Dear Poland, Happy Soviet Invasion Day, Love Uncle Sam
While American and international media blames President Obama for choosing to announce his decision on the removal of the missile defense system from Poland and Czech Republic on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet attack on Poland on September 17, 1939, surprisingly so far no one has called it a failure of American diplomacy. What makes this failure even more disturbing is that neither the State Department nor the White House has drawn any lessons from an earlier public diplomacy disaster when they gave grave offence by sending to Poland a low-level delegation to participate in the 70th anniversary observances on September 1 of the start of World War II, a date also of great historical significance to the Polish people.
Both missteps were completely avoidable. Why add insult to injury? Why offend even more a loyal US ally in the war on terror who has contributed troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan?
There may be some who think that the Obama White House deliberately snubbed and punished Poland because Warsaw was one of the strongest supporters among NATO members of President Bush’s foreign policy. I don’t think this was the case. President Obama and his closest advisors may be naive and historically challenged, but they would not sacrifice American national interests in such a way. The additional humiliation of Poland was not deliberate. It was unplanned, and much of it was certainly unnecessary and avoidable.
If only one US diplomat, one foreign service officer at the State Department, did his or her job well, some of the international headlines making fun of President Obama’s lack of appreciation of history would not have been written. Where was the US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale, one of President Obama’s appointees? (Photo) Where was the US Ambassador to Poland Victor Ashe?
As President Bush’s holdover appointee who is leaving his post in Warsaw this week, Ambassador Ashe would not have much influence with the Obama White House anyway. But where was President Obama’s Ambassador-Designate to Poland Lee A. Feinstein? The Brookings Institution Visiting Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies and National Security Director to Hillary Rodham Clinton during her presidential campaign should have been already advising the Obama Administration on a host of issues, including the sensitive area of history and trust in US-Polish relations. His statement made to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 15, just two days before President Obama’s ill-timed announcement, shows a certain appreciation of Poland’s history.
“Poland has endured great hardship and tragedy in its history. It has been occupied and dismembered by foreign powers time and again. It experienced a brief period of independence after World War I, but then fell prey to Nazi invasion and occupation, during which six million Polish citizens lost their lives, including three million Jews, most of Poland’s Jewish population. Then, following the war, the Soviet regime deprived Poles of their political liberty and imposed an economic system that kept the country in poverty and subjugation.”
President Obama’s Ambassador-Designate to Poland Lee A. Feinstein, September 15, 2009
Ambassador-Designate Feinstein did not specifically mention the Soviet invasion of Poland on September 17, 1939, but he undoubtedly knew about it, and knew about President Obama’s pending missile shield announcement. He probably also knows that the Poles still remember how the US Administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had betrayed Poland to Russia at the end of World War II. I specifically refer to FDR and his administration, and not the American people who did not want to see Poland being sold to Stalin.
Lee Feinstein should have called the White House to offer friendly advice on Polish history and perhaps quote from another part of his earlier statement: “As Secretary Clinton has said, Poland is ‘one of our closest allies.’ Poland was one of just three countries that entered Iraq with U.S. forces in 2003. It contributes forces for NATO’s KFOR mission in Kosovo. Polish forces have served in Afghanistan since the onset of the NATO mission in 2004.” Ambassador-Designate Feinstein summed up Poland’s special relationship with the US in this way: “In short, intrepid Polish forces stand with us in dangerous places with dangerous missions, and Poland has increased its contributions, which are prodigious.”
During World War II, Polish soldiers fought alongside of British and American soldiers against Nazi Germany. Those who understand how the Polish people feel about history and about America are reminded of Ambassador Arthur Bliss Lane who served in Poland from 1945 until 1947 during the Truman Administration, resigned, and wrote a book “I Saw Poland Betrayed.” He described what he saw as the betrayal of Poland by the Western Allies at the end of World War II, with President Franklin D. Roosevelt playing a major part in selling out of Poland to Stalin at the Yalta Conference. Fortunately, subsequent administrations and the American people rejected Roosevelt’s naive assessment of Stalin and supported America’s participation in the Cold War until the Soviet Union collapsed and Poland along with other Central European nations became a member of NATO. The people of Poland can take some comfort in knowing that American democracy eventually corrects even some of the gravest mistakes made by US presidents.
Even if President Obama’s ideological preferences pushed him to embrace Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev rather than listen to Lech Walesa and Waclav Havel, who had sent him a letter warning him about Russia’s dangerous slide into authoritarianism and imperial expansion, there was still room for observing basic diplomatic protocol and good manners. At a lower level of US diplomatic corps, where was the PAO (Public Affairs Officer) at the US Embassy in Warsaw and dozens of other foreign service officers, each costing US taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars? Where was the Polish Desk officer at the State Department? Where were all the public diplomacy experts President Obama had promised to bring on board to correct the mistakes of the Bush Administration, whom he accused of dealing harshly with the rest of the world and of not listening to what others were saying?
Well, the Obama Administration is now talking softly to Moscow, Iran, and Cuba. But what about Poland, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and other nations in Central and Eastern Europe which already are or want to be America’s allies? What about the future of independent and democratic Ukraine? Is Ukraine going to become like Russia? Where was in all of this President Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his chief diplomatic advisor? We have also not heard much from Vice President Biden.
Ultimately, the US President is responsible for any foreign policy and public diplomacy disasters, but American diplomats should have managed the process and tried to soften the blow to Poland and other nations in the region. Perhaps they did warn the White House, and their warnings were ignored. This would still qualify as a failure of American diplomacy — the inability of State Department officials to affect something as simple as the timing of a critical announcement and selecting who should represent the United States at an important event abroad.
If warnings were issued to the White House and were disregarded, I hope we will soon find out. Comments from those who may know are welcome. Whatever happened, this will hurt President Obama politically among Polish-American voters and other Americans with roots in Central and Eastern Europe. With headlines like these, this diplomatic fiasco will likely have a negative political impact for the President and his party across the whole spectrum of the American electorate. But while President Obama may eventually pay a political price for the mistakes that were both his and the State Department’s, the damage to America’s reputation and credibility among our true allies abroad will be long-lasting and will not be easily undone.
Wired Headline: Dear Poland, Happy Soviet Invasion Day, Love Uncle Sam
By the way, we are taking away the thing that could prevent another one. Hope you don’t mind. Too much.
The Washington Times Headline: Obama not smooth on Gdansk: German attack that started World War II marked without him
Polish Radio Headline: US snubs Poland over WW II ceremony?
DigitalJournal Headline: Opinion: Obama chose wrong day to abandon missile defence shield in Europe
examiner.com San Francisco Headline: Obama betrays Poland and every American EXCELLENT VIDEOS!
Drudge Report Headline: September 17: Obama kills missile defense for Poland on 70th anniversary of Soviet invasion…
And countless blogs: