After months of pushing for a permanent U.S. military presence in Poland as a bulwark against Russia, the Polish president offered President Trump a new incentive tailored to his real estate sensibilities: naming rights.
“I would very much like for us to set up a permanent base in Poland, which we would call Fort Trump,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said Tuesday in a joint news conference at the White House. “I firmly believe that this is possible. I am convinced that such a decision lies in the Polish interest and in the interest of the United States.”
Standing nearby, Trump smirked and raised his right eyebrow before pursing his lips as he appeared to consider the possibility of an American military base in Poland emblazoned with his name.
Though the Polish president’s naming proposal appeared to be in jest, Trump said Poland was willing to make a “very major” contribution if the United States were to establish a permanent military presence in the nation.
“If they’re willing to do that, it’s something we will certainly talk about,” Trump said.
In May 2018, the Polish government offered to spend up to $2 billion to establish a permanent U.S. military presence in Poland.
A senior Polish government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Warsaw would potentially be willing to spend even more over time or offer additional incentives to Washington.
U.S. forces are already deployed to Poland on a rotational basis, part of an effort by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to step up defenses on its eastern flank after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
The United States does not operate any permanent military bases in Poland. In March, the United States and Poland said technical problems would delay completion of the Polish section of a U.S. missile defense shield by two years, to 2020.
While Poland has welcomed the American troop rotation as a deterrent against Russia, its government would like the Pentagon to establish a permanent divisional headquarters on Polish territory, as well as one other permanent brigade, according to the Polish official, who said his government hoped to get an answer from Washington by 2020.
Congress ordered the Pentagon to study the matter in this year’s defense policy bill, which Trump signed into law in August. The legislation instructs the defense secretary to submit a report to Congress no later than March 1, 2019, on the feasibility and advisability of permanently stationing U.S. forces in Poland.
Germany has long been the primary base for American forces in Europe, with approximately 35,000 U.S. service members stationed in the country.
Trump has been especially critical of Germany’s defense budget and trade surplus with the United States, leading to tensions with Chancellor Angela Merkel. At one point earlier this year, in a meeting with his advisers, Trump inquired about American troops stationed in Germany and asked about possibly removing them.
The Pentagon, however, has said the United States remains fully committed to Germany.
Standing beside Trump at the White House news conference, Duda was unapologetic in his praise for Trump’s leadership and business acumen as the Polish president pitched a military expansion that could reignite an old fight with Moscow over the proximity of U.S. forces to Russia.
“I'm hugely delighted with the presence of U.S. armed forces in the Polish territory,” Duda said, inviting Trump to send more American troops to the nation.
Duda noted the purchases of American weapons by Poland and said he wants to buy more. Trump smiled.
“I told Mr. President about all the aspects connected with the permanent presence of the U.S. armed forces in Poland,” Duda said. He said he had assured Trump that a permanent U.S. base in Poland would not result in a newly heightened military standoff with Russia in central and Eastern Europe, because he said that was already happening.
“It is the reality that we live in today,” Duda said.
Trump, who looked annoyed at times by Duda’s long answers, jumped in at one point to note that Poland has promised to pay “billions of dollars for a base.”
When a Polish reporter asked Trump about his own view of Russian behavior in Europe, Trump did not hesitate to agree with Duda.
“I think it’s a very aggressive situation,” Trump said. “I think Russia has acted aggressively. They respect force. They respect strength, as anyone does, and we have the greatest strength in the world, especially now.”
Russia is not the only one opposed to the idea of a U.S. base in Poland.
The former U.S. Army commander in Europe, retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, a well-known Russia hawk, has argued that stationing the American military in Poland permanently would be seen as unnecessarily provocative by fellow members of NATO and divide the alliance.
Such arguments have not deterred Poland.
Duda’s conservative Law and Justice Party won a surprise election victory in 2015 on a platform of skepticism about the European Union. Since taking office, the Polish government has unnerved Brussels with policies seen as restrictive of the courts and the news media, and is now in direct conflict with the E.U. over its courts.
Poland was suspended Monday from the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary and faced a hearing Tuesday over alleged breaches of E.U. requirements for judicial independence.
European Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister from the political party that opposes Law and Justice, has been a vocal critic of Trump since taking up his European-wide post.
“With friends like that, who needs enemies?” Tusk said in a rebuke to Trump from the E.U. earlier this year.
Despite finding common ground with the current Polish government, Trump reiterated his view of the E.U. at the appearance with Duda on Tuesday.
“We are the piggy bank to the world. We have been ripped off by China, we have been ripped off by, excuse me, Mr. President, the European Union, of which you’re a part of,” Trump said. “We’ve been ripped off by everybody.”