Feeling Disrespected: Poles React to Obama’s Shift on Missile Defense

When the Obama administration recently announced its decision to scrap the Bush-era plan for an anti-missile shield based in Poland and the Czech Republic many Poles were not surprised. It simply confirmed what they had been expecting.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski meets with reporters in New York. Photo Karolina Szczepanska

Polish President Lech Kaczynski meets with reporters in New York. Photo Karolina Szczepanska

Last fall then-President-elect Obama expressed doubts about the system, and members of the Polish community in the U.S. anticipated that he wouldn’t feel obligated to respect agreements signed in 2008 by the previous administration.

“The US has its own problems now and they do whatever is best for them,” said Grazyna Bulka, east coast director of a Chicago-based shipping company, Polamer Inc. Bulka feared the system would have infuriated Russia, and was relieved to

learn that it had been abandoned.

“Poles love America so much and the U.S. really doesn’t care about us much,” lamented Emilia Sroczynska, a small business owner from Brooklyn, who favors the anti-missile system. “They remember us only when they need us, but they abandon us as soon as they don’t. To me it’s just another disappointment.”

Whether they supported or opposed the Bush plan to place ten ground-based interceptors on Polish soil, many agreed that Obama’s decision to scrap the deal proved that the U.S. considers Poland a second-class ally.

But what truly embittered Poles was the timing of the announcement, widely interpreted either as ignorance or insensitivity to Poland’s history by the Obama administration.

“President Obama could not have picked a worse date to announce his decision. September 17 is the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, the stab in the back that led to the Soviet-German dismemberment of Poland and the loss of Polish sovereignty for nearly a half century,” stressed professor John Micgiel, Director of Columbia University’s East Central European Center.

“Sadly, for a politician with years of experience in a large Polish town – Chicago – and with a chief of staff with similar experience there, President Obama has proven culturally insensitive on this occasion, and was ill-served by his staff. Some might say stupendously so.”

Polish president Lech Kaczynski, attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, tried to present an upbeat assessment of the situation. “Poland and the US remain allies as they both belong to NATO and have bilateral relations,” said Kaczynski during a meeting with Polish-American leaders at the Polish Consulate in Manhattan on Tuesday evening.

But at a press conference held Wednesday at the UN, Kaczynski also stated that Polish-American agreements should not be dependent on Russian-American relations.

Russia strongly opposed the Bush plan. Some conservatives in Congress have accused the Obama administration of handing Moscow a victory with its scaled back plan to deploy missiles first aboard ships, and later on the ground in southern and central Europe.

Many members of the Polish community feel this is not the only example of Poland being treated unfairly by the U.S. Some mentioned the fact that Poles are still required to apply for visas to visit the U.S, despite the fact that Poland supported the US in Iraq and Afghanistan and is a member of the European Union and NATO.

Some have suggested that it’s time for the Obama’s administration to show some respect for Poland and the Czech Republic. Mark Brzezinski, who served on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration and is a son of Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter, said the US could support investment in renewable energy in the region, or at least waive the visa application fee for Poles which currently costs $100 and is non-refundable even for those rejected.

This way, as Brzezinski put it, after resetting relations with Russia, the US could now “reset” its relationship with Poles and the Czechs.

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