Judy Dempsey, "A plea from a close friend of U.S.," International Herald Tribune, 2 September 2004



WARSAW The president of Poland, one of America's closest European allies, has made a rare and impassioned plea to Washington to be “flexible, open and gracious.”
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In a veiled criticism of U.S. foreign policy, the president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, said he did not want to see “America take the ideas of the neoconservatives of isolationism, to have full dominance in the world and to play a divide-and-rule policy - it is a mistake.”

The president's remarks were made after a long interview in which he set out Poland's role in Europe and its relations with its eastern neighbors, particularly Ukraine and Russia.
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When asked about Iraq and the United States, the president switched to a more reflective and personal mood.
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The decision to support the U.S.-led war against Iraq, was, he says, one of the most difficult in his life.
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"But I am sure it was the right decision,” he said.
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Asked if he has any regrets over it, he replied: “Next question, please.”
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With 70 per cent of Polish public opinion calling for its troops to be brought home, Kwasniewski said he preferred to wait until Iraq had a new government installed. “That will change the role of the troops, from occupation to peacekeeping,” he said, implying it could be easier for other countries to contribute soldiers while some of the Polish contingent could come home.
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However much the president continues to support U.S. policy, the past few months have apparently weighed heavily on a popular public figure whose former career as a Communist youth leader and minister took place when Poland was sandwiched between two superpowers.
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“America is not the first superpower we have known,” he noted. “But sometimes, the character of a superpower is a problem, not so much for us but for the Americans to understand they are strong enough, clever enough, have enough influence and are creative enough to be accepted as a superpower. But please, don't use bureaucracy to support the position of a superpower.”
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The criticism, however mild, was extremely rare for a country that has been a staunch ally of the United States. Two acts - Poland's joining the EU and the United States' imposing visa requirements on Poles - have led to some soul-searching inside the presidential palace over the future of the trans-Atlantic relationship.
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Kwasniewski said that he felt hurt by the visa decision. “Of course, as a realistic politician I understand the situation," he said. "But as a man, a human being, a friend of America, I do not understand it. In my opinion, a big country should be open, and sometimes more flexible, more gracious.”
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Now that Poland is inside the EU, it sees how Europe must and should play a greater role in trans-Atlantic security and military matters.
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Kwasniewski apparently sees the recent decision by the United States to withdraw tens of thousands of troops from Europe not only as signaling the end of the cold war, but also as forcing Europe to spend more on defending its own interests.
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“Europe has the full right to have its own foreign and security policy,” he said.
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“This policy means that it is necessary to spend more money to solve Europe's problems, not to wait for the Americans in the Balkans, or in Moldova, or for bringing democracy to Belarus. This is our task.”
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He insists, however, that a more assertive Europe will not weaken the trans-Atlantic relationship because both need each other.
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Referring to the recent EU expansion to include eight formerly Communist countries, he said, “The chances that the EU will have a more trans-Atlantic policy at 25 countries will be much stronger than at 15.”

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