Skip to comments.No Joke: Poland is our best friend in Europe
Posted on 01/24/2003 9:50:55 PM PST by Pokey78
WHEN EUROPE THREW a big party in Copenhagen in December, Poland nearly spoiled the fun. Unhappy with the membership terms offered by the European Union, the Poles held out for a few extra billion euros, knowing full well the "historic" enlargement jamboree couldn't take place without the biggest of the Central European candidates. The E.U. caved and put up extra cash, securing the claim to have "reunified Europe" and "buried Yalta." Polish prime minister Leszek Miller, a veteran of one of his country's last Communist governments, thanked native son Pope John Paul II for getting Poland into "Europe."
The theatrics in Copenhagen may be a foretaste of things to come in the expanded Europe. Not since Britain joined in 1973 has the old guard in Paris, Berlin, and Brussels been so uneasy about a new member. Leave aside Poland's stagnant economy, its dangerous populists, and its corruption scandals. Poland is a pain because its heart isn't in Europe but across the Atlantic.
It's a deeply worrying prospect for the euro-nationalists. The E.U.'s constitutional convention, now underway in Brussels, aims to strengthen the common foreign policy after Europe's failure to stand up to America on Iraq, Kyoto, and the international criminal court. On January 14, France and Germany (a.k.a. Old Europe) backed the creation of the post of European president, in part to give the E.U. a stronger voice, and a week later Paris sided with Germany's pacifistic stance on war with Iraq. A European military force will be up and running this year. And while many different camps have a say in the often tedious debate over Europe's future, most are still tempted to define Europe against America, as in de Gaulle's day, and to see their values or interests as divergent.
The coming expansion of the E.U. to 25 countries and 445 million people (up from 15 countries and 378 million people today) might just make Europe better able to stand up to America in world affairs. But there's a hitch. Poland, the most important of the incoming members, with its 40 million people and strategic location on the E.U.'s future eastern frontier, is Washington's closest ally on the Continent. During the drawn-out negotiations over membership, French president Jacques Chirac pointedly warned Polish foreign minister Bronislaw Geremek that Poland better not be the "American Trojan horse in Europe" or Paris might veto its accession (as de Gaulle once did Britain's). Some in the Brussels press corps casually refer to Poland as a "Fifth Column."
Maybe they're right. Only a few weeks after Copenhagen, Warsaw bought 48 F-16 fighters from Lockheed Martin for $3.8 billion, snubbing two European offers. "As a thank-you present for entry into Europe, what a success!" said a scandalized Serge Dassault, whose French concern, Dassault Aviation, lost out. For three days, his newspaper, the Paris daily Le Figaro, ran letters from readers calling the Poles ingrates and bad Europeans.
The pique in Paris, however, was mostly for show. The French, like the Poles, had known all along that the biggest military tender ever in the former Warsaw Pact would go to a U.S. concern. (Congress gave Poland a favorable loan to cover the purchase, and Lockheed Martin threw in more goodies, including about $10 billion of "offset" investments, than either of the European concerns could muster.) While the jets will help Poland take a bigger role in NATO and any other U.S.-led coalition--the Poles, unlike the Germans, say they're ready to serve in Iraq--the planes were meant to send a clear signal. "With Europe, you have to talk and be on good terms," says Tomasz Lis, anchor of Poland's most-watched evening news show, Fakty. "But the relationship with America is sacred."
Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski didn't seem to care about French feelings. A former sports minister in the Communist era and a savvy politician, Kwasniewski knows polls show the Poles to be among the most pro-American of nations. They're still grateful to Washington for getting Poland into NATO--and ambivalent about the economic costs of joining the E.U. After the jet sale, Kwasniewski went to Washington for the second time in six months. At their White House meeting, President Bush said, "I have got no better friend in Europe today."
From the Polish perspective, the attraction needs no explanation. France and Britain failed Poland in 1939, and again at Yalta (while many Poles rationalize American complicity in the division of Europe, saying Stalin manipulated a frail FDR). Ten million Polish Americans strengthen the bond. The national mythology touts self-sacrifice on behalf of the West against a Barbaric East, going back to the defense of Vienna against the Turks, the Polish army's victory against the Bolsheviks in 1920, and the Polish air force's role in the defense of London in World War II. Less than a year after communism fell, on the eve of the first Gulf War, Polish special forces spirited six U.S. operatives out of Iraq (a story later made into a hit Polish film). Poland's special forces unit, GROM, a standout in an outmoded military, was also deployed in Haiti in 1994.
This eagerness to prove themselves good allies no doubt helped the Poles' cause at NATO and served their narrow national interest. But it also serves America. Through NATO and in many other ways, the United States is a European power. The Europeans aren't the easiest allies; but in the Balkans and Afghanistan, they run the peacekeeping operations. And in a wider Europe, Poland will have potentially broad influence. Inside NATO, the Poles are staunch defenders of the alliance and generally support military engagements abroad. And they sit on a still fragile frontier. Their eastern neighbors include Ukraine, which allegedly sells radar systems to Saddam Hussein, and Belarus, whose president is Europe's last dictator and another Saddam pal. The Poles can be a westward bridge and a good example for these and other former Soviet countries toward which the E.U. has no coherent policy.
AND THERE'S A BETTER REASON to welcome not only the Poles but the other East Europeans into the E.U. For half a century, building Europe was about burying World War II and nudging France and Germany to get along. The current crop of Western European leaders don't have the war to guide them: Gerhard Schröder, ousting Helmut Kohl in 1998, said Germany needed to free itself from its past. Germany's foreign minister Joschka Fischer and the E.U.'s foreign policy chief Javier Solana spent their youth protesting against America rather than feeling grateful for its role in ending the war and rebuilding Europe.
