THE EUROPEAN Union announced Monday that it would seek a ruling from the European Court of Justice against Poland’s reorganization of its Supreme Court, which E.U. leaders contend is intended to strip the judiciary of independence. It was the latest step in a belated and much-needed effort by Brussels to prevent Poland’s right-wing government from gutting the country’s democratic institutions.
It was consequently striking that President Trump chose to single out Poland for praise in an otherwise bitter and bombastic speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, along with India, Saudi Arabia and Israel. “In Poland, a great people are standing up for their independence, their security and their sovereignty,” he said. Those words will be taken as vindication by the ruling Law and Justice party, which portrays all E.U. criticism of its authoritarian policies as an attack on the Polish nation.
Other Europeans probably will conclude that Mr. Trump has sided with those E.U. governments, including Hungary and Romania as well as Poland, that are flouting the rule of law and other democratic norms. If that is the president’s intention, he is making a serious mistake. But perhaps Mr. Trump was simply responding to the show of obsequiousness delivered at the White House last week by the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, who lobbied for the establishment of a permanent U.S. military base in Poland.
“I was smiling when talking to Mr. President,” Mr. Duda said at a news conference. “I said that I would very much like for us to set up permanent American bases in Poland, which we would call Fort Trump.”
Mr. Duda is not the first foreign leader to seek a favorable shift in U.S. policy through personal flattery of Mr. Trump; the Saudi and Israeli leaders have been equally craven. But like them, the Polish leadership is risking the erosion of what might otherwise be bipartisan favor in Washington by identifying itself so closely with this polarizing president. There are already some 4,000 U.S. troops in Poland, part of a rotating NATO force meant to deter aggression from Russia. Congress has already mandated a study of a permanent U.S. base in the country. In response to Mr. Duda, Mr. Trump, who is no fan of deploying U.S. troops abroad, was noncommittal.
It may be that such a base is justified by the threat posed by the regime of Vladimir Putin, which has already invaded two neighboring countries and has conducted large military exercises simulating an invasion of Poland. The Law and Justice government has probably advanced its cause by offering to cover the cost of the base, which could be in the $2 billion range. But some in Congress will rightly question whether the United States should be deepening a strategic partnership with a country that is dismantling democratic institutions and thumbing its nose at attempted corrective action by the European Union.
Promising to call a base Fort Trump, whether in jest or not, may have won the Polish government some sympathetic words from the president at the United Nations. Whether it will serve the country’s interests, and U.S.-Polish relations, in the longer run is very much open to question.