“Dear Republican Senators of America. Ronald Reagan, who helped millions of us to win back our freedom and independence, must be turning in his grave today. Shame on you,” wrote Donald Tusk on X, commenting on the Republicans’ refusal to back a $60 billion package of aid for Ukraine.
A former Polish foreign minister whose views were far closer to Tusk’s than those of Ronald Reagan once coined the phrase “diplomatic duffers” to describe governments that failed to master the subtleties of playing the game of diplomacy. Today, it seems that Donald Tusk has become the model example of a “diplomatic duffer.”
It is worth noting that criticism in Poland of Tusk’s outburst was bottom-up, with most pro-government commentators who had pounced on every error made by the previous conservative (PiS) government notably absent.
However, PiS politicians were also silent, maybe because, much as they might want to criticize Tusk, they remain too invested in seeing the world through Ukrainian eyes. It may also be because PiS politicians had been vocal in supporting Donald Trump during the 2020 election and had not bothered to attempt to create good relations with the Democrats, so much so that President Andrzej Duda was late in congratulating Biden on his victory.
All that changed in February 2022 when Russia attacked Ukraine. Suddenly PiS presented Biden as Poland’s great friend, and President Andrzej Duda rolled out the red carpet for him and was prepared to be reduced to being a supporting act in an event the Polish head of state was hosting.
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Now, history is repeating itself. Instead of Biden, we may have Trump, and instead of Andrzej Duda and the PiS government, we have Tusk and his administration lambasting U.S. senators. The U.S. senators’ replies to Tusk were scathing, reminding Tusk that Poland is under U.S. protection and not the other way around. One also suggested that if Tusk wants to help, he should offer to take in hundreds of thousands of migrants from the U.S. to free up American resources to help Ukraine.
Elbridge Colby, a former official with the U.S. Defense Department during Trump’s spell in office, also criticized Tusk on X. He said that “as America faces deep strategic, economic, and immigration problems, many Americans are wondering whether staying engaged abroad is worth it. I argue it is, albeit more selectively and shifting to a partnership rather than dependency model” but, he added, the Tusk comments “undermined that.”
Nile Gardiner, Margaret Thatcher’s former adviser and commentator for The Telegraph, said that this was an example of how not to win friends in Washington and to burn bridges with close allies.
“Tusk does not understand diplomacy and democracy when he treats Republican senators with contempt. He is arrogant, uncouth and offensive towards Americans,” wrote Gardiner.
All in all, it was terrible PR for Poland. So why did Tusk do it? Was it just a rush of blood to the head from a man who is intelligent enough to know this was a futile gesture? After all, Tusk’s opinion matters to U.S. senators no more than the price of bananas in Kuala Lumpur. Was it for domestic consumption, even though it is difficult to see how this advances his cause in Poland? Or was it a deliberate attempt to undermine Polish-American relations so that after any change of government in Washington, Poland will be tied even closer to Berlin? That seems a more plausible explanation.
Tusk’s outburst may get likes from his supporters, just as some PiS supporters used to support Poland adopting a lofty moral tone over Ukraine. However, these people really need to remember that the job of a Polish prime minister is to take care of the security of our country, rather than causing diplomatic storms against those who are guarantors of the nation’s security.
It would be better if “diplomatic duffer” Tusk kept his social media activities limited to posting sweet photos of him with his grandson on a skiing holiday, or Poland may be in big trouble.