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Obama or McCain? A Polish American View

November 04, 2008

My good friend Dominika asked me the other day, "whom should I vote for - McCain or Obama?"

Dominika’s question reminded me of a discussion I had with some Jewish people before the 2004 Presidential election. By the end of that discussion, they all agreed that the key question was “who will be best for Israel?”  Paraphrasing theirs conclusion seemed helpful in answering Dominica’s question.  So I asked myself: who will be best for the Polish American community? For Poland? 

To answer this, I had to consider the Polish American community’s interests.  Visa free travel, to be sure, is one.  Another is recognition of our contribution to America: be it at Jamestown, in the American labor movement, in the Catholic Church in the U.S., or as soldiers defending America. The key interest, however, that stands head and shoulders above all else, is Poland’s freedom. It is the line in the sand, our Alamo, our Westerplatte, from which we cannot retreat and cannot compromise.  We proved this by devoting our energy and our treasure (often at the cost of our community’s future) for 50 years to liberate Poland first from German, and then, Russian domination.

After 1989, I believed that Polish freedom was secure. I was even more convinced of this when Poland entered NATO in 1999.  How wrong I was!  Now Poland is once again a front-line state, faced with treats and aggression from Russia.  It’s not just me who has come to this realization. Polish American Congress President Frank Spula is so concerned about Russian threats to Poland that he sent a letter to President Bush in August calling on the him to condemn “Russia’s reckless and menacing threat to attack and destroy Poland, but also if necessary, to deploy American military forces if needed, to protect the freedom and democracy that Poland has fought so long to establish and retain.”

Now maybe both Mr. Spula and I are off in left field. Let’s see what the Russian government has to say for itself.  What prompted Spula’s letter was a statement on August 8, 2008, by Russian Deputy Chief of Staff, Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn who said, “Poland, by deploying (the Missile Defense System) is exposing itself to a strike - 100 percent."  Just to make sure that everyone got the message, Nogovitsyn added that Russia's military doctrine sanctions using nukes "against the allies of countries having nuclear weapons."

For the record, the dozen interceptors to be placed in Poland could not shoot down a Russian missile even if they tried - the geometry is wrong. They are a defense against Iran.

Up until the Georgian crisis, it was unclear which of the candidates would be better in standing up to the Russian government in defense of Poland's freedom. The invasion of Georgia changed that.

McCain got out of the blocks fast and condemned the Putin regime's aggression for what it was: a territorial grab and an attempt to bring down a democratically elected government by force.  The cause was not any aggression by Georgia - South Ossetian and Abkaz independence are as legit as a couple of counties in Iowa declaring themselves independent. The real reason for the Russian attack was the fact that the Georgians want to decide for themselves how things in Georgia should be run.

Obama's response, despite having Zbigniew and Mark Brzezinski working on for him, was timid. He urged caution and that Georgia refrain from for the use of force. To his credit, the Senator did toughen his language when he heard what others were saying. Overall, though, it was still a lackluster performance at best.

Taking into account Obama's earlier foreign affairs efforts, I shouldn't have been surprised by his lack of leadership on Georgia. A close look at the Senator's earlier trip to Europe, the highlight of which was a speech in Berlin, should have tipped me off.  In 2008, it does not take a lot of courage to give a speech in a free Berlin in a united Germany. To be sure, it was right to pay homage to President Kennedy, but JFK (and even President Reagan) showed far more courage when they spoke in a divided Berlin during the Cold War. Obama could have easily paid a visit to Warsaw, Vilnius, or Kiev: this would have demonstrated a commitment to defending freedom and sent a signal to Moscow.  He did not do so.

Therefore, even though I'm not happy with President Bush (who just happens to be in the same party as John McCain), I had to tell Dominika that she should vote for McCain.  The Arizona Senator is the best choice for Polish Americans, as he is the best qualified to promote our key interest: Poland's freedom.

Best regards,
Ava Polansky-Bak