The incoming members had markedly different formative years. Soviet tyranny ended only a dozen years ago. These countries know it wasn't Germany or France that brought down the Soviet empire or that championed their entry into NATO and the E.U. A decade ago, the Europeans stood by as the Balkans descended into war, less than an hour's flight from Vienna. The Balkans aren't that different from Bulgaria or Poland. The Bosnian war remains a useful reminder that Brussels, Paris, and even London haven't yet proven themselves mature enough to look after their messy continent without U.S. help.
So the debate over a divergence in "values" between Europe and America sounds baffling from Warsaw. There, America's "values" aren't rejected. The E.U. may hold the ticket to First World living standards, but America's "moralistic" foreign policy has more appeal to Poles than European realpolitik. And of the 10 incoming E.U. members, only Poland--the most pro-American of the lot--has any strategic weight. Its support for NATO and for U.S. intervention against "rogue regimes," as well as its skepticism about a common European foreign policy and the E.U.'s military ambitions, will have an impact.
Far from widening the trans-Atlantic gulf, the enlargement of the E.U. should change the tenor and substance of relations for the better--as long as the United States retains its leadership role in NATO, and the newcomers master the rules of the E.U.'s sometimes bizarre political game. To succeed in doing this after its accession to the E.U. in 2004, Warsaw will need savvy diplomacy. The link with the United States can help. American diplomats and visiting congressmen, for their part, hope Poland, once inside the E.U., can assist in resolving nasty trade disputes.
For now, the biggest question mark is whether Poland can get its domestic house in order. The recession is hurting. An early post-Communist dose of "shock therapy" sparked an economic boom in the 1990s, but reform has stalled. The farmers are hungry for subsidies that Brussels doesn't want to give. Fringe parties are growing more popular. Poland needs to be a success story to matter in Europe. At the moment, the most encouraging sign is an ambiguous one: No country has provoked so much grumbling in Brussels since Margaret Thatcher lived at 10 Downing Street.
Matthew Kaminski is an editorial page writer for the Wall Street Journal Europe.
I think that FReepers with any interest in traveling to Europe should avoid "Old Europe" and spend their tourist dollars in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia, all of which have proven to be better friends of America than the rest of Europe.
Of course, Britain is an island, and a good ally.
And for Orianna Falacci and Beurlesconi's sake I'll include Italy on the "friend" list.
OK, Spain, too. Their Prime minister is a conservative and has supported Dubya.
The rest have no honor and no sense of their own civilization.
July 4th, that was a lovely story. My father-in-law is a first generation American born Czech. However, I think when his mother came here, she brought the whole family. We can't have an informal gathering with just her kids and their families without renting a hall!
The German Greens would be delighted, Poland and the Czechs would be delighted (give them some bases too) and it will scare the hell out of the Russians.
Maybe we could get a naval base on the Baltic while we are at it.
With the fall of the U.S.S.R., I think these countries felt less liberated from a Soviet treat, but more from a dependence on the U.S. they despised. Dependency never breeds loyalty. It always makes the dependent resent their provider. I think "old" Europe feels liberated from the U.S., and most Europeans can't wait to tell the U.S. to "go to hell".
Except, when nasty things like Kosovo occur. They realize that the haven't the fortitude and national disposition to defend themselves (after all, what if the war occurred during their six week holiday season; whoever would fight it??). So, the old Europeans will bluster and try to prick the U.S. in every way they can, but in the end, they won't cut the cord. Maybe in a few more years...
So, the development of a newly freed, independent group of European nation states is truely interesting. I think the U.S. must do all it can to help them develop capitalist institutions, and a traditional rule of law (i.e. don't let the American bar anywhere near them).
EVERY time these Eastern European countries come to us as friends, standing on their own feet, we should reward the relationship in spades.
Who knows: Maybe an capital-based economic miracle in those countries can remind our country (i.e. USA) what it means to be truely free (and end the class-warfare rhetoric forever).
Good luck, my Polish, Chek, and other "new" European friends!
Oh, and by all means, move our bases to any European country who feels we're partners rather than occupiers. Let the Germans go back to their radical leftist past (i.e. Hitler's "National SOCIALISTs" were not "right wing", they were just less left wing than the Communists). We'll kick their a** again if need be.
The same applies to our bases in Korea. Move our guys to Taiwan, and out of Korea. Let them enjoy their "reunification" with their "mother" country in the North. The South Koreans can all adopt comrade Kim's new weight watching routine (i.e. eating grass), for all I care. I've been to Korea, made some nice friends there, and would go back to help them in a second, IF the current generation didn't hate American's so much. Let 'em go... We have friends in this world; we don't need to reward and protect those who hate us.
Never mind the stores, what about the farmers?
It certainly is a blessing to be liberated from all want and starvation, even for poor people. However, we seem to have gone overboard in the other direction. How astonishing it must be for someone from India or Zimbabwe or Haiti to read about Americans so fat they are having stomach operations to lose weight.
My dad's RAF fighter wing had Polish squadrons attached during WWII. He had the utmost respect for their fearlessness. They were so brave and hated the Nazis so much that they would sometimes atttempt to collide with a German plane if their guns jammed. I remember telling a Polish joke to him as a young boy, and being reprimanded for insulting his favorite comrades.
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