Polish President Appeals for a More 'Open and Gracious' U.S.
By JUDY DEMPSEY
International Herald Tribune
Published: September 4, 2004
ARSAW, Sept. 1 - 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." In a veiled criticism of United States foreign policy,
President Alexander 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 on Wednesday after a long interview in
which he set out his view of Poland's role in Europe. When asked about Iraq
and the United States, the president switched to a more reflective and
personal mood. The decision to support the American-led war against Iraq,
was "one of the most difficult decisions in my life," he said. "But I am sure
it was the right decision." Asked if he has any regrets over it, he
replied, "Next question, please."
With polls typically showing about 70 percent of Poles calling for bringing
the troops home, Mr. 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 that under those circumstances
it would be easier for other countries to contribute soldiers while some of
the Polish contingent could go home.
[On Friday, the Polish defense minister, Jerzy Szmajdzinski, announced the
withdrawal of troops from the province of Karbala, which has been the scene
of fighting between the Americans and the Mahdi Army of the rebel Shiite
cleric Moktada al-Sadr.]
The last few months have apparently weighed heavily on Mr. Kwasniewski, a
popular public figure whose former career as a Communist youth leader and
minister took place when Poland was sandwiched between two superpowers.
"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."
The outburst, however mild, was extremely rare for a politician in a country
that has been a staunch ally of Washington. But the twin acts of joining the
European Union and a decision by Washington to impose visas on Poles have led
to some soul-searching inside the presidential palace.
Mr. Kwasniewski said he felt "hurt" by the visa decision. "Of course, as a
realistic politician I understand the situation. 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."
Now that Poland is inside the European Union, it sees how Europe must play a
greater role in defense matters, Mr. Kwasniewski said. He apparently sees the
recent decision by the United States to withdraw tens of thousands of troops
from Europe as a sign to Europe to spend more on defending its own interests.
"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."