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Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland

Can We Rely on Obama?

By Mariusz Zawadzki

Translated By Marta Danon

7 June 2014

Edited by Robert O’Connor

Poland - Gazeta Wyborcza - Original Article (Polish)

You will never be alone again, our alliance is forged in granite, you are protected by the most powerful army in the world, reassured President Obama. In that moment many Polish hearts beat stronger, but later — mainly because of our unfortunate history — doubts certainly appeared in many heads. Even if personally Obama brings trust, he will not be president forever; he will live in the White House another two and a half years. Most importantly of all, coming from everywhere is news about the inevitable end of America.

There is a lot of truth in it because the world is changing, becoming multipolar. Because of our Eurocentric blindness we still don't see it, but already not only China, which is spoken and written about the most, but also India, Brazil and other Asian tigers are developing quickly; therefore, America's hegemony, or — broadly speaking — Western Europe's and America's hegemony which has lasted roughly for the past five centuries, is slowly coming to an end.

And of course there is Russia, with its remorse about the lost empire and dreams to rebuild it, which are the KGB-ist Putin's dreams. But that's only part of the truth. The problem is not Putin himself, but millions of Russians in the majority that support him. It should also be known that Putin is going to rule in the Kremlin until 2024, when only American historians will be talking about Obama.

According to some, even the current president of United States can’t be relied on. He already "sold us to Putin" once when the missile defense shield was withdrawn from Poland and the Czech Republic, which was to be a gesture of good will and confirm the "reset" — that is, the new beginning in relations between Moscow and Washington. For years, American Republicans lamented that Obama was weak and indecisive — and at the same time, naive as a child if he believed in a reconciliation with a KGB-ist.

So in the face of it all do the strong words, which were spoken on Castle Square, have any meaning?

Yes, of course. Let’s take any doubts in turn.

America's economic hegemony is in fact entering a stage of decay. But for a change, its military supremacy is currently at its greatest height. For the last 20 years Americans have spent as much on armaments as all the rest of the world taken together. This proportion is gradually changing for the benefit of the rest of the world, but still America spends five times more on defense than second place China and eight times more than third place Russia.

Money doesn't lie. In every conventional conflict between countries, that is, without atomic weapons, the advantage of Americans, even over Russians, would be staggering. It can easily be assumed that this will not change for the next decade or two.

When it comes to Putin's Russia, the Republican Senator John McCain likes to repeat that it's a huge gas station that pretends to be a superstate. That's slightly exaggerated, but not completely. Development and rise of income under Putin's rule came mainly from rapid feedstock price growth. Crude oil prices are seven times what they were in 1999.

Putin alone, despite remaining mentally in the previous era to a certain extent, seems rational. He is attacking only the weakest in his playground: In 2008, Georgia, where he was largely provoked, and in 2014, the mired-in-chaos Ukraine. He has not done anything crazy yet, only encouraged nationalism at a relatively low cost and given the impression that Russia is more important in the world then it is in reality.

Obama did not sell us to Russia, he only withdrew Bush's shield, the effectiveness of which — according to American militarists — would be doubtful. In return, he proposed a different, more reasonable version of the shield. Instead of a few American anti-missiles, which were to wait in Radzikowo for the highly hypothetical Iranian missiles with atomic warheads, flying in a low earth orbit towards America, we will have the AEGIS antimissile system, that also protects the European countries of NATO.

The reset with Russia was not a betrayal of Poland, but a completely meaningful attempt to build good relations with a big country, which at that time could help America in certain important world affairs, among others in Afghanistan. That Putin did not take this excellent opportunity to have normal relations with the West is not Obama's fault.

We Poles, or at least the wiser among us, were fans of the "reset" and now we can only regret that it did not work. For we wanted to have good, friendly relations with Russia, and instead we hear that "the bandits and provocateurs from the Maidan Square were trained in the Polish camps."

When it comes to Obama's alleged weakness, he did not unleash any new war — apart from the humanitarian intervention in Libya approved by the U.N., where NATO airplanes saved the revolutionaries from the dictator. The fact that somebody does not want to use force, despite being the strongest, shows common sense and moderation rather than weakness.

Obama's virtues should include consistency as well, which can be seen, for example, in the quarrel with Russia. Though three months passed from the annexation of Crimea and the pro-Russian gangs wreak havoc in the East of Ukraine, some of our allies from Western Europe behave as if they wanted to forget about the whole "incident" and come back to calmly doing business with Putin.

In the meantime Obama announced in Warsaw — to their surprise or dissatisfaction — that a billion dollars is going to be spent to straighten NATO's eastern flank. The next day he appealed to the French to hold the sale of aircraft carriers to Russia and warned Moscow the entire time that while it meddles in Ukraine's internal affairs, there is no return to business as usual.

If the next American presidents will be as sensible and we Europeans will be able to assure them that NATO is important and needed, then Poland will be safe for at least one generation; that is, until the kids of today grow up. Let’s hope they will build a different, better, post-American and post-Putin world.



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