Obama Uses Europe as Backstop for Middle East Policies
A cynic may be excused for saying that there was vintage Chicago in Barack Obama's recently concluded trip to Europe. It started with the Irish and finished with the Poles and, at the Warsaw ghetto Memorial, the president even met with some Polish Jews to assure them that he would be there for Israel. The president also used his European stops to draw historical parallels that supported his Middle Eastern policy.
In Ireland he praised the Irish for resolving the old enmities in Northern Ireland, with the subtext being there is no reason why the same thing could not happen in the Middle East. The Eastern European part of his visit likewise evoked a parallel with the Middle East.
Obama cited an East European politician who was willing to back the administration's democratization policy for the Middle East. Eastern Europe, he implied, had been downgraded as an area unable to cope with democracy, but thanks to American confidence, the East Europeans had confounded the skeptics and the same confidence had to be extended to the Middle East..
In Poland, President Obama attempted to persuade his audience that the administration's decision to cancel the stationing of an anti-ballistic missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic, as part of Obama's reset policy with the Russians, was actually in the best interests of Poland and Eastern Europe.
"It has reduced tensions and has facilitated genuine dialogue about how each country can move forward." He proceeded to praise Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk for his pragmatic policy towards Moscow, even if it was not always politically popular.
Obama offered the Poles a 'consolation prize'. They wanted a US military presence in Poland. They would not get the antimissile base, but they would get a mini-American presence in the form of an F-16 aviation detachment of the U.S. Air Force in Poland. This would allow the two air forces to cooperate in training. It would also get the Poles used to American aircraft, so when the next contract would come up, the Poles might not buy European.
Not everybody in Poland was hospitable. Solidarity leader and former Polish president Lech Walesa canceled a meeting with Obama because he didn't want to be part of a photo-op.
Tusk's pragmatic policy also did not necessarily reflect concurrence with Obama. If Obama and the United States were not going to back up Poland against Russia and within the European Union, the veteran EU members would not act as they are too dependent on Russian energy. Poland would not be able to go it alone against Russia. Therefore, if Barack Obama expected gratitude for making the Poles see some sense, he did not receive any.