Poland Beware: American Colossus Changes Course

Andrzej Lepper [leader of the extreme right-wing party, Self-Defense of the Republic of Poland] has praised President Lech Kaczyński for being “brave” during talks with President Bush. Whereas valor in the head of state is important for a nation’s emotional well-being, it is insufficient as a basis for foreign policy – especially in a country that cannot boast of an especially fortunate geo-strategic location, and in comparison to its neighbors, lacks a considerable armed force or particularly strong economy.

The statesmen of such a country must not only be valiant; they must also be smart, forward-looking, and last but not least, effective. For the last six years (except for Marek Belka’s term as prime minister ), one would be at pains to so characterize Polish foreign policy – a fact that has systematically pushed Poland to the margins of Europe.

An excessive sense of Polish self-importance is one problem, but the biggest has been the way Warsaw has underestimated the importance of European (and Western) values. Verbal radicalism in our relations with Russia and Germany [read below], a domestic crusade against minorities that has spread to international forums [an extreme-rightwing Euro deputy and member of the governing Polish coalition, Maciej Giertych embarrassed the government and angered Europeans by publishing an anti-Semitic and homophobic pamphlet, thus embarrassing Poland in the European Parliament], a destructive and demanding posture in regard to the debate over the European Constitution and the failure to put to good use the potential of such global icons of democracy as Lech Wałęsa and Bronisław Geremek . All of this might make splashy headlines, but it’s counterproductive from the point of view of Polish national interests.

[Editor’s Note: One must explain the author’s reference to “verbal radicalism in our relations with Russia and Germany.” Poland and Russia have exchanged unkind words over the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which the Poles unequivocally supported. In addition, there was an incident during which thugs beat up the children of Russian diplomats, and Russia felt Warsaw was less than sympathetic. Poland and Germany have been engaged in a dispute over a new museum in Germany, which highlights the plight of Germans ejected from land given to Poland after World War II. The Poles feel that the museum makes a sort of moral equivalency between the crimes of the Nazis and the Polish leaders that permitted the ejection of the Germans ].

The situation becomes especially acute, when the only country with which Poland has carefully cultivated relations is on the cusp of a serious re-evaluation of its own foreign policy. America is ever-more skeptical of President Bush’s foreign adventures – adventures that Poland has supported in the teeth of widespread European opposition. The Iraq War, Bush’s disregard for human rights, his tendency toward unilateralism and his attempts to marginalize “Old Europe” are today openly questioned – not only by dissidents and the Democrats reaching for power in Washington, but by a growing element of the Republican political elite, which is exerting pressure on the President to change his posture.

When the American ship of war makes a sudden change in course, the tiny ships escorting it must be extra careful not to capsize in the vortex or drown when the giant’s maneuvering makes them vulnerable to foreign rivals [an allusion to Russia and Germany].

One of the best symbols of this course correction is the issue of how prisoners in the war on terrorism are treated . The matter of CIA prisons long ago ceased being the obsession of impotent pacifists and week-kneed Europeans suffering a major case of anti-Americanism. These prisons are, and will probably continue to be even more so, a symbol of Bush’s unproductive foreign policy, which is outright destructive to U.S. interests and from which America will try to radically cut herself off. So if these secret and illegal prisons in Eastern Europe really existed or continue to exist, after the next U.S. election one cannot count on a new American administration to keep this information hidden from the public.

For Poland, there is still another important reason to take the damning Council of Europe report [on secret CIA prisons ] very seriously. Given the transformed political atmosphere, dismissing such grave charges with half-explanations, simple denials or by reciting the mantra of Polish sovereignty will do nothing to ease our situation. What might help, would be an open display of determination on the part of the government and our President to issue a complete and trustworthy explanation of the issue.

The European as well as the American public must be assured that if illegal prisons which trampled upon human rights ever existed in Poland, the officials responsible – including the highest-ranking politicians – will be punished by the Republic of Poland to the fullest extent of the law. In doing so, we will not only confirm our adherence to those Euro-Atlantic values that are now seeing a renaissance. We will also confirm our capacity to take a rightful place in that new, Western values-based configuration that is now emerging – even while the colossus turns to take a new course.

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