In what appears to be an emerging ritual, Vice President Joe Biden is heading out to Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic ostensibly to talk missile defense. But in reality it looks like a mopping up operation after yet another faux pas by his Administration.
The last time Biden was on an apologize-and-salvage mission was when he ventured to Ukraine and Georgia in July, two weeks after his boss, President Barack Obama, was busy pushing reset buttons in Moscow. But Biden, a serial bumbler, had decided to give the Ukrainian leaders a didactic – and very public — lecture about how they should behave, and blurted in Tbilisi that the United States will not provide a “physical security guarantee to Georgia,” making a sensitive situation worse.
American rhetoric aside, after his visit Russia stepped up its pressure on Tbilisi and Kyiv.
Biden had his work cut out for him in Warsaw. Polish leaders and elites are still smarting from the Obama Administration meat-handed cancellation of the Bush-era missile defense on September 17, the 70th anniversary of Stalin’s invasion three weeks after Hitler’s.
Now, Joe Biden brought the good tiding: Poland will get “the right of first refusal” for deployment of SM-3 interceptors by 2015 or later. Yet, these will defend against short and medium range missiles, while SM-1 missiles targeted long range missiles. At the current schedule, SM-3 may be capable of intercepting long range missiles by 2020 only.
Next year, Warsaw will also receive Patriot-3 anti-aircraft missiles as promised. Yet, the angst caused by the original missile defense cancellation will not go away easily.
Betrayal and abandonment by the West in the face of Russian (or German) aggression has deep roots in Poland. The eighteenth century partitions by Austria-Hungary, Prussia and Russia, the suppression of revolts by the Russian Empire in the 19th, the national renaissance amidst the ashes of World War I, “miracle on the Visla,” the Nazi and Soviet occupation – all these caused deep trauma in the psyche of most Poles.
Mr. Biden should have read his Polish history when he ventured to meetings with President Lech Kaczinski, Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Polish opposition leaders. His Administration bromides that it does not recognize “sphere of influence” and works to improve security in Europe together with Russia and Central and Eastern European states may not be enough.
Poland is a key U.S. ally in Central Europe and beyond. Its soldiers served with distinction in Iraq and are now putting their lives on the line Afghanistan, the real front line of freedom.
Warsaw bolsters Ukraine’s independence and often mistrusts anti-Americanism from the French and German Left. Millions of Poles are in touch with their cousins in the United States. Joe Biden would have done well if he announced visa free travel for Poles who want to come and visit the United States.
Despite the Central European pessimism toward his boss (even despite the recent Nobel Peace Prize), Joe Biden should be treating Poland with the respect it deserves. Russia, Iran and Venezuela will not stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States, despite “stretched hands” and “reset” buttons. And after the policies of outreach fail, the United States will come back to those who recognize freedom’s value: Poland and Central Europe.
In today’s turbulent world, Poland is one of few friends America can count on, and hopefully will be able to for many decades to come.