As we reported yesterday morning, it now seems all but certain that the Obama Administration has abandoned our anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. This is a terrible decision that reduces NATO’s security, encourages Iran to proceed full speed ahead with its nuclear program, kowtows to Russian pressure, and stabs our Polish and Czech allies in the back, after they made the difficult decision to support us.
And now the administration appears to have added insult to injury. World War II began on September 1, 1939, when Germany attacked Poland. That was seventy years ago. One of the most significant commemorations of the war will be held on September 1, 2009, at Westerplatte, Poland. Westerplatte is a peninsula near the city of Gdask, which was then known as Danzig. By the terms that ended World War I, Danzig was a largely German-populated Free City under the control of the League of Nations. Early in the morning of September 1, a German surprise attack launched from Danzig failed to overrun a small Polish garrison, which held out against overwhelming force for a week and inflicted hundreds of casualties. The battle is to Poland what Pearl Harbor is to the United States.
There will be many representatives at the Westerplatte ceremonies: the German Chancellor, the Russian Prime Minister, the British and French Foreign Secretaries, and many other foreign ministers or prime ministers. On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department could only say – with the ceremony only five days away – that the U.S. would send “an appropriately senior person” to be announced by the White House.
But the Polish press is reporting that the U.S. will not send a senior representative. Polish Radio quotes the Prime Minister of Poland as saying that “Some countries are not sending high-level delegations. This is true of the United States as well.” The head of the Prime Minister’s office stated that, because of the low level of the U.S. delegation, no American would be asked to speak, and added cuttingly that “I would not attach a great importance to the fact that one country will not be represented by a member of the current administration.”
This morning’s report from Poland that the U.S. representative will be William Perry, one of President Clinton’s Defense Secretaries, adds weight to the previous Polish reports. It is no comment on Perry’s record of support for NATO and for its Partnership for Peace program to recognize that, as an official who left office twelve years ago, the delegation he leads will be very junior compared to those from Germany, Russia, Britain, and the other attendees.
The nation most responsible for the liberation of Poland was Poland itself, which after four partitions and fifty years of German slavery and Russian bondage never abandoned the desire for freedom. As Winston Churchill rightly said, Poland was like a rock “which may for a time be submerged by a tidal wave, but which remains a rock.” The Vatican, led by Pope John Paul II, also has immense claims to the title of defender of Polish liberties.
But neither Polish efforts nor those of the Vatican would have availed without the support, moral and material, of the United States. The cause of Poland was particularly near to the heart of President Ronald Reagan, and the assistance he authorized to Solidarity was vital to its survival and, after years of struggle, its complete victory over the Communist and Soviet dominated regime.
And it was Poland’s resistance, more than that of any other nation, that cracked the will of the Soviets to fight for their eastern empire, and that destroyed any remaining belief in the West that Soviet domination in Eastern Europe possessed popular support or moral legitimacy. Poland paid a terrible price in this struggle: World War II began in Westerplatte, but, for Poland and all Eastern Europe, it did not end until the fall of the Berlin Wall, fifty years later.
If the United States does not send a senior administration figure to Westerplatte, it will be a shameful embarrassment, highlighted by the fact that the two leading statesmen there will be representing Germany and Russia. The occasion is significant, Poland has been an important American ally since the end of the Cold War, and the American absence is already being commented upon in the harshest possible terms in Poland.
Not every Pole was for missile defense, but everyone in Poland suffered from the war and its long aftermath. To refuse to pay senior tribute to them would be an insult, and will only be interpreted as a statement that the U.S., while it cares a great deal about Russian sensibilities on missile defense, cares not at all about Poland. Not only do we appear to have stabbed them in the back on missile defense and slapped them in the face over World War II, we have not brought them – alone among their democratic neighbors – into the Visa Waiver Program, a failure that will go far to lose us any chance of winning the friendship of younger Poles.
All of this is a fine way to keep on doing what this administration has already done far too much of: alienating our friends while kowtowing to our enemies.