The Blog

'For Your Freedom and Ours'

Remembering Polish Heroes of the Battle of Britain, and pondering the course of U.S.-Polish relations in the Age of Obama.

12:00 AM, Sep 16, 2009 • By STUART KOEHL
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Under the Obama administration, the mutual love affair between Poland and America seems to have cooled considerably. Not only is the administration reconsidering the construction of the missile defense system on which the Polish government expended so much political capital, but it seems intent on deliberately snubbing one of our most reliable allies. For instance, September 1 marked the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, a war which began with the invasion of Poland. Some 20 percent of all Poles would die in that war, proportionally more than the losses of the Soviet Union, Germany and (of course) the United States. For Poles, the anniversary was a very solemn occasion, to be marked with a state ceremony. Three months earlier, invitations had been sent out to all the NATO and EU heads of state, as well as to the White House. Almost all were in attendance on that day--British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicholas Sarkozy. Representing the United States? Not the president. Not the vice president. Not even the Secretary of State. Just National Security Advisor General James Jones. Draw your own conclusions.

At a more substantive level, the Obama administration seems determined to sever the close ties that have emerged between the United States and all the former Soviet satellite states of Eastern Europe--Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine and the Baltic States--in order to "reset" its relations with Russia, a country that consistently works against U.S. interests around the world, supports governments antithetical to the United States (Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, Iran and Syria), violates human rights on a massive scale, uses its control of European oil and natural gas supplies as an economic weapon, invades and partially annexes the territory of a neighboring state, and which seems intent upon subjugating all of its neighbors in a simulacrum of (if not the Soviet Union) the old Tsarist empire.

At the same time, we seem incapable of absorbing the fact that Russia is a power in decline, whose military forces are a hollow shell, whose economy teeters on the knife-edge of dissolution, and whose population is in the midst of a demographic death spiral. Obama and his foreign policy advisers seem trapped in a time warp when it is always 1980, and the Soviet Union stands at the pinnacle of its power. Thus, the administration offers deference, if not obeisance to a declining authoritarian adversary, while slighting vital emerging democracies who not only like the United States, but are willing to help it do the heavy lifting on the geopolitical stage.

Will the United States do to Poland in this decade what the Allies did to it in the 1940s? One wonders. Even before President Obama took office, there were signs that officials in Washington--particularly in the State Department--were suffering from what one U.S. diplomat in Warsaw described to me as "Poland Fatigue". The Poles, it was felt, were getting too big for their britches, and should just shut up and be good Janissaries. And the Poles, for their part, felt taken for granted. Poles generally, and the Polish government in particular, have an "Atlanticist" orientation. They want to be in a close strategic and economic relationship with the United States. Many distrust the European Union, and especially its ability to guarantee Polish security. As a result, they will take quite a bit of perceived abuse. But we may be reaching the limits of their toleration on this point. If the United States does not take positive steps to mend its fences with Warsaw, it may soon find a much colder shoulder when it goes looking for support in the UN, the EU, or on the battlefield.

Polish pilots killed in World War II are buried in 139 cemeteries across the United Kingdom. The largest number--some 346--are buried in Newark-upon-Trent, under a large stone cross bearing the Polish words Za Wolnosc: For Freedom. They died for that. We owe it to them to live for it, too.

Stuart Koehl is a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD Online.