U.S. dollars wooed ally in Iraq coalition

Poland's military support, warplane deal coincided

$3.5 billion purchase of F-16s

Bargain included sending American business there

October 17, 2004|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

U.S. dollars wooed ally in Iraq coalitionAs the Bush administration scrambled last year to pull together a "coalition of the willing" to wage a war in Iraq, it simultaneously negotiated and financed an unprecedented multibillion-dollar arms deal with Poland - a compact that promises to funnel at least $6 billion in U.S. investments into the former Warsaw Pact nation, which has become one of the United States' primary wartime supporters.

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have criticized Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in recent days for suggesting that the administration used financial inducements to assemble its coalition, calling his comments an insult to a country like Poland, which dispatched 2,500 troops to fight alongside Americans in Iraq.

But the record shows that early last year, the United States brought the full force of its powerful economy to bear on prospective military allies, offering more than $4 billion in an unsuccessful attempt to gain the allegiance of Turkey and helping to negotiate Poland's $3.5 billion purchase of 48 F-16 fighter planes from Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin Corp.

The Polish deal also included more than $6 billion in U.S. business investment that Lockheed promised to channel into Poland, an economic "offset" that caused Polish officials to call the purchase "the deal of the century."

Although perhaps not rising to meet Kerry's contention before the war that the United States formed a "coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought and the extorted" in Iraq, the type of economic incentives won by Poland were called "economic bribes" this year by Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Troop withdrawal

Poland's allegiance seemed shakier Friday, when Prime Minister Marek Belka said that his country will start withdrawing its troops - the fourth-largest contingent in Iraq - early next year.

The announcement came weeks after Polish officials complained that the F-16 deal is not producing as much U.S. investment as they anticipated, though they have long denied any relationship between the deal and the troops.

Seventeen Polish troops have been killed in Iraq, and Polish public opinion has been anti-war from the start of hostilities. Eight other members of the coalition, including Spain and the Philippines, have withdrawn their troops.

At the very least, the fine print to Poland's mammoth weapons deal illustrates the benefits - both political and economic - enjoyed by a country that chose to fight beside the United States.

The deal, which allows Poland to defer payments for eight years and then begin repayments at below-market interest rates, has fostered such trans-Atlantic ventures as building General Motors cars in Gliwice, manufacturing U.S. Army explosives in Bydgoszcz and, after the intervention of the Federal Aviation Administration, selling Polish airplanes in southern Florida.

High-level support

"Lockheed didn't win the contract, the U.S. government did, with pressure and support coming from the very highest levels," said Gregory Filipowicz, a defense industry consultant who lives in Poland and has helped arrange at least two of Lockheed's "offset" investment deals related to the F-16 contract.

"They created a program that, politically and economically, was very hard to say no to," Filipowicz said.

"As for the deeper political motives, of course, we'll never know what was said in the back rooms," he said.

Polish officials say that their political ties to the United States are unwavering and that their decision to participate in the war was unaffected by their economic interests.

"Our decisions were not taken on the basis of tactical considerations," Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said last month during a speech at Columbia University. "We were not calculating what we can win from this or that choice.

"We did not expect to make political profits or economic gains. The decision to support the invasion of Iraq was mainly based on our understanding of the true meaning of alliance and solidarity."

Still, Cimoszewicz said, they appreciate the benefits - political, economic and otherwise - of forging a military partnership with the United States.

"The Polish support to the military action against Saddam Hussein and our role in the stabilization process in Iraq gained us true friends in Washington," Cimoszewicz said. "Although these decisions in Poland were not easy to take, they proved to be the right ones."

Poland's interest in fighter aircraft predates the war in Iraq, as does Lockheed Martin's interest in Poland. Both engaged in an eight-year courtship as Polish officials debated which of the world's fighter planes suited their needs, and which of Poland's budding political alliances - with the European Union or NATO - they most needed to nurture.

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