Decoding Trump's Warsaw Speech
9 July, 2017

Experts agree that U.S. President Donald Trump’s speech in Warsaw on July 7, 2017 was “odd” and “eclectic." Hromadske talks to Anne Applebaum, columnist at The Washington Post, and Katarzyna Pisarska, Founder and Director of the Polish Academy of Democracy in Warsaw, to analyze the significance of President Trump’s speech.

According to Pisarska, President Trump’s speech should be reassuring to Poland and Europe as it places him in line with mainstream American foreign policy. President Trump affirmed his commitment of the transatlantic alliance and the West. The speech’s call for increased European spending in NATO is in line with the goals of the Obama administration. Furthermore, President Trump took a strong position on Russia for the first time.

In Poland, Trump’s speech was well-received. He defined western values as aligning with Christianity. Both Applebaum and Pisarska find this problematic and are weary of this positioning of Western values as Christian values rather than democracy, rule of law, or freedom of speech. Furthermore, according to Applebaum, the speech “was heard in Poland as a kind of don't worry about democracy, we in the West are linked by Christianity."

Hromadske examines Trump’s Warsaw speech with Katarzyna Pisarska, Founder and Director of the Polish Academy of Democracy in Warsaw, and Anne Applebaum, columnist at The Washington Post.

Anne Applebaum: It was an odd speech. What it essentially did was it called on Poles to join, what sounded like, although it was very carefully couched, a kind of war of civilizations against Islam. You know, that we need to unite together as the West to defeat our enemies, the enemies were left a little bit vague. It sounded a little bit like he meant Islamic terrorism, maybe he meant something broader, it wasn't really clear. It's a strange message for Poland because Poland is not at war with Islam or Islamic terrorism. There's no, there's a tiny, completely inconsequential, maybe in the few hundreds, Muslim population here. And Poland doesn't have many refugees and nor do many want to come. Although interestingly, the one group of refugees who have come here in recent years and were pretty successfully integrated were Chechens, so there are a few Chechens and other than that nobody else. So, he seemed to be wanting to include Poland in this great struggle, but it wasn't clear that it was something that was in Poland's interest. To a lot of people, the speech sounded like what it was really doing was supporting the illiberal policies of the Polish government. It made it sound like, you know, what really ties us is links of family, blood, God, rather than democracy, values, rule of law and so on and so on. And so, the way it was heard here in Poland was as a kind of don't worry about democracy, we in the West are linked by Christianity and I know that I'm simplifying, that's not quite what he said, but that's how it was interpreted here.

Katarzyna Pisarska: I think it was a very important speech, both for Poland, and also for Europe, but presumably for the West. For Poland, it was important because it acknowledged the critical role the country is playing in mutual defence within NATO. The historical role of Poland of being a defender of certain values that the West adheres to. Also, it has had more popular support, people really liked the speech, liked the fact he spent so much time talking about Polish history and our difficult fights throughout the ages in order to regain and maintain independence. Now for Europe, the speech was very important because it was a speech that I would not see as divisive, it was a speech which talked about stronger Europe as an American partner. It was a speech that, of course, might have irritated some when it came to the two percent defence spending, but it something that was consistent with what NATO is expecting from its member states. The process of actually raising military expenditure started already under the Obama administration, so this should not be any surprise. And it is good news for the world because Donald Trump has shown himself as a president that sticks to the mainstream of American foreign policy, so the commitment of the transatlantic alliance, their commitment to the West, as such, and for this reason, it was a good speech.

Now, there was anything that I did not feel comfortable with in the speech, it was probably the question of the huge fight of our western civilisation against Islamic terrorism, and although I am a strong supporter myself of decisive actions to counter terrorism, I am also very wary of the fact that we already had an American president, George W. Bush, who talked about the war on terror and the concrete measures that followed that, the war in Iraq, has not brought a resolution to terrorism. So, my question to President Trump would be: concretely, what do you want us to do? We agree on the basics, we agree on the policies, we will be happy to contribute, but what is policy, what is the strategy moving forward? And I think it’s also critical not to alienate many of our friends from the Muslim world in the process, and I’m sure the American administration understands this very well.

Finally, I feel very satisfied that for the first time President Trump was so strong on Russia. It was maybe a short part of the speech, but knowing his previous presentations, specifically during the campaign but also later, I think he was setting the stage for the meeting today with President Putin.He clearly said that Russia has to stop destabilising Ukraine, he clearly said that Russia is not going anywhere if it continues to support regimes such as the Syrian Assad regime. But, at the same time it was saying that we cooperate with you and you have more interests with us than you think, but you have to stop this destructive behaviour. So in that sense, he is the mainstream American foreign policy. All American presidents try to engage somehow with Russia. This might find some kind of discomfort in Central Europe, simply because we know how hard it is to cooperate on anything with the Russian Federation and I think these thoughts were also in the minds of many Polish decision makers who were listening to the speech.But, we also have to acknowledge that American is a great power that has a larger vision, that only Central Europeans envision to the world, and I think the speech has shown complete understanding of the importance of Ukrainian territorial sovereignty, integrity, but, at the same time, they’re also saying: it’s up to you, Russia.

Katarzyna Pisarska: First of all, Donald Trump represents a very conservative, right part of the American political establishment and the American electorate. For me, the references he made to values of family, of god– these were references to his mainstream electorate. But then, other references followed– the rights of women, freedom, democracy, media. Again, there was a lot of these traditional, mainstream, liberal-democratic values and issues that were mentioned there. So, it was a very eclectic speech. I think it was a speech that was written by many people, who have put in a lot of different themes, and I would not see it as a completely coherent speech. I think he was trying to be as proper as he could, at the same time continuing to be faithful to what he really believes. Now we can disagree, and personally, I would probably disagree with associating the western civilisation only with such values as family and god. They can be important and should be important, but they should also be important for the Islamic civilisation, also important for the Russian civilisation, so we have to ask ourselves what differentiates us from the other civilisations? If we are all only for having a solid family and believing in god then I think we are not the western civilisation that we thought we were. Again, if he had not mentioned the other things, I would be very worried. I think he said these elements to his own electorate and to the Polish right electorate, who loved it and at least the right-wing newspapers here said: "We want God" says Donald Trump. But then again, I think there was a lot of constructive narrative, not even in the Trump speech, but in the press conference with McMaster and other American politicians who were talking about the importance of inheriting to these western values that are based on the democratic principles and the strength of the individual.