Politics

‘Fort Trump’: How Poland’s President Took Flattery to New Heights

U.S. president utters rare public criticism of Russia after months of GOP unease

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump with Polish President Andrzej Duda and his wife, Agata Kornhauser-Duda, on Tuesday in the Oval Office two hours before Duda proposed building a “Fort Trump” in his country. (Official White House Photo Joyce N. Boghosian via Flickr)

Trump Tower, Trump Hotel, Trump University, Trump ties ... Fort Trump?

Sure — if the president’s Polish counterpart gets his wish.

“I would very much like for us to set up permanent American bases in Poland, which we would call ‘Fort Trump,’” Polish President Andrzej Duda said.

President Trump considered the words, then raised his brows and pursed his lips before a wry grin took over his face.

The “Fort Trump” proposal was all about Russia, a rare rebuke of the Kremlin from a European at the White House during the Trump era. So, too, was Duda’s reply when a reporter asked if he is concerned about U.S.-Russia relations: “Well, of course.”

Other world leaders had stood in the same place at the White House and lavished praise on Donald Trump. Duda instead first appealed to the businessman in Trump before getting personal.

The personal touch is one many Republican lawmakers also have used over the last 20 months, a tactic used by conservatives like Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina and centrist-liberals like French President Emmanuel Macron.

Duda talked of “opening up to business,” using his East Room perch to “invite American business to Poland,” saying “there are better and better investment possibilities.” As Trump stood feet away listening, via a translator in his earpiece, Duda described his country as “experiencing a very dynamic growth.”

“These are the huge projects which are all being realized in Poland,” he said. “But I want to invite to Poland all business people … who have got huge economic projects here and who have got huge possibilities of investment,” he said with a smirk. Then, he pivoted to the military.

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Poland intends to “invest further” in its military, Duda said.

Trump campaigned on the same in 2016 and has demanded NATO members meet their goal of spending 2 percent of their respective GDPs on their own militaries.

Poland plans to “modernize” its forces and buy the U.S.-made Patriot missile system, Duda said, part of the country’s “largest military investment … over the last 30 years.”

Trump leaned toward the Polish chief. Then came “Fort Trump.”

The Trump administration’s policies toward Moscow have been tough, from sanctions to shuttering diplomatic facilities to increasing U.S. defense spending while pushing NATO allies to build up their own militaries. The president’s rhetoric, however, has been much less muscular as he still harbors hope for warmer relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

That made another part of Tuesday’s joint press conference remarkable, as Trump broke with his own past comments praising Putin and not quite casting blame on Moscow for meddling in the 2016 American election.

Minutes after Duda warned of “increased militarization in [Eastern] Europe by Russia,” Trump called tensions there “a very aggressive situation.”

“I think Russia has acted aggressively,” Trump said in a rare instance of his words matching his administration’s Russia policies.

Frederick Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council, sums up the dynamic among the United States and Russia, “Welcome to the new era of great power competition.”

“Unfolding before us ... is the design of a confounding new era,” Kempe said. “It is being shaped by an economic competition between democratic and autocratic systems, by political trends like nationalism and populism, and by unprecedented technological shifts that will touch every aspect of our lives and societies.”

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The Trump administration must work with U.S. allies, Kempe said, like his predecessors did after World War II to erect a 21st century “system of global institutions and regional alliances.” Perhaps that’s why Duda concluded his “Fort Trump” sales pitch with this: “I am convinced that such a [base] lies both in the Polish interest as well as in the interest of the United States.”

But other experts are not so sure there is a strategic calculation in either the Polish leader’s pitch or the American commander in chief’s sharp words about Russian actions in Europe.

“Politics has become like a cheesy sitcom with Trump, the latest being him gloating at the idea of #FortTrump,” Rosa Balfour, a senior transatlantic fellow at The German Marshall Fund, tweeted Tuesday. “I just wish I could bring myself to laugh.”

Susan Del Percio, a GOP strategist, said Tuesday’s Russia remarks show anew about the Trump presidency: “You just don’t know where it’s going to take a turn — right, left or keep going down the center. And that scares a lot of people who have to make … decisions in the intelligence community.”

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