, singing harmony to his ideological fellow traveller, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, which has been criticized by other European leaders for refusing to take in refugees and immigrants. Trump has sought to ban travelers from a random assortment of Muslim-majority countries, but those efforts have been stymied so far by federal courts.
“Our citizens did not win freedom together, did not survive horrors together, did not face down evil together, only to lose our freedom to a lack of pride and confidence in our values. We did not and we will not. We will never back down,” Trump said.
And for Trump, the threats to his view of civilization aren’t just extremists. He took aim at government bureaucracy, “propaganda,” — left undefined, but he railed against U.S. media outlets at his press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda — and cyberwarfare.
“We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.”
It was not dissimilar to Trump’s inauguration speech, during which he said we would “protect our borders from the ravages of other countries.”
And it had plenty of echoes of Poland’s own foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, who told German outlet Bild that Law and Justice “only wants to cure our country of a few illnesses,” which he defined as “a new mixture of cultures and races, a world made up of cyclists and vegetarians, who only use renewable energy and who battle all signs of religion … What moves most Poles [is] tradition, historical awareness, love of country, faith in God and normal family life between a woman and a man.”
In his speech, Trump called on Russia to stop making mischief and join his civilizational struggle, urging Moscow “to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes — including Syria and Iran — and to instead join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defense of civilization itself.”
Even though U.S. intelligence officials concluded that Russia interfered in the U.S. election last year, Trump still cast doubts on those conclusions. At a press conference before the speech with Polish President Andrzej Duda, Trump confusingly said, “I think it was Russia, and I think it could’ve been other people and other countries,” before blaming President Barack Obama who “did nothing about it.”
In his speech, he did deliver one big thing that trans-Atlantic watchers were waiting for: An explicit commitment by Washington to come to the defense of fellow NATO allies if they are attacked. He pointedly did not offer that guarantee at a NATO summit in May.
“Just as Poland could not be broken, 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.”
Photo credit: WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty Images