Trump, in Poland, Asks if West Has the ‘Will to Survive’ – New York Times
WARSAW — President Trump said on Thursday that Western civilization was at risk of decline, bringing a message about “radical Islamic terrorism” and “the creep of government bureaucracy” to a European capital he views as hospitable to his nationalist message.
Mr. Trump, who broke with tradition by attacking American leaders and his country’s intelligence services while abroad, delivered his message in a speech to a friendly Polish crowd before a two-day summit meeting of Group of 20 leaders in Hamburg, Germany.
Hours later, he flew from Warsaw to Hamburg, where he held a low-key private meeting with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. She perhaps best symbolizes the deep skepticism shared by Western leaders toward Mr. Trump’s persona and his policies, ranging from addressing climate change to confronting Russia.
In what may be a foretaste of the scene during the gathering, 12,000 protesters vowing to disrupt the G-20 summit meeting converged for a demonstration in Hamburg on Thursday night called “Welcome to Hell.” There were reports that dozens of police officers had sustained minor injuries as a small group of protesters attacked them with bottles, poles and iron bars in clashes that lasted until midnight. Up to 100,000 protesters were expected in the coming days.
Mr. Trump roused his Polish hosts by recounting the country’s history of resistance to invaders, including Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. But he said nothing about the right-wing government’s crackdown on judges and journalists and its refusal to accept more migrants, policies that have upset European Union leaders. He instead praised Poland as a defender of liberty in the face of existential threats.
“The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive,” he said. “Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”
Pressed at a news conference earlier in the day about Russian interference in the American election, he said that “nobody really knows” if other countries were involved. He blamed President Barack Obama for not responding publicly after learning about reports of possible election meddling last summer.
Mr. Trump — who is under pressure to confront President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia during their first face-to-face meeting in Hamburg on Friday over Mr. Putin’s attempts to sway the election — delivered a mixed message on Russia.
The president made his sharpest criticism of Moscow since taking office, urging Russia to “cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere and its support for hostile regimes, including Syria and Iran,” and asserting that it must “instead join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defense of civilization itself.”
And Mr. Trump moved to reassure Poland and other allies fretful about Russia’s aggression, making a full-throated endorsement of the collective defense principle that undergirds NATO, something he was unwilling to do during his first trip to Europe as president in May.
“The United States has demonstrated not merely with words but with its actions that we stand firmly behind Article 5, the mutual defense commitment,” Mr. Trump said.
But he also said he was not entirely convinced that Russia was solely responsible for interference in the 2016 election, breaking with American intelligence agencies, which have agreed that the efforts emanated from Moscow and were directed by Mr. Putin.
“I think it was Russia, and it could have been other people in other countries,” Mr. Trump said when asked for a yes-or-no answer to the question about Russian meddling. “Nobody really knows for sure.”
To back up his message about uncertainty, he recalled the intelligence failures that preceded President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003. “Everybody was 100 percent sure that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction,” Mr. Trump said. “They were wrong, and it led to a mess.”
“We’ll see what happens — I don’t like to talk about what we have planned — but I have some pretty severe things that we’re thinking about,” Mr. Trump said at the news conference, standing next to his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda. “They are behaving in a very, very serious manner, and something will have to be done about it.”
After meeting with Ms. Merkel in Hamburg on Thursday evening, Mr. Trump dined with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, discussing a response to the latest threats from North Korea.
Asked by a reporter whether he had given up on President Xi Jinping of China, whom he has repeatedly criticized for failing to apply enough pressure on North Korea to de-escalate, the president said, “Never give up.” He and Mr. Xi will meet separately in Hamburg on Friday or Saturday.
The trip to Warsaw gave Mr. Trump an opportunity to showcase his willingness to defend Poland against aggression in the face of threats from Russia, and his commitment to helping American workers. He praised Mr. Duda for moving forward with the purchase of the Patriot missile defense system from the United States, which he called “the best anywhere in the world.”
Mr. Trump emerged from a Marriott hotel in Warsaw on Thursday a little after 9:15 a.m., and his sprawling motorcade rode along the Vistula River to a back entrance to the presidential palace. He was greeted by Mr. Duda and disappeared for closed-door meetings after a session with photographers, emerging only for the news conference.
Unlike in Hamburg, there were no major protests in Warsaw, although there were signs of dissent.
Michael Schudrich, Poland’s chief rabbi, and other Jewish leaders criticized Mr. Trump’s decision not to visit a monument to the 1943 ghetto uprising.
Every American president and vice president who has visited Warsaw since the fall of Communism in 1989 has visited the monument. “We deeply regret that President Donald Trump, though speaking in public barely a mile away from the monument, chose to break with that laudable tradition, alongside so many other ones,” the statement read. “We trust that this slight does not reflect the attitudes and feelings of the American people.”
Hours after the Jewish leaders issued their rebuke, the White House sent word that Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser, who is an observant Jew, had visited the ghetto site and laid a wreath at the monument there, visiting the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
In a statement distributed to reporters, Ms. Trump said her visit was “a deeply moving experience.”
“It was a privilege to pay my respects and remember, with gratitude, those who tenaciously fought against all odds,” Ms. Trump said in a statement that did not mention Jews or the Holocaust. “The monument, erected on the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto, symbolizes the fight for freedom. I am profoundly grateful for those who fought and all those who continue to fight today.”
Mr. Trump’s speech in Krasinski Square, which memorializes the Polish people’s resistance to tyranny, was well received, as was his message likening the fight against the Islamic State to Poland’s resistance of German invasion and occupation during World War II.
“We must stand united against these shared enemies to strip them of their territory, their funding, their networks and any form of ideological support,” Mr. Trump said. “While we will always welcome new citizens who share our values and love our people, our borders will always be closed to terrorism and extremism.”
The pro-Duda crowd at Krasinski Square, where many waved American and Polish flags, serenaded reporters from both countries with periodic chants of “fake news.”
That came about an hour after Mr. Trump tag-teamed with Mr. Duda in a transnational denunciation of journalists who write negative stories about them.
What made Mr. Trump’s sermon against the mainstream news media different this time was that Mr. Duda’s center-right party, Law and Justice, proposed restricting the news media’s access to Parliament last year. The government backed down after street protests.
“They have been fake news for a long time,” Mr. Trump said of CNN when asked about the tweet, adding that the network had been covering him in “a dishonest way.”
“We don’t want fake news,” he continued, as Mr. Duda nodded vigorously in agreement.
Mr. Duda, responding to an American reporter’s question about his own actions toward the news media, accused Polish journalists of intentionally distorting his record and failing to include his positions in articles critical of his government.
After chastising CNN — a go-to move on both sides of the Atlantic — Mr. Trump went after NBC, his former employer. “NBC is nearly as bad, despite the fact that I made them a lot of money on ‘The Apprentice,’ ” he said.
Krasinski Square is considerably smaller than Zamkowy Square, outside the Royal Palace, where Mr. Obama spoke in 2014. Worried that crowds would not show up on Thursday — Mr. Trump is less popular in Poland’s liberal capital than in the conservative countryside — the authorities chose a smaller, though still symbolically rich, site.
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