Where U.S. Translates as Freedom


January 1, 2004, 04:39 AM
New York Times
Published: December 28, 2003

I found the cure.

I found the cure to anti-Americanism: Come to Poland.

After two years of traveling almost exclusively to Western Europe and the Middle East, Poland feels like a geopolitical spa. I visited here for just three days and got two years of anti-American bruises massaged out of me. Get this: people here actually tell you they like America — without whispering. What has gotten into these people? Have all their subscriptions to Le Monde Diplomatique expired? Haven't they gotten the word from Berlin and Paris? No, they haven't. In fact, Poland is the antidote to European anti-Americanism. Poland is to France what Advil is to a pain in the neck. Or as Michael Mandelbaum, the Johns Hopkins foreign affairs specialist, remarked after visiting Poland: "Poland is the most pro-American country in the world — including the United States."

What's this all about? It starts with history and geography. There's nothing like living between Germany and Russia — which at different times have trampled Poland off the map — to make Poles the biggest advocates of a permanent U.S. military presence in Europe. Said Ewa Swiderska, 25, a Warsaw University student: "We are the small kid in school who is really happy to have the big guy be his friend — it's a nice feeling."

Indeed, all the history and geography that Western European youth have forgotten, having grown up in a postmodern European Union, are still central to Polish consciousness — well after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. "We still remember many things," said Jan Miroslaw, 22, also a Warsaw University student. "We are more eager to cooperate with America rather than just say `no.' [The West Europeans] just don't remember many things — like the wars. They live too-comfortable lives."

No wonder then when young Poles think of America, they think of the word "freedom." They think of generations of U.S. presidents railing against their communist oppressors. There is a huge message in this bottle. In the Arab world, because of a long history of U.S. support for Arab autocrats, who kept their people down but their oil flowing to us, America was a synonym for hypocrisy. In Poland, where we have consistently trumpeted freedom, America means freedom. We need to remember that. We are what we stand for.

Poland's becoming a member of the E.U. will give the U.S. an important friend within that body — a counterweight to those E.U. forces that would like to use anti-Americanism as the glue to bind the expanding alliance and that would like to see the E.U. forge its identity as the great Uncola to America's Coca-Cola.

But as powerful as Poland's bond to America is these days, we dare not take it for granted. Poland has some 2,400 troops in Iraq. That's the good news. The bad news is that roughly 75 percent of Poles oppose their deployment. Polish officials will tell you Poland sent troops to Iraq to help keep the Americans in Europe. But the public doesn't make such connections, and most people don't understand what their boys are doing there or what Poland is getting out of it. (How about a few extra visas for Poles?) If the U.S. ends up in a mess in Iraq, so will Poland. Many "old" Europeans will then laugh at Warsaw, and that would be highly corrosive for Polish-U.S. relations.

At the same time, once Poland is fully ensconced in the E.U., its young people will grow up in that postmodern E.U. nirvana, where anti-Americanism is in the drinking water. Sadly, many education and public diplomacy programs the U.S. directed at Eastern Europe after the fall of communism have been cut or redirected to the Muslim world. Bad timing.

There is now a competition between the United States of America and the United States of Europe for the next generation of Poles — who don't all have their parents' emotional ties to the U.S. — "and the U.S. is losing this competition," says a Polish foreign policy expert, Grzegorz Kostrzewa-Zorbas. "The new generation in Poland likes American pop culture, but it has less contact with American high culture — like education. It is so much easier for young Poles to go to university in Germany or France."

Given Poland's geography and history, there's a limit to how far it will drift from America. Poland will never be France. But we shouldn't assume it will remain the Poland of 1989 forever, either, and if it doesn't, that could have real consequences for America's standing in Europe.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Then you went on to Poland and there it's been an unusually strong U.S. ally. Did you find really - now that some Poles are taking - Polish soldiers are taking casualties in Iraq, did you find that same pro-American feeling?

THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well, the most shocking thing about Poland is - we talked about it so much over the past few years - I've really been traveling around the Middle East, I mean, where American Ambassadors go around in armored cars basically and our embassies look like maximum security prisons. And then you go to Warsaw, and they actually like Americans there - they actually come up and tell you that they like you- don't tell anybody, they like George Bush - they actually tell you that, so not only do 50 percent plus Americans like George Bush, probably 80 percent of Poles do and they like him for the same reason they liked Bill Clinton, they liked Ronald Reagan, because they think we stand for freedom. For them, America equals freedom, and it shows you like when you stand for the right things, guess what, people hear that and get that. You know, you ask Saudis - or a lot of residents of Arab countries, the oil states where we've kind of supported the status quo, what Americans stand for, and the word "freedom" doesn't come up first; it does for Poles. What we stand for really matters, you really see it there, and that certainly helps the fact that Poland is situated between Germany and Russia. Nothing will get your attention more than that and wanting to have a big uncle over the horizon like the United States of America -but nevertheless, people there are ultimately pro-American, and going there is like going to a sauna. You get all your anti-American bruises worked out. People are really nice and they're really open. And that's the good news. But, as you said, Margaret, they've got 2,200 troops, Polish troops, fighting alongside us in Iraq, or working alongside us now in Iraq. Seventy-five percent of Poles are against this - not for anti-American reasons - they say (a) what are we doing there, (b) when are we getting out of it- they're not comfortable with this - therefore, if that goes bad, that could affect U.S./Poland relations.

