By Agnieszka Wądołowska
During the final days of his re-election campaign, President Andrzej Duda jetted across the Atlantic to meet his US counterpart, Donald Trump, in Washington. He was the first foreign head of state to visit the White House since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
The trip was announced less than a week in advance, and came as a surprise to many, given that it appeared to be an attempt by Trump to boost Duda’s bid for a second term in this Sunday’s election.
Talks between the two presidents focused on coronavirus, the US military presence in Poland, and cooperation on nuclear energy.
The discussions did not, however, result in any concrete announcements, contrary to expectations. Trump declared only that the US would “probably be moving troops from Germany to Poland”. He also made clear that Poland “will be paying for that”.
But the US president did speak positively about his “friend” Duda, saying that he has “done an incredible job”, that the two share a “close personal relationship”, and that he was sure his Polish counterpart “will be very successful” in the election.
Below we present a range of responses to the meeting from analysts, journalists and politicians.
Olaf Osica, director of research at Spotdata, a Warsaw-based analysis centre (speaking to TOK FM)
“The visit only confirmed what we had already known for a long time. That we are cooperating, we want to and will cooperate. Yet there were no details…There had been a lot of rumours that the president [Duda] would bring back something big, but it didn’t happen…
It looks as if something went wrong on the way, as the Polish side was ready to announce some specific decisions, but the Americans have changed their mind. However, we need to remember that this visit was prepared in just a few days, so there was a risk that some issues hadn’t been properly discussed in advance.”
Michael Crowley, New York Times
“[Duda’s] visit had no clear official purpose, analysts said, and amounted to a photo opportunity for a populist leader…heading into an election…It is clear that Mr. Trump would be happy to see Mr. Duda retain power…For Mr. Duda, the political benefits clearly outweighed any risk of travel, even if his visit violated a longstanding American political norm…
Officials in Poland – whose battle-scarred history leaves it among the European nations most wary of potential Russian aggression – are hopeful that Mr. Trump will relocate some of those troops [leaving Germany] to their country…But Trump officials say no such plans have been set…National security adviser Robert C. O’Brien said military officials were still drawing up options for the president.”
People are so numb to broken norms that Trump’s de facto endorsement of a foreign leader days before an election — once considered diplomatic taboo — barely caused a stir. https://t.co/NXo250mAr2
— Michael Crowley (@michaelcrowley) June 25, 2020
Witold Waszczykowski, a ruling PiS party MEP and former foreign minister (speaking to Polskie Radio)
“I am shocked that in Poland we are now seeing mockery of President Duda’s visit to the White House and of Polish-American relations. We should be pleased that, when the world is coming out of pandemic, the American president is seeking advice and support from the Polish president…
I am not surprised that Donald Trump decided to officially endorse Andrzej Duda, as we have common interests. When Trump saw some pictures showing who is standing behind the [opposition] presidential candidate Rafał Trzaskowski, the Americans got scared and invited Duda and endorsed him officially…
The presence of American soldiers in Poland is a guarantee that any actions against Poland will be punished and [that there will be] a response from those troops that are already in Poland. Their presence also guarantees that some of the low-level conflicts, as they are called in the military world, can be instantly extinguished.”
Radosław Sikorski, an opposition PO MEP and former foreign and defence minister (on Facebook)
“Even before the visit I was warning that President Trump would try to use our president in his games with Angela Merkel, and it happened…
Duda was just a pawn pitted against Germany. The American president repeated that he will ‘significantly reduce’ the American military presence in Germany, as according to him Germany is not spending enough on defence. He said that some of the American soldiers might be transferred to Poland. Yet he added instantly that Poland will pay for the transfer and for the American presence. How much will we pay? How many soldiers will come? No one knows.
Finally, at the end of the press conference, a TVP journalist asked Trump if Poland could count on the USA in our relations with Russia. The American president answered as if he had forgotten that a moment ago he had criticised Germany for close ties with Moscow, and that at his side was standing the president of a country with a history of painful relations with Russia. He said briefly that the USA and Russia are on very good terms and that that’s also good for Poland.”
