When Russia threatens to outdo the United States on public diplomacy in a place like Poland, something is seriously amiss in the way the State Department and the White House is conducting the relationship with one of the United States’ most loyal allies. Unfortunately, this is exactly what may happen at the commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the beginning of World War II, which will be taking place tomorrow (Sept. 1) in the Polish port city of Gdansk.
While the Obama administration has been insultingly negligent in responding to the invitation from the Poles, and only this weekend gave the final word on participation, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is using the occasion for a charm offensive of his own. (Whether Mr. Putin succeeds is of course another matter – Russia has a lot of history with Poland to overcome, including the Katyn forest massacre in which Soviet secret police killed thousands of Polish officers in 1940.)
The ceremony commemorating the start of World War II will be attended by heads of state from all over Europe – but not the United States — will be used by Mr. Putin to try to warm up relations with the Poles, according to the Russian News Agency RIA Novosti. In an article published in the Polish press, Mr. Putin said that “the shadows of the past must not darken current and, let alone, future cooperation between Russia and Poland.” The Polish and Russian governments will be signing three agreements, on spent nuclear fuel imports from Polish reactors, on shipping in the Baltic and on cultural cooperation. He will also be discussing plans for U.S.-Polish missile defense cooperation with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, a very sore point with Russians.
Meanwhile back in Washington, the Obama White House finally this weekend settled on National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones to head the U.S. delegation – after first having announced last week that it would be former Clinton Defense Secretary William Perry. The fact that the Polish government had been unable to get an answer for three months from the White House or the State Department, and then was brushed off with a former official from another administration, understandably had had the Polish media in state of high dudgeon. Gen. Jones will undoubtedly do a good job, but he is not a head of state or government like the other attendees, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Brisith Prime Minister Gordon Brown –or of course Putin.
According to Polish news reports, the prospect for U.S.-Polish missile defense cooperation is waning anyway, something on which the Polish government had staked its reputation. Add to this fact, the persistent irritant of Poles being subjected to U.S. visa requirements unlike most other Europeans, and the Obama administration’s lack of diplomatic sensitivities. Combined these factors have sent Polish public opinion of the United States into a tail spin. The administration has made a priority of reaching out to the Muslim world and to Africa, yet seems to have little understanding of how to interact with America’s long-standing allies in Europe.