Romney visit: Poles disappointed with Obama foreign policy

The idea that America has lost interest in maintaining Poland as its strategic ally in Eastern Europe remains a popular opinion among many Poles.

Charles Dharapak/AP
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and wife Ann wave to the crowd at The Gdansk Old Town Hall, in Gdansk, Poland, Monday, July 30.

Following visits in the United Kingdom and Israel, the next stop in Mitt Romney’s overseas trip is Poland, where he will meet with national politicians, including Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, and former president and Nobel Prize winner Lech Walesa.

While Mr. Romney is poised to criticize President Obama’s foreign policy in the region as a means of securing the Polish-American vote, local politicians aim to use the visit to draw Washington’s attention to the dwindling relations with Warsaw.

“The US has long been one of Poland’s key allies, but there are a number of issues that the Polish government would like to resolve,” says Marek Jablonowski, professor and director at the Institute of Journalism of the University of Warsaw.

The idea that the United States has lost interest in maintaining Poland as its strategic ally in Eastern Europe remains a popular opinion among many Poles.

“Polish politicians have been trying to convince Washington to revoke the obligatory visas for Poles based on our military engagement in US-led missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, but this strategy has proven ineffective.”

The tensions have allowed Romney to blast the Democratic administration’s foreign policy in the region.

Abandoning Poland

A week earlier, Romney accused Mr. Obama of abandoning Poland and the Czech Republic through its policy of appeasement toward Russia and scrapping Bush-era plans to set up an anti-ballistic missile system on Polish and Czech soil.

“Missile defenses were sacrificed as a unilateral concession to the Russian government,” Romney told an audience composed of members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

In Poland, many found the US administration’s decision unintelligible, according to local observers.

“There was a strong feeling of disappointment among Poles after Washington decided to cancel the missile defense system scheme,” says Konrad Ozdowy, online entrepreneur and event organizer. “First, we were told this project would increase our security, and then the plans were tabled. Poles are now more cautious toward proposals put forward by US politicians.”

Polish 'death camps'

In May, a year after Obama’s visit to Poland, another controversy emerged when Obama used the term “Polish death camps” to refer to Nazi-run death camps in occupied Poland during a ceremony honoring a World War II Nazi-resistance hero. The White House quickly released a letter to the Polish authorities in which President Obama expressed regret for the “misstatement,” but many Poles believe that such gaffes indicate the decreasing importance of their country to Washington’s foreign policy.

“The general impression here is that America’s interest in Eastern Europe has steadily decreased and shifted toward other regions,” says Mr. Jablonowski. “History is a matter of great importance in Poland, and some Poles were offended by President Obama's remark.”

The desire to jumpstart relations between Washington and Warsaw is shared by Poles who still see the US as a major player in world affairs.

"We would like to see more initiative from America whoever wins the next election,” says Mr. Ozdowy.

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