Every child in the US and Poland knows that Puławski and Kościuszko fought for the freedom of the Unites States. Valiant Polish military men at the side of the Founding Fathers is a great myth of a grand – not to say eternal – love that flows for the American presidents in Poland. However, in the first years of the US, it was love one-sided. There is no fault on the American side in that matter. The young nation was too distant and too insignificant internationally, to play a real role in supporting Poland at the moment of the fall of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth or even later, during our numerous freedom uprisings. The presidents, concerned with important matters, were less empathetic with the Polish cause, than regular, though not common, Americans. Few people know that the great Edgar Allan Poe was ready to join the Polish army in the November Uprising, while his wirier friend, James Fenimore Cooper, petitioned for the American support to the voluntary army that was supposed to march from France to help the up-risers.
American politics didn’t have the patience for convoluted affairs of the Central Europe for long. In the end, pragmatic aspects prevailed. Although Abraham Lincoln privately supported the January Uprising, as well as other Polish freedom ambitions, he did nothing officially, fearing that the invasive powers would support the Confederate States of America, which were at war with the Union. Especially since Russia supported the North in the Civil War. The Polish question behind the ocean was not helped by the fact that a Polish anarchist Leon Czołgosz shot, in 1901, President George McKinley. It wasn’t until Woodrow Wilson, during the First World War, that an American president took interest in the fate of the divided Poland. It was greatly owing to Ignacy Paderewski, who lobbied successfully for Polish cause in Washington. We covered that story extensively in our text “Virtuoso of independence” (Wprost 3/2018 r.).
Who knows, how Poland would look today, if it weren’t for Wilson’s perseverance to put the rebirth of an independent state of Poland into the famous, 14-point peace plan, which established post war order in Europe. Wilson also played a key role in shaping the borders of our state, pressuring other powers, not only to give Poland access to the sea through Pomerania but also Gdansk itself, which, in view of the White House, should have had become an integral part of the country. Eventually, it was due to British protests that a Free City of Gdansk was created, where, although retaining the appearances of balance, Germans played the key role. Sadly, then Polish-American love withered. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is rather frowned upon in Poland, where his image is connected to the Yalta agreement, when the whole Central Europe was given away to Stalin. The mechanism of this agreement, which meant rejecting Poland as an ally not only by the US but also by the Great Britain, was aptly described by the first post-WWII US ambassador in Poland, Arthur Bliss Lane, in his book, under a perfectly phrased title “I have seen the Poland betrayed”.
Conquerors of communism
Post War presidents treated our country as a part of the Soviet Block, regardless of how enthusiastically Nixon, Ford or Carter were welcomed in the streets of Warsaw. The Big Brother in Kremlin was too powerful at the time and US too involved in the far from Poland fronts of the Cold War, for us to play any major role in the diplomatic game between Washington and Moscow. However, we need to remember that owing to President Nixon’s visit, Coca Cola was introduced in socialist Poland, while owing to President Gerald Ford – PPR (Polish People’s Republic) was granted loans. Without the loans, graciously given by Ford, and Gierek’s big expenditures, there wouldn’t be an economic crash that created Solidarity and brought Communism to its knees in Europe. It is surprising that President Jimmy Carter had the least influence on Poland’s situation in the Soviet Block, since he always emphasized having Professor Zbigniew Brzeziński, a Pole, as his internal security advisor.
Even though Carter picked Poland as one of his first international visits, he was mostly remembered due to an awful translator, who kept mixing Polish and Russian. Waves of laughter, brought on by the strange translation, were long remembered in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It all changed with President Ronald Reagan, who claims the first spot amongst American presidents who foster Polish affairs. Reagan, hated by his political adversaries, decided to confront Soviets in the heart of their political influence in Central Europe. A lot of credit goes to Pope John Paul II, who, as it turned out years later, cooperated strictly with Reagan in battling communism in the world. However, we owe to Reagan the political and financial support of Solidarity. It was provided efficiently, but most importantly quietly, not to discredit Solidarity as a part of imperialist intelligence agencies. After all, such was the image of democratic opposition propagated by communist authorities in Poland. Reagan’s administration has also pressured Brezhnev on the matter of eventual intervention of Warsaw Pact troops in Poland, threatening with retaliation in case of aggression on the territory of PPR. Even though mocked by General Jaruzelski’s propaganda, Reagan came to Poland as a former president in 1990, after the fall of communism, which he played a great role in.
The beginning of the cadency
Few people nowadays remember that at the beginning of 90-s, even members within the Solidarity movement couldn’t imagine existence outside the Soviet field of influence. President Lech Wałęsa even proposed creation of NATO-bis – a sort of no man’s land, where Poland could reside. Formally free from Moscow supervision but still susceptible to its influence, because not fully integrated with NATO. We owe it to Bill Clinton for bringing us closer to the idea of joining NATO, as he consequently supported Polish efforts in this matter. It was him, who, in 1997, brought to Warsaw an official invitation to join the Alliance. Our country became a member of NATO right before end of Clinton’s cadency, breaking all dependent ties with Moscow. Clinton, although perceived poorly for his indecisiveness, which led to genocide in the former state of Yugoslavia, has done Poland many great deeds, erasing Roosevelt’s blame, who, along with Churchill, sold us to Stalin in Yalta.
Newly acquired nobility obliges, which is why Poland, only few years later acceptance, has eagerly answered the call from the next American President and went to war to Iraq with its ally. It was in Warsaw that George W. Bush proclaimed the birth of the new Europe, ready to support USA unconditionally, unlike such countries as France or Germany, who strongly opposed American involvement in the Middle East. Bush didn’t gain much in Iraq; neither did Poland, but the president, who was criticized for his every move, turned out to be a visionary in one aspect. We’re talking about the anti-missile shield, which he intended to install in Poland to deter Russia. It was back, when only a small group of experts foresaw Russia’s return to aggressive international politics. His successor, Barack Obama, although praised in the US for breaking the cultural taboo of an African American entering the White House, threw the anti-missile project away and proclaimed a reset in relations with Russia.
It created some peculiar situations. In 2011, USA organized a big historical exhibition looking for striking similarities between Abraham Lincoln and Tsar Alexander II. Supposed parallels pointed to the fact that when Lincoln abolished slavery in the US, the tsar lifted the serfdom in Russia. Besides, they both died assassinated. The exhibition, same as the whole ‘reset’, wasn’t the beginning of a great friendship between the two countries. Obama quickly learned about the scope of Russian ambitions, which even led to electoral manipulations in the US. Will Donald Trump, a successor of Obama, turn out the president of our dreams? A lot of signs from the White House point to the fact that Poland takes a special place in US strategy. The strengthening of US military’s presence in Poland itself is the biggest breakpoint since acceptance to NATO, because without Alliance’s installations we would be something short of NATO-bis that Wałęsa talked about. And this is just the beginning of the cadency. g
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