Fakt article

This is the English version. The Polish version (behind a pay barrier) is available here

Once is chance. Twice is bad luck. Three times is enemy action. That is the easy conclusion to draw about America’s treatment of what was until recently its strongest and most important European ally.

The first snub came over Radek Sikorski’s candidacy for the secretary-general’s post at NATO. His chances were slim, but he still deserved respectful treatment from America. Not a bit of it: Mr Sikorski struggled even to get a meeting at the National Security Council
Then came the commemorations on September 1st-a black day in Polish history and worthy of high-level attendance by Poland’s friends (Britain’s foreign secretary David Miliband turned up, and politely sat in a back row listening to other people make speeches). The initial American choice to lead the delegation bordered on the insulting: William Perry, who as defence secretary under Clinton opposed Poland’s NATO application. Only belatedly did the administration send Jim Jones, the national security adviser. By then the damage was done.

The third snub was the worst. Militarily and technologically, the decision to scrap George Bush’s ambitious, costly and unpopular missile defence plans makes sense. It would have been easy to reassure Poland and the Czech Republic that America was still taking their security seriously. Beefing up NATO’s planning, holding some military manoeuvres (to match Russia’s sinister Zapad-09), making it clear that the Patriots would be real ones-all would have showed America’s commitment to Poland. Instead, there was a hurried, almost amateurish announcement, with late night phone calls and a low-level delegation scurrying between Warsaw and Prague. And all of it on one of the blackest days in Polish history.

Actually, it is not enemy action-just carelessness and ignorance. I have tried explaining to American officials that September 17th is the Polish equivalent of Pearl Harbour. They sometimes seem only dimly aware of what I am talking about. For the youngsters at the White House and State Department, this is ancient history. At the top, there is the same feeling of detachment. Mr Obama is the first president of the United States with no sentimental or family ties to Europe. It would be quite unfair to say that for Mr Obama, Europe stands for slavery. It just doesn’t stand for much.

In particular, on the foreign-policy to-do list, eastern Europe’s security jostles for attention with other far more pressing problems (Afghanistan, Middle East, climate change, North Korea, Iran-and of course Russia). Until something goes badly wrong, it won’t be a priority.

The worst thing is that Russia knows this. America doesn’t need to sell out eastern Europe. Neglect will do fine. In theory, NATO’s security guarantee still holds. But without real contingency planning and regular manoeuvres, this is pleasant fiction, not hard fact. Once it becomes clear that Washington’s attention is elsewhere, Russia and its west European friends (Germany chiefly, but also Italy, Austria and others) can do their dirty deals, especially in energy, unchecked.. Without a powerful outsider to act as a counterweight, Europe’s power-politics are always vulnerable to a Russian-German deal. It has happened before and now, with America weak and distracted, it can happen again.

2 comments

    • Giustino on September 24, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    Mr Obama is the first president of the United States with no sentimental or family ties to Europe.

    To be fair, around half of Mr. Obama's family originates in the UK and Ireland. He is related to several US presidents — Madison, Johnson, Truman, Ford, and both Bushes.

    I am also (distantly) related to Johnson and Carter. You might be too. The 'founding fathers' were a relatively small group of people.

    I understand your point that he can't go to Europe the way, say, Kennedy did in 1963.

    Once it becomes clear that Washington’s attention is elsewhere, Russia and its west European friends (Germany chiefly, but also Italy, Austria and others) can do their dirty deals, especially in energy, unchecked.. Without a powerful outsider to act as a counterweight, Europe’s power-politics are always vulnerable to a Russian-German deal.

    Where does Britain stand in all of this?

    • Martin on October 13, 2009 at 5:30 am

    "That is the easy conclusion to draw about America’s treatment of what was until recently its strongest and most important European ally"

    Edward, are you talking Poland here? Give us a break!

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