Poland's influence in Europe
MARGARET WARNER: Now, they - Poland really took on France and Germany in coming over to the U.S. side in the war with Iraq, and they've also done the same now over this EU constitution. How significant is that?

THOMAS FRIEDMAN: That is big. I mean, we suddenly have two friends in the EU now; which is two special friends, Great Britain and Poland. The EU is deciding what their constitution is going to be. Poland wants a fair share of the vote, a fair share of the say - Germany and France don't want to give them now as much as they think they're entitled to and they think we're young, we're single, we're ready to mingle. We're not going to take the crumbs here - we're here, get used to it and by the way, we like the United States, get used to that too. And I think Poland is to French anti-Americanism what penicillin is to an infection. They're going to be a force within the EU, another one that's really going to be - I don't want to say representing the United States but will be sympathetic to the transatlantic relationship. Why is that? What are the Poles concerned about? They want America in Europe, Margaret. Why do they want America in Europe, because they don't want the European countries, each going back to their own armies, their own defenses. They want us as the balance.

MARGARET WARNER: Poland always got trampled.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Exactly. They got trampled between all these big elephants. They want us there. And that's going to be very important in the long run.

MARGARET WARNER: But Don Rumsfeld said famously earlier this year, he talked about the old Europe and by implication that the new Europe were the ones who were our friends, but do the U.S. diplomats you talk to and the smart NATO diplomats, do they think that Poland can really substitute for France and Germany as an ally?

THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Look, it doesn't have the economic clout of a France at all - it's a fraction of France's economy, let alone Germany's economy. At the end of the day it doesn't have the diplomatic weight that the former huge European powers have, but, you know, there's 40 million Poles from the young population that are coming on strong, but here's going to be another challenge for the United States. As those young people grow up in the EU, they're going to start getting EU newspapers and, you know, getting caught up in the kind of EU attitude toward the United States a little bit. How much is not clear, but, you know, one thing I heard when I was there that was a little disturbing is that so much of our public diplomacy money, which we used in Eastern Europe and the Stans- the former Soviet republics after the Cold War-- all that money is now moving to the Arab and Muslim world. And we ought to be careful; we've got to pay attention. There's a new generation of old Europe that's now going to grow up in a new EU, and if we don't take them seriously, we could lose that generation as well to the kind of trendy, post modernism of Europe in which America is not a well thought of.

MARGARET WARNER: Tom, thanks again.


MARGARET WARNER: Happy travels.


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January 1, 2004, 10:09 AM
If you don't treat your allies well, you end up with a lot less allies.

Bush needs to remember this as he starts passing out the Iraqi contracts...:fire:

January 1, 2004, 02:14 PM
Do you realize that the contracts you're referring to that were awarded only to US allies in the Iraq war were contacts paid for by US taxpayers?

The Iraqi's are free to award contracts to whomever they choose with their own money.

The US absolutely should not be awarding our opponents contracts paid for the the US. Our opponents can't have it both ways! :banghead:

January 1, 2004, 02:46 PM
The Iraqi's are free to award contracts to whomever they choose with their own money.

Not when it took OUR money, soldiers, & blood to liberate Iraq. When they are governing themselves (which shouldn't be for a good while), then they get to choose. Right now, we're in charge. We decide who gets them. Not France, Germany, Russia, the UN, or an interim government who can't even regulate their own police or draft their own constitution.

If the Iraqis wanted autonomy on this, they should have liberated themselves first....:neener:

January 1, 2004, 02:54 PM
I think you two are on the same page :D

January 1, 2004, 06:44 PM
A friend of mine came back from E. Europe last year and said the same thing about what sort of attitude she had encountered over there.

She told me that the people in the countries that experienced real terror under communism are the U.S.' staunchest supporters because they knew the real deal about human nature and the evil it can generate under despotic governments.

It was the over-pampered Western Europeans sipping lattes, etc., who were the ones spouting the anti-U.S. nonsense over the offenses to their pre-conceived notions of politics and despots.

That would be the same crowd that sat on their asses and postured about "concern" while the Bosnian Muslims were being slaughtered.

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