Why the US should not bail out Poland

As a consequence of the Reagan administration's decision to repay United States banks the money owed them by Poland, the American taxpayer will soon be asked to cover the Polish debt - without Poland being forced into default. The first installment of $71 million is just a fraction of the $1.6 billion loaned and guaranteed to Poland by the US government. The image of the ''bad American'' may even be revised in the Polish-Soviet propaganda mill. The obvious reason for such generosity is the fear that the US money loaned to Poland would never be repaid, precipitating a financial crisis in the West.

Perhaps there is some validity to this argument, but the response is myopic.

From reading the Soviet-bloc press, we know that it is an American duty to lend more than can ever be repaid. There is a precedent for this dating back to Lend-Lease following World War II. The American money and equipment sent to the Soviets in order to save them from Nazism has never been repaid. Not a word of this outstanding obligation, however, has ever been mentioned in the Eastern-bloc press. In other words, we have had a love affair without reciprocal admiration.

In politics, however, there are no friends, there are only interests. Consequently when the US government confidently guaranteed loans which pumped money into Poland it was acting in its supposed best interests. Yet the results have proven disastrous. Why? The answer is obvious. Its assessment of the situation was completely wrong.

The Polish drama, as it has unfolded, is not economically driven. Today the junta has only one mission - to destroy as quickly as possible the beginning of social self-organization and the development of a social consciousness, virtues highly cherished in the US. These were the virtues which led many Poles over 200 years ago to come to America and participate in its founding. It now appears that this may have been the wrong investment. Americans seem adrift. They know how to sell Coca-Cola but not democracy.

In the Soviet bloc ideology is money. The bloc does not export money or credits for needy projects but provides ideology and weapons for achieving a ''new social order.'' The world is being taught that the Soviet system is the best, the most efficient, and the most just social system under the sun. After 65 years of seeing it practiced in the USSR and 35 years in Poland, the world may be taught a lesson by the Polish bankruptcy. About 1.3 billion people have been waiting for such an event impatiently. The framework of the Soviet movement is disintegrating. As a consequence of a Polish default, Soviet ideology may lose its drive and its magic of perpetual motion.

What is more important for the US? The hope of repayment of $1.6 billion which would pay for several B-1 bombers or a Polish bankruptcy and a message to the world of the insolvency of the Soviet system? Can we afford to squander this opportunity? What about the impact of this insolvency on the third world - Nicaragua, Mozambique, Angola, Cuba? How will the ''movements for liberation'' rationalize sacrifices today for a better tomorrow when the better tomorrow is bankrupt? Under these circumstances these movements will not be able to count on , expect, or demand American aid as they have in the past. This has always been the hope of communist-dominated states - arrogance combined with a dependence on charity.

The fear that the Polish default would create some monetary problems in the West and increase Soviet influence in Poland is not groundless. However, the Soviets are in Poland and will never leave as long as US money props up the present system. Conversely, without that money life would become too difficult to allow governing without significant political changes.

Polish factories need Western raw materials, parts, and subassemblies. Even attractive Polish stamps require foreign glue. Internally the Polish industrial system has been run along the line of ''management by argument or command.'' This style will preclude the successful processing of any imported components into exportable products.

Poland has exported food for many years. One of the best harvests in recent times took place in 1981. However, the food locked up in government storerooms and unavailable to the general public is used as a means of discipline - to counteract the desires for freedom and solidarity. Engineers, scientists, managers, as well as workers and political activists have been arrested and placed in detention camps. The ruling generals who for so long have lived off the party spoils think that through tighter control of the system the economic collapse can be transformed into a national economic miracle.

Tupolev, the famous Russian aircraft designer, was arrested and placed in a labor camp. This action led to the end of Soviet inventiveness in the aircraft industry. Prisons are not the place to engineer a country's economic recovery. Under the present conditions, a Polish economy lacking motivated labor and civilian management will never provide the necessary technology and products for economic growth - with or without Western financial aid.

The West is not obligated to liberate Poland. This is particularly true in light of the Yalta agreement. Even without Yalta, the West would probably have no desire to do this. However, the West has been placed on the defensive by Soviet policies. Long-term action needs to be designed to counteract Soviet successes. The Polish crisis creates the opportunity for the implementation of such a strategy. Tactical errors can be corrected but strategic ones lead to disaster.

It is vital that the West take advantage of what Poland has experienced. At the same time if the West forces a Polish bankruptcy and creates pressure on the Soviet bloc, the Polish nation can only benefit in the process.

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