With Russia openly menacing Poland and its other former Eastern European satellites, Barack Obama appears prepared to throw them a bone.
The freshman senator from Illinois, the Democratic presidential candidate, offered this ignorant, shallow remark on the Russian menace during last Tuesday's debate:
"We have also got to provide them with financial and concrete assistance to help them rebuild their economies." Obama referred to Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Georgia.
It was a brush-off answer. Obama should have known that we give Poland hundreds of millions in military aid. How, in the midst of a market crash and declining revenues, is the United States going to give it more?
Lastly, Poland's economy right now is much stronger than ours. Poland is forecasting growth in 2009, and planning to reduce its national debt.
Behind Obama's evasions may lie a more perplexing attitude. One of Obama's key foreign policy advisers suggested that Obama may want to pull back from the Bush administration's plans to install part of a missile defense system in Poland.
Michael McFaul, a Stanford University Russian affairs adviser to Obama, said the United States has to consider Russian feelings.
After the debate, McFaul told Bloomberg News, "we don't believe in trying to isolate Russia. Those kind of actions we see as counterproductive in dealing with Russia."
Last summer, Poland courageously signed, under a barrage of threats from Russia, including being targeted for a nuclear attack, an agreement to place 10 anti-missile batteries on its territory.
McFaul said it is in the U.S. interest for Russia to be in the World Trade Organization. Free trade with Russia, but not Canada? McFaul also said that Russia's phony offer to host a planned U.S. missile defense system in Russia and Azerbaijan "should be explored."
The Bush administration is holding back on admitting Russia into the WTO as a lever against further aggression like Russia's invasion of Georgia.
Obama himself said he wants to see if the missile system actually works and is "financially feasible," the last a curious reflection on his spoken desire to send Poland money.
A lot of foreign policy is about signals. Is Obama telegraphing a willingness to play footsie with Russia at a time it is deploying bombers and warships to Venezuela in a program of "courtesy visits?"
Nearly 60 years ago, a stupid signal sent by the Truman administration helped trigger North Korea's invasion of South Korea. It cost 55,000 American lives to push the North Koreans back across their border.
Personally, I prefer the stance President John F. Kennedy took in his speech about Poland in front of Buffalo City Hall on Oct. 14, 1962:
"Poland, in its history, has been overrun, cut apart, occupied, partitioned, but it has remained free in the hearts of the Polish people, and as the old song says, 'As long as you live, Poland lives' -- 'Jeszce Polska nie zginiela.' That is still true, as it was in the history of Poland."
"Some years ago I visited the Polish cemetery near [Monte] Cassino [Italy], where thousands of Polish soldiers died far from their country in World War II for the independence of their country, and on that cemetery are written these words: 'These Polish soldiers, for your freedom and theirs, have given their bodies to the soil of Italy, their hearts to Poland and their souls to God.' "
"We must never, in statement, treaty, declaration or any other manner, recognize Soviet domination of Eastern Europe as permanent. We must never."
Kennedy was a Democrat, too. Perhaps of a different kind. It is too bad Obama doesn't reflect JFK's understanding of history and our special bond with Eastern Europe.