Good News and Bad News From Poland

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, meets with Poland's President Andrzej Duda after arriving at the Royal Castle, Thursday, July 6, 2017, in Warsaw. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Trump’s speech yesterday in Warsaw was better than inspiring. It was calculating and subtle, and sent strong messages to both our friends and adversaries. The crowd of cavilers who abhor Trump as an ignoramus should hang their heads in shame.

The president said:

We are confronted by another oppressive ideology — one that seeks to export terrorism and extremism all around the globe. America and Europe have suffered one terror attack after another. We’re going to get it to stop … 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 of any kind.

Today, the West is also confronted by the powers that seek to test our will, undermine our confidence, and challenge our interests. To meet new forms of aggression, including propaganda, financial crimes, and cyberwarfare, we must adapt our alliance to compete effectively in new ways and on all new battlefields.

We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes — including Syria and Iran — and to instead join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defense of civilization itself.

There is a double message to Moscow here.

First, the United States has drawn a red line at the Polish border, making clear that America will shed blood if need be to defend its Polish ally. Second, the line is drawn around Poland, not Ukraine. The United States is prepared to reach an agreement with Russia over Ukraine if Russia stops destabilizing Ukraine and if it leashes its Iranian dog. The United States has sent a clear message — as the president reminded his Warsaw audience — that it will not tolerate the tolerance of terror by the Saudis or other Sunni allies. We expect Russia to do the same with its Shi’ite allies.

That is tough, but realistic. Trump is willing to negotiate with the Russians, but from a position of strength, in solidarity with our allies who have suffered historically from Russian aggression, and with unambiguous lines in the sand. It was a brilliantly crafted speech, the slickest as well as the most inspiring foreign policy address of any American president since Ronald Reagan.

Trump also gave Poland and other Eastern European countries critical backing in their fight against the European Union’s attempt to force them to accept their quota of Muslim migrants.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Poland itself is probably past the demographic point of no return. The president intoned:

While Poland could be invaded and occupied, and its borders even erased from the map, it could never be erased from history or from your hearts. In those dark days, you have lost your land but you never lost your pride.

So it is with true admiration that I can say today, that from the farms and villages of your countryside to the cathedrals and squares of your great cities, Poland lives, Poland prospers, and Poland prevails.

Maybe not so much. With a total fertility rate of just 1.3 children per female, Poland is headed for demographic disaster. Poland today has one retiree for every four working-age citizens. By 2045 there will be one retiree for every two working-age citizens, and the burden of elderly dependence will crush the Polish economy. In a century, the Polish population will shrink to insignificance:

Only one major country has come back from the demographic brink, and that is Russia. At the collapse of Communism, Russian women were bearing just 1.1 children on average. That has since risen to almost 1.8, just below the American level. The demographers have not yet offered us an adequate explanation of this unprecedented turnaround, but I suspect that it coincides with a revival of religion in the former fortress of atheism. Some 80% of Russian women now identify as Orthodox Christian compared to 30% just after the collapse of Communism, according to the Pew Forum.

Only a few years ago, the view that Russia faced demographic collapse was endemic in the foreign policy establishment. Russia still faces a strong demographic headwind, to be sure: the collapse in the last generation’s fertility rate has left a much-reduced proportion of women of child-bearing age to the present generation. Nonetheless, Russia is not going away anytime soon.

Europe, sadly, is a case not for cure, but for palliative care. Germany’s strong economy makes it a magnet for immigrants. The average age of German citizens fell in 2016 for the first time in four decades mainly due to immigration from the rest of Europe. Germany is short about 50,000 engineers per year, and enterprising and educated Spaniards, Italians and Greeks are making their way to the Elbe and Rhine, along with Eastern Europeans. But that simply hollows out Germany’s neighbors even faster.

It is well and good for our president to praise the Poles, as he did so eloquently yesterday in Warsaw. It’s even better of him to think of America first.