Philipp Fritz, Warsaw correspondent for Die Welt (at dw.com)
“In the second round [of the presidential election] on 12 July every vote will count. Keeping this in mind, Trump’s intervention has a special weight to it. Polish-American relations are unequivocally considered to be especially important in Poland. There, unlike in Germany, Trump is a popular statesman and a photo from the White House can bring some points in the elections.
For a long time, Poland has been keeping special relations with the USA, but under Trump, Poland became a favourite partner of the While House. With no other European leader does Trump agree as much as he does with the Polish national-conservative president, regardless of whether they are speaking about rejecting the Nord Stream 2 [gas pipeline] or criticising migration.”
Michał Kolanko, journalist and political commentator for Rzeczpospolita
The visit of Andrzej Duda to Washington hasn’t resulted in any campaign breakthrough…There were no declarations of magnitude, and expectations had been very high.
It was partly PiS politicians that had set the bar so high, but the context of the visit also generated this climate – after all, if the president is going to the USA just a few days before the election, there needs to be an important reason.
PiS wasn’t able to tell people what they are supposed to expect. Maybe it wasn’t possible in the electoral framework. Yet now the opposition is eagerly using that. Of course, for some groups of voters the photos of the presidents in the Oval Office alone are important, just like the warm words Trump spoke about Poland and President Andrzej Duda.”
Marek Świerczyński, head of security and international affairs at Polityka Insight, a Warsaw-based centre for policy analysis
“Either the Polish side misinterpreted the American intentions or the negotiations got derailed at the final stage and there was no way to cancel the official visit without making it look like a defeat for Duda…We will get the American soldiers in Poland if we pay for them. For free we can only get some expressions of love from Donald Trump.
After the visit we are back to square one. On the table is only that Trump [previously] promised Poland another 1,000 soldiers on a rotational basis, as long as Poland meets the financial requirements and implements investments. The number may seem high, but it is worth remembering that during Barack Obama’s term, 4,500 soldiers were sent to Poland without Poland covering any direct costs.”
Mariusz Błaszczak, Poland’s defence minister, who accompanied President Duda to Washington (speaking to Polskie Radio)
“While in Moscow there is a military parade, during which Russia is flexing its muscles, the Polish president met the American president, the head of the most powerful country in regard to military capability. This is undoubtedly a very strong signal concerning our security.
When we think about security, we usually picture military security and in this respect we have a continuation: those two declarations signed by President Duda and President Trump last year…However, today also another important declaration was made: Polish scientists will be involved in the process of creating a vaccination, which will save us from the threat of coronavirus infection.”
Molly Montgomery, nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institute think tank
“The timing of the meeting flouts the cardinal rule of diplomacy – noninterference in internal affairs – and is clearly intended to put a thumb on the electoral scales in Duda’s favour…Whatever Trump and Duda agree on, the “what” won’t be the problem…
The problem is the “who”, “when”, “why”, and “how”. No US president should meet a foreign leader – friend or foe – mere days before she or he stands for election. To do so undermines Poland’s democratic processes and our own values. Feting a leader who has spewed anti-LGBTQ hatred, curtailed media freedoms, and crippled his country’s courts also runs contrary to those principles…boosting the election prospects of a leader who – if elected – is likely to further dismantle Poland’s democracy, weakening a close US ally from within.
And if Trump announces the movement of troops from Germany to Poland, it won’t be based on sound military planning, but in fulfilment of a petty dislike for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The United States used to be better than this, used to stand for more than this. Hopefully soon it will again.”
Sławomir Dębski, head of the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM), a think tank (speaking to Dziennik Gazeta Prawna)
“[A reduction in US troop numbers in Germany] is definitely not good news for us. For years, Poland has been in favour of maintaining and increasing the American military presence in Europe…Poland is one the biggest beneficiaries of the international system that developed after 1989….Reducing the American security umbrella is a negative change for us…
As a responsible ally, we are trying to do our best, including offering [the Americans] to leave some of their forces in Poland…But it takes time to implement these decisions…Of course, there is a transactional element here, but every US administration is transactional…
Germany is well aware that we did not contribute to Trump’s decision…[so] I do not expect Polish-German relations to suffer because of this.”