WARSAW – Elaborate military escorts stood ready. Chefs were at work on a grand state dinner at the Royal Castle. A concert was cued up for television and radio broadcast. The annual commemoration of the outbreak of World War II was even moved from Gdansk to Warsaw, where crowds would be bigger.
Poland’s governing party had carefully choreographed a day of pomp and ceremony to welcome President Donald Trump this weekend — a powerful reminder to its own people, just six weeks before national elections, of the strong bond between the government and Trump administration.
Except he will not be here.
Trump announced Thursday that he would remain in the United States to monitor an impending hurricane, forecast to hit Florida next week, and send Vice President Mike Pence in his place. It was a blow to the leadership in Warsaw, which hoped to use the moment to bolster its standing and deflect criticism that it is undermining the nation’s constitution.
The United States and its president are seen more positively in Poland than anywhere else in Europe, where trust in American leadership has dropped under Trump and he is generally viewed negatively. So at a time when the leaders of many allied nations are careful not to seem too close to him, Poland’s governing Law and Justice party embraces him.
Even as Poland has clashed with the European Union and its fellow member states over a wide range of issues, from environmental policy to judicial independence, it has continued to forge — and boast about — closer ties with the Trump administration.
President Andrzej Duda, in an interview shortly after he returned from his second visit to the White House this summer, described his relationship with Trump as “the most effective international cooperation out of all I have.”
“I find it very easy and good to cooperate with President Donald Trump,” he said. “Because he’s very down to earth, very concrete. He tells me what he wants; he asks me what he can get from us.”
In June, the two countries agreed to add 1,000 troops to the 4,500-person U.S. deployment in Poland, a NATO member country. That drew an angry reaction from Russia and crowing from Polish leaders, who had also appealed for construction of a new American base, even promising to call it Fort Trump.
On Friday, Mariusz Blaszczak, Poland’s minister of national defense, announced an agreement on six locations where the U.S. forces will be based — news the government had hoped to break, to some fanfare, with Trump present. He said Trump’s cancellation was understandable.
Critics of the government worried that Trump’s visit would divert attention from concerns that Law and Justice had set the country on a dangerous course since taking power in 2015, undermining the constitution, stoking cultural division, casting gays and lesbians as enemies of the state, attacking the free press and drifting dangerously away from the democratic society the country fought so hard to secure after decades of communist rule.
The Trump administration has been largely silent on these issues. Instead, it has consistently praised Poland as one of the few NATO allies to meet military spending commitments.
In an open letter to Trump made public on Monday, 23 Polish former diplomats called on the U.S. president to reaffirm the importance of a unified Europe and the fundamental values of Western democracy, which they said their country was losing.
“An isolated Poland, surrounded by enemies, conflicted with its neighbors and, as was the case before World War II, reliant solely on geographically distant alliances, is on course to another catastrophe,” the group wrote.
Trump, however, has shown no sign that he shares their concerns, instead pursuing a transactional foreign policy with trade deals and arms purchases at the forefront of his agenda. He has praised autocratic leaders, denigrated democratic allies and undercut the international institutions that have been built since World War II to promote security and prosperity.
On Friday, Polish leaders were already voicing the hope that Trump would reschedule his visit, and soon. The military escorts, the castle, the chefs and the musicians would no doubt be ready if he does.