President Trump is known to make the odd comment here and there about foreign nations, often because he doesn’t seem particularly versed in what’s happening in them. But even by his standards, this was quite a weekend.
Trump was asked Sunday about the trip to Poland he canceled to monitor Hurricane Dorian. Asked if he had a message for that country, which was commemorating the anniversary of the start of World War II, Trump decided to … congratulate it?
Q: Mr. President, do you have a message for Poland on the 80th anniversary of the Second World War?
TRUMP: I do have a great message for Poland. And we have Mike Pence, our Vice President, is just about landing right now. And he is representing me. I look forward to being there soon.
But I just want to congratulate Poland. It’s a great country with great people. We also have many Polish people in our country; it could be 8 million. We love our Polish friends. And I will be there soon.
For those not versed in World War II history, Sunday was the anniversary of the day Nazi Germany invaded Poland, which led France and Britain to declare war two days later (i.e. 80 years ago Tuesday). Poland would wind up losing nearly one-fifth of its population in the war, according to estimates.
As such, it was more of a day for somber remembrance than a day of triumph. The German president asked for Poland’s forgiveness, for instance. And Trump’s comment struck a significantly different tone than the man sent to Poland in his stead, Vice President Pence.
“It is difficult for any of us who are not Poles to fathom the horrors that began here 80 years ago, on this day, the first of September 1939,” Pence said solemnly, as The Washington Post’s Robert Costa reported.
Trump was also asked to weigh in on another issue of import in our own hemisphere this weekend: the situation in Colombia, where some of the former leaders of the guerrilla group known as FARC announced a break in a 2016 peace deal, potentially relaunching Latin America’s longest war.
When asked about this, Trump at first didn’t seem to connect the Marxist FARC to Colombia. He then offered what can only be described as his own trademarked brand of boilerplate:
Q: On Colombia, how do you feel about former FARC leader calling to return -- for return to war?
TRUMP: Colombia, you said?
Q: Yeah, on Colombia. Former leader of FARC.
TRUMP: You’re talking about the country of Colombia?
Q: Yeah, the country of Colombia. The --
TRUMP: Yeah. No, we have a great relationship. And they’re not doing badly. They have a problem because of the Venezuela. A lot of people are pouring in. But Colombia -- we’ve had a great relationship with Colombia.
The video in which the former FARC leaders announced the break in the peace deal was posted early Thursday. These comments from Trump came Friday around 6 p.m., meaning he had about a day and a half to be briefed in the situation. It appears either he didn’t get a briefing or he didn’t really retain any of the information.
Which is pretty much par-for-the-course for Trump. There are myriad examples of Trump being asked about what’s happening around the world and offering very nonspecific answers. Generally, this will involve 1) congratulating them, 2) talking about how well they are doing, and/or 3) offering a nonspecific talking point about something that has happened in the country (which may or may not pertain to the subject he was asked about, as was the case here with Colombia).
In fact, he’s done the same thing with FARC before. When Trump welcomed then-Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to the White House in 2017, he offered congratulations on the peace deal in very broad terms, calling the war with FARC “a long, tough situation.”
“I mean, FARC is — that was a long, tough situation, as you know very well, coming from the country,” Trump said. “But I think the president has done a magnificent job. Not easy. But he’s done a magnificent job.”
While appearing at the United Nations in 2018 with Colombia’s new president, Iván Duque, Trump was asked about FARC and ELN, the National Liberation Army, the country’s most violent rebel group. Trump offered another broad answer before the Colombian president stepped in to field the question:
Q: Are you going to talk about FARC and ELN, the peace process?
TRUMP: Are you asking me that question? We’re going to be talking about everything.
DUQUE: But let me —
TRUMP: We’ll be talking about everything.
DUQUE: Mr. President, if I may take that.
TRUMP: Go ahead.
DUQUE: And this a very important message: ELN is a terrorist group that has been killing Colombian people. They have been introducing kidnappings in the last 17 months while they were negotiating with the past administration. And I have said they have to put an end to all their criminal activities and they have to free all the persons that are kidnapped. Otherwise, there will be no chance for any negotiation with them.
Trump hasn’t met with just Santos and Duque. He also secretly met in 2017 with two former Colombian presidents at Mar-a-Lago — two presidents who happen to be prominent critics of the peace deal Santos struck with FARC — meaning he’s had multiple opportunities to learn about the FARC “situation.” To date, he hasn’t said anything specific about it.