Poland questioning ties to U.S.

November 17, 2006|By Zbigniew Janowski

The crisis roiling Poland's government arose from a fight over the budget. However, it has brought into stark relief a growing uneasiness about the direction of Poland's foreign policy vis-?-vis the United States.

During a recent visit to the U.N. by Polish President Lech Kaczynski, Defense Minister Radek Sikorski announced the decision to send Polish troops to Afghanistan in January. While in the United States, Mr. Kaczynski met also with President Bush - who gave the Polish president five minutes of his time.

That meeting is said to be the most expensive gift Poland could offer America, since it will cost Poland 1,000 troops and millions of dollars. The caption on the cover of a recent Polish edition of Newsweek reads: "Do We Need This War?" After Mr. Sikorski's announcement, the Taliban warned Poland against supporting the United States in Iraq.

As America has not achieved the expected quick victory in Iraq, and as the Taliban has re-emerged in Afghanistan, Poles are not too comfortable talking about their support for American ventures. During his visit to Poland four years ago, Mr. Bush promised Poland - now a member of NATO and the European Union - military equipment and visa waivers to the United States. Neither promise has been fulfilled, despite the fact that Poland, after Britain, has the third-largest contingent of troops in Iraq. The general feeling is one of humiliation and growing skepticism over American politics. The five-minute meeting between the two presidents made Poles think the United States treats Poland not as a partner but as a pawn.

Mr. Sikorski argues that having a modern army is essential, considering the rise of militant Islam. However, while expressing gratitude for the $30 million the United States gave Poland in military aid, he points out that Poland will receive $100 billion from the EU as part of a modernization package. Critics observe that the American military aid must be repaid with 6 percent interest. In other words, Poland is supposed to pay for American ventures with its own money. Poland is also considering accepting on its soil space interceptors that are supposed to protect the United States against long-range nuclear missiles. The installation of this "shield" means that Poland could become a target for terrorist attacks.

Polish pro-Americanism has been partly a result of France and Germany's arrogance toward new members of the European Union. As Ryszard Legutko, vice speaker of the Polish Senate, told me, "Europe is dead," whereas America has a moral backbone. Poland, as a pro-American EU maverick, is not trusted by its neighbors. Last month, Russia and Germany announced an agreement to build a gas pipeline that will bypass Poland.

How long will this pro-American attitude prevail? Recently, an influential Polish weekly carried a series of articles titled: "Is America a Real Ally of Poland?" A piece by Emmanuel Todd begins with the statement: "The United States is no longer a trustworthy ally for anyone."

For Poles who remember communism, the United States has been the country they most admire. But for young Poles, things have changed. In a country where unemployment in some regions is 20 percent, Poles seek jobs in EU countries because they cannot get visas to America. The United States has also refused Poland participation in the lottery issuing green cards, arguing that Poland exceeded its limits in the last lottery.

What long-term benefits Poland will gain from its current political course remains to be seen. But there is also a question here for the United States. In April 2004, Spain, under social pressure, withdrew its troops from Iraq. Last July, when the Czech Republic was being considered as a possible place to install the nuclear "shield," we witnessed public protests there. In Britain, Tony Blair has recently announced his departure. And the U.S. elections delivered a stinging rebuke to the Bush administration over its Iraq policy, one that has not gone unnoticed by the third-largest contributor to the war effort.

Poland may be a useful pawn for U.S. foreign policy, but with the slowly growing disenchantment over American sincerity among ordinary Poles, it may be only a matter of time before Poland joins the ranks of anti-Americans.

Zbigniew Janowski, a native of Poland, is a freelance writer and the author of books on 17th-century philosophy.

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