President Trump, in the first stop of his trip to Europe, will meet Thursday with Polish leaders and deliver a speech from Warsaw's famous Krasinski Square.
His visit is important for a substantive reason. For the past 15 years, far more than many other European allies, Poland has been a reliable American partner, and the U.S. can benefit from Poland on many fronts in the future, too.
Against visceral Russian threats, in 2008, Poland accepted a Bush administration request to host an American missile defense system on its soil. President Barack Obama then unceremoniously canceled that program the next year.
On the economic front, Polish imports of U.S. goods have increased fivefold since 2002.
At the United Nations, Poland has strongly supported American diplomats on controversial votes. And while other European Union nations have done the opposite, Poland has fostered a close relationship with Israel.
Supporting American efforts to reduce Russia's energy stranglehold on the European continent, Poland has opposed the Russia-Germany Nord Stream pipeline project. The pipeline would consolidate Russia's supply of natural gas to Germany (and thus Western Europe), and advance President Putin's continental influence. (Putin threatens energy supplies to Europe whenever he feels European pressure.) And in another boost to the American economy, Poland is now importing U.S. liquefied natural gas.
Poland has also stood shoulder to shoulder with America on security issues.
Aware that the EU would react furiously if it ever became public, Poland hosted a CIA black site from which crucial intelligence was collected from al-Qaeda terrorists. And since Poland's involvement became public, it has continued to protect American interests against EU pressure.
Poland has also showed true American friendship in its military posture. Poland's armed forces have fought skillfully alongside American forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. Indeed, U.S. military officials now regard Poland's GROM special forces unit as nearly the best in Europe, second only to its British equivalent. (In late May, GROM successfully rescued 12 hostages from the Taliban).
Poland is equally serious about supporting NATO. Although its economy is less than a seventh the size of Germany's, Poland spends 2 percent of GDP on defense and aims to spend 2.5 percent by 2030. Where Poland's defense budget invests in new equipment, many wealthier European nations, including Germany, which allocates just 1.2 percent of GDP to defense, spend outsize sums on personnel.
Where Poland's defense posture is predicated on helping U.S. forces to fight and win conflicts, many European nations use their defense budgets as glorified welfare programs.
Nevertheless, more can be done to bolster this 21st-century partnership.
The Senate recently passed legislation that would give Trump the ability to impair Russian energy blackmail significantly in Europe. It would give the president authority to sanction companies involved in the pipeline project. Unfortunately, Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, is holding up the legislation in subservience to Russia-dependent American energy suppliers in his state. Ending its ambivalence, the White House should strongly endorse this bill.
The U.S. should also begin redeploying its standing military forces from Germany to Poland. Put simply, Poland's commitment to NATO burden sharing, its lower living costs, and its greater proximity to Russia make it better suited to host American bases.
This is not to say that the relationship with Poland is perfect. The authoritarian ruling Law and Justice party in Warsaw has recently weakened Poland's independent judiciary. Trump has an opportunity here. President Barack Obama lectured Polish leaders but failed to address their security concerns on Russia. That denied him influence to apply positive pressure in other areas. If Trump strikes the right tone in Warsaw, he can give Polish leaders new reason to listen.
Ultimately, however, the importance of Trump's Poland visit is simple. It represents strategic realism in action. Our two nations share deep interests in Europe and around the world. But unlike so many other American allies, Poland has shown enduring commitment towards advancing those interests. To strengthen this relationship further, we must first recognize what it has already accomplished.