'Defend the West': Trump Speech in Europe Translated—What He Said and What It Meant

President Donald Trump delivered a long speech Thursday in Warsaw, Poland. It was part Polish history lesson, part foreign policy address, part full-throated call to "defend the West" (whatever that might mean), you'd be forgiven for finding it a little confusing.

So here's what you need to know:

Trump: "Polish-Americans have also greatly enriched the United States, and I was truly proud to have their support in the 2016 election."

Translation: And I look forward to using clips of this speech in ads to ensure I keep that support in 2020.

Trump on Poland's dual struggle in World War II against Nazi and Soviet invasion: "That's trouble. That's tough."

Translation: Possibly the understatement of the year, this was also part of a barrage of lines that commemorated Poland's fight against totalitarian oppression in the 20th century. There's nothing unusual about celebrating victory over tyranny, but Trump went on to hold up Poland as a kind of model for the modern-day Western world. For example:

Trump: "The triumph of the Polish spirit over centuries of hardship gives us all hope for a future in which good conquers evil and peace achieves victory over war."

Translation: Much of Trump's speech was philosophical meanderings about the defense of "civilization" and the West against "forces" (he never fully defined which "forces," though he did mention "radical Islamic terrorism" as a new shared threat) that want to "undermine our courage, sap our spirit and weaken our will to defend ourselves and our societies."

Poland, Trump said, was an example of a country that kept its traditions and national character alive against such external "forces," despite repeated invasions. (All of this, by the way, will have been music to the ears of Poland's nationalist government, which makes much of the country's history of defeating Communism and asserting its national identity.)

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks at Krasinski Square in Warsaw, Poland, on July 6. As Trump feuds with CNN, there have been mixed messages from the GOP, as one lawmaker defended the media while a governor sided with Trump. Kacper Pempel/Reuters

Trump: "The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive."

Translation: Trump painted the external struggle against threats like violent extremists as being tied to an internal struggle to defend supposed "Western values." "We can have the largest economies and the most lethal weapons anywhere on earth. But if we do not have strong families and strong values, then we will be weak and we will not survive," he said.

He didn't say how exactly "strong families" would resist, for example, the threat from North Korea, which he warned about Thursday morning.

Trump: "Americans will never forget the nations of Europe, will never forget we are the fastest and the greatest community, there is nothing like our community of nations, the world has never known anything like our community of nations."

Translation: Is it possible to describe one community as "faster" than another? Not in any style guide I've seen, anyway.

Leaving that aside, Trump's affirmation of U.S.-European ties was wrapped into an account of Western civilization's superiority that will go down very well with the more hard-right sections of his support base.

Europe and America, Trump said, are great because they celebrate "ancient heroes," "write symphonies," observe "timeless customs," "cherish inspiring works of art," defend "the rule of law" and "empower women as pillars of our society."

Trump: "The United States has demonstrated not merely with words but with our actions that we stand firmly behind [NATO's] Article 5: the mutual defense commitment."

Translation: The speech did include some hard policy pronouncements, and plenty of people in Europe were hoping for this explicit commitment to the defense of the U.S.'s NATO allies. Poland, especially, has been worried that a less outward-looking U.S. would embolden Russia, with which it shares a border, and the Polish government will be able to paint this as a win.

Other European capitals might be less happy. "Europe must do more," Trump went on, repeating one of his favorite mantras: that all NATO members should start spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense.

Trump: "We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere and its support for hostile regimes, including Syria and Iran."

Translation: This was another bit of hard policy. Ahead of a meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G-20—Trump's first with the Russian president—Western European leaders will at least be pleased that Trump is taking their line on Russia's overseas activities.

Trump: "Every foot of ground, and every last inch of civilization, is worth defending with your life."

Translation: Er, I, for one, really, really hope this is a metaphor.