Some observations on what Matthew Continetti rightly calls Donald Trump's "remarkable" speech in Warsaw, Poland.
(1) This was a speech filled with remarkably apt references to Polish history, a subject surely few people suspected the president came to office familiar with. There were multiple references to Pulaski and Kosciusko, the Poles who crossed the Atlantic to fight for American independence, and to the Miracle of Vistula in 1920, when the Polish army under General Pilsudski repelled a Soviet invasion.
Trump recounted Pope John Paul II's 1979 sermon before 1 million of his fellow Poles and how they responded by chanting, "We want God." "Poland is the story of a people who have never lost hope, who have never been broken, and who have never, ever forgotten who they are."
It's interesting that a president who proclaims he serves "America first" should make a point of hailing Polish nationalism. It provides credibility to Trump appointees who say that "America first" does not mean "America alone." It shows that an American nationalist can appreciate and admire another nation's nationalism.
(2) There were plenty of barbs directed at the former Soviet Union, whose downfall Vladimir Putin once called the great tragedy of the 20th century. Trump noted that in 1939 Poland was invaded "by Nazi Germany from the west and the Soviet Union from the east"; he made reference to the Katyn forest massacre of Polish leaders by the Soviets, the responsibility for which was denied for decades by Russians; he vividly and at considerable length described how the Red Army paused before Warsaw and let the Wehrmacht perpetrate a "hell on earth" massacre of Poles. During the Cold War, he said, "You stood in solidarity against oppression, against a lawless secret police, against a cruel and wicked system that impoverished your cities and your souls. And you won. Poland prevailed. Poland will always prevail."
These are not words that former KGB agent Vladimir Putin — whom some liberals still seem to regard as Trump's puppeteer — likes to hear, or memories he likes to hear evoked.
(3) More than these historic references, Putin must dislike Trump's call for Russia to "cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere and its support for hostile regimes —including Syria and Iran."
And Putin must dislike also Trump's promise to secure "your access to alternative sources of energy, so Poland and its neighbors are never again held hostage to a single supplier of energy." The alternative source, of course, is liquefied natural gas plentifully provided by America's fracking revolution and being offloaded from ships in Poland's port on the Baltic Sea. The "single supplier" is Putin's Russia, which has exerted pressure on European countries by threatening to shut off (and in at least one case actually shutting off) the flow of gas in pipelines from Russia.
(4) Trump has been rightly criticized for not affirming, during his previous European trip, American support for NATO's Article V requiring members to come to the defense of other members in the event of attack. In Warsaw he stated forthrightly and ungrudgingly, "We stand firmly behind Article V, the mutual defense commitment." He hailed Poland for sending its highly competent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, for spending the required 2 percent of GDP on defense and for its plans to increase that commitment, he patted himself on the back for successfully pressing other NATO members to meet that goal.
(5) "Our defense is not just a commitment of money; it is a commitment of will," he said. "The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive." That most of Europe does not is the thesis of British author Douglas Murray's excellent and disturbing new book, The Strange Death of Europe: Islam, Identity, Immigration; Trump argues (and I think Murray would agree) that Poland has been an exception to this dangerous trend. It has barred Muslim immigration and refugee influxes (and, not coincidentally, has not suffered the attacks of Islamic terrorists so common in Britain, France, Belgium and Germany). Trump implicitly endorsed this policy, saying that America "will always welcome new citizens who share our values and love our people, [but] our borders will always to closed to terrorism and extremism of any kind."
This is a rebuke, without mentioning any names, of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's unilateral decision to welcome 1 million unvetted "refugees" to her country and to other European Union members who have accepted the Schengen Treaty, ending border controls. Trump's praise of Poland for its long-standing "commitment of will" is an implicit rebuke of those European countries, which arguably lack such commitment, a rebuke that brings to mind Donald Rumsfeld's 2003 contrast of "Old Europe" and "New Europe," when France and Germany refused to support American efforts in Iraq and nations like Poland and the Baltic states did. "Our citizens did not win freedom together, did not survive horrors together, did not face evil together, only to lose our freedom to a lack of pride and confidence in our values." And unlike his two predecessors, he said out loud that "We are fighting hard against radical Islamic terrorism, and we will prevail."
(6) Trump announced that the United States will sell the most advanced Patriot missile defense systems to Poland. This is a reversal of the policy of the Obama administration, which in 2009 abruptly abandoned the American commitment to station missile defense batteries in Poland and the Czech Republic — a decision that so irritated the Polish government of the time that its president reportedly refused to accept a midnight telephone call from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announcing the decision.
(7) There were echoes of two historic presidential speeches delivered in Berlin: Ronald Reagan's call in 1987 for Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin wall and John F. Kennedy's challenge in 1962 to those who saw no moral difference between the West and the Soviet Union. "If we do not have strong families and strong values, then we will be weak and we will not survive. If anyone forgets the critical importance of these things, let them come to a country that never has. Let them come to Poland. And let them come here, to Warsaw, and learn the story of the Warsaw Uprising."