Earlier this month, a 9,500-man-strong multinational division moved into
a 30,000-square-mile zone in south-central Iraq. It serves under Polish
Sandwiched for centuries between Germany and Russia, a victim of both Nazis
and communists, no country in Europe is more pro-American than Poland. As they
say in Warsaw, the experience of the 20th century taught Poles that their only
true friends in Europe are Americans.
On the eve of the strike at Saddam Hussein, when major West European cities
filled up with anti-American demonstrators, Poles and citizens of other infant
democracies of Central Europe took a strong pro-U.S. stand. Contrary to the
cynical view, they did so not to please the White House and win American
largesse, but because they understand better than the French, the Germans or
the Belgians what repression and tyranny mean. They did so risking the not-so-
subtle anger of powerful neighbors.
While most people in Warsaw, Budapest and Vilnius found the language coming
from Washington to be unnecessarily bellicose, Poles saw the U.S. position on
Iraq as the only realistic way to enforce compliance with previous U.N.
resolutions and offer the Middle East a chance for better future. The Polish
parliament, which squabbles on practically any domestic issue, unanimously
supported the government's decision to send troops to Iraq.
But that was then, before the war started. Today, America's friends in
Warsaw are much more apprehensive and concerned. Some go as far as to say that
while the U.S. military credibility has never been as high as today, its
political credibility has never been as shaky.
While Paris, Berlin and Brussels continue to question the wisdom, the
legitimacy and intentions of the U.S. presence in Iraq, and welcome grim news
from Baghdad with a mixture of shadenfreude and "I told you so," people of
Central Europe seem to be surprised, puzzled, and saddened by the unexpected
difficulty of the mission. Their trust in the omnipotence of the United States, once rock solid and bordering on naivete, is giving way to disappointment and
Traditional admiration of America's might and its instincts, is being
replaced in Warsaw by curiosity about what went wrong, as well as why and how
it went wrong. The Poles suffer from exactly the same syndrome that afflicts
the U.S. public -- a crisis of mismanaged expectations. However, unlike many
other nations, often watching with disbelief from afar, they have quite a lot
Given the size of the Polish military contingent in Iraq of 2,400 men, it
may be only a matter of days before the first body of a Polish soldier is
flown back home. That would only amplify a question, already frequently asked,
whether the United States is executing truly the best, the most imaginative
and realistic game plan to deal with the threat of global terrorism.
Last week, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser under
President Jimmy Carter and the a son of a Polish diplomat, published in a
popular Warsaw daily an article titled "America and Europe After September 11.
Destined for Cooperation."
Advocating a stronger and more constructive transatlantic dialogue,
Brzezinski offered readers a glimpse of what has gone astray in Washington. He
says that as a result of two separate national security teams -- the formal
one, headed by Condoleezza Rice, and a second one, led by Vice President Dick
Cheney -- competing for President Bush's ear, the very process of formulating
the U.S. foreign policy has become a source of confusion.
The picture that emerges is one of a policy shaped not so much by a
cohesive and comprehensive strategy, as one driven partly by events, partly by
personal ambitions and partly by internal bureaucratic pressures. Not a
reassuring image for a young ally sending its soldiers into harm's way.
The Polish presence in Iraq may look modest. But, America's friends in
Warsaw say, if Iraq were to succumb to bloody chaos, it would be a catastrophe
for Poland. It would give credence to domestic and external critics who
portray the country as a pawn in the hands of a superpower.
Andrzej Lubowski, a former senior Fulbright scholar, is now a banker in the Bay Area.
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle