Donald Trump, in Poland, Urges West to ‘Defend Our Civilization’

WARSAW — President Trump cast himself as a defender of Western values in a clash of civilizations during a dark and confrontational speech in Warsaw on Thursday, rebuking the news media, American intelligence agencies and Barack Obama during his visit to the European capital most hospitable to his right-wing nationalist message.

Once again breaking with tradition by attacking American leaders and institutions while abroad, Mr. Trump told a friendly Polish crowd, including loyalists the governing party had bused in from the more-conservative countryside, that “radical Islamic terrorism” threatened “our civilization and our way of life.”

In Warsaw, a city rebuilt after it was razed by the Germans in World War II, the president declared rhetorical war on a broad array of foreign and domestic forces that he said were aligned against him, even criticizing President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in his strongest terms to date, before their first face-to face meeting, in Hamburg, Germany, on Friday.

But the blunt force of his words was not matched by new specifics. Pressed about Russian interference in the American election, he said that “nobody really knows” if other countries might have been involved. He also vowed a “very severe” response if North Korea escalated its military threat, but he did not go into detail.

Mr. Trump delighted his Polish hosts by recounting a popular narrative about the country’s resilience in the face of centuries of partition and oppression — including Nazi invasion and communist domination — but he said next to nothing about the right-wing government’s crackdown on judges, journalists and opposition parties, which has deeply alarmed other European Union leaders.

And although he spoke in Krasinski Square, where a monument commemorates the 1944 Warsaw uprising against the Nazis, he skipped a visit to a museum devoted to a 1943 uprising by Jews who had been forced into a ghetto. His daughter Ivanka went there on Thursday instead.

Mr. Trump praised Poland, a NATO ally, “as an example for others who seek freedom, and who wish to summon the courage and the will to defend our civilization.”

He went on to employ the same life-or-death language as in his inauguration speech, which promised a war against the “American carnage” of urban crime.

“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?”

Mr. Trump also denounced “the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people,” citing the value of individual freedom and sovereignty.

Friendly crowds gathered to listen to Mr. Trump’s speech. CreditStephen Crowley/The New York Times

The American president also had harsh words for North Korea, after its recent test of a new long-range missile, but he refused to say during a short news conference with his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda, what steps he would take to punish Pyongyang.

“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. “They are behaving in a very, very serious manner, and something will have to be done about it.”

Mr. Trump — who is under pressure to confront Mr. Putin on his attempts to sway the election — delivered a mixed message on Russia, one tailored for his Polish audience, the other straight out of his Putin playbook.

The president, acknowledging Polish concerns about Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, said, “We are working with Poland” to deal with “Russia’s destabilizing behavior.”

But he also said he was still not entirely convinced that Russia was solely responsible for interference in the 2016 election, breaking with American intelligence agencies that 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.”

Mr. Trump also came with an announcement intended to emphasize his commitment to defending Poland against aggression — possibly from Russia — and to helping American workers. Mr. Duda’s government has agreed to buy the Patriot missile defense system from the United States, a senior administration official said.

Mr. Trump emerged from a Marriott in Warsaw on Thursday a little after 9:15 a.m., his sprawling motorcade of flag-flapping black sedans, police escorts and shuttle buses riding along the Vistula River to a back entrance to the presidential palace. He was greeted by Mr. Duda, and he disappeared for closed-door meetings after a session with photographers, emerging only for the news conference.

Unlike what is expected in Hamburg, where leaders of the Group of 20economies will meet on Friday, there were no major protests in Warsaw, although there were signs of dissent.

Wednesday night, around the time Air Force One arrived in Warsaw, environmental protesters projected a message on the side of the Palace of Culture and Science, reading “No Trump, Yes Paris,” a dig at Washington’s plan to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

And Michael Schudrich, Poland’s chief rabbi, and other Jewish leaders criticized Mr. Trump’s decision not to visit the 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.”

But Mr. Trump’s appearance in Krasinski Square, a setting that symbolizes the Polish people’s resistance to tyranny, was well received, as was his message linking the fight against the Islamic State to Poland’s resistance of German invasion and occupation from 1939 to 1945.

“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.

The American president criticized CNN and defended what he suggested was a lighthearted tweet of a video depicting him body-slamming a figurewhose head was replaced by the CNN logo.

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, blamed Polish journalists for intentionally distorting his record and for 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 President Barack 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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