President Donald Trump is sending Vice President Mike Pence to Poland for a World War II commemoration ceremony and meetings with Polish leaders because Hurricane Dorian is heading for Florida.
Trump started a ceremony on the formal establishment of U.S. Space Command by saying his top priority is the safety of Americans at home. Trump said he spoke with Polish President Andrzej Duda on the telephone to inform him.
On Sunday, Pence will join 41 world leaders, including Duda, to commemorate the start of hostilities in the Great War.
Trump was expected to meet privately with Duda a few months after announcing deployment of 1,000 additional U.S. military forces to counter Russian military moves in the region.
Trump often lauds Duda and his government for buying U.S.-made military gear.
The meeting would have given the American president an opportunity to send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin in his backyard.
Trump takes frequent criticism from congressional Democrats because he has never forcefully warned the Russian leader to not meddle in another U.S. presidential election.
Dorian could hit the Florida coast as a category four storm, with extensive damage expected.
The president was widely criticized for his response to two powerful storms that ravaged Puerto Rico in 2017. On a visit to the U.S. territory, Trump faced criticism from people who said he lacked empathy when he tossed paper towel rolls into a crowd picking up emergency supplies.
Pence subbing in for Trump should give the Polish president a sigh of relief. That’s because his government has tried to form and keep a close relationship to the U.S. leader and his administration. Trump often speaks fondly of Duda.
Many world leaders have calculated one way to keep things at least friendly with Trump is flattery. Duda has tried that, including floating an idea that Trump since has publicly touted during a joint press conference at the White House.
But any mention of a “Fort Trump” on Polish soil is likely sidelined while Pence is there — on the shelf until Trump visits again. (The president said Thursday his visit is merely postponed.)
“I would very much like for us to set up permanent American bases in Poland, which we would call ‘Fort Trump,’” Duda said with a smile during a Sept. 19 joint press conference at the White House as Trump stood feet away with his eyebrows raised and lips pursed before breaking into his own grin.
For Duda, the idea wasn’t just about setting himself apart from other European leaders with whom Trump often clashes. It also was about Russia, and amounted to a rare spoken rebuke of Vladimir Putin’s government from inside the Trump White House.
Duda made his stance clear when pressed by a reporter asked if he is concerned about U.S.-Russia relations: “Well, of course.”
But one former senior U.S. diplomat suggests Duda’s idea is more window dressing than likely to end with a brick-and-mortar base.
“There will be no large new base or ‘Fort Trump,” according to Alexander Vershbow, who was U.S. ambassador to Russia under GOP President George W. Bush and NATO deputy secretary under Democratic President Barack Obama. “Rather, the United States will agree to augment some of its existing capabilities in Poland with a view to shortening reaction times and improving the U.S. capacity to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank.”
Even if the Polish leader was planning a surprise during Trump’s now-scrapped visit, don’t expect him to offend the U.S. commander in chief by making such a surprise announcement while appearing with Pence.