Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"Who Doesn't Belong in This Picture?"

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly fielded a question yesterday about the strange lack of high-level U.S. representation at today's commemoration of the invasion of Poland, the act that started World War II:

QUESTION: Yes, a different subject. In – tomorrow, there will be an anniversary of World War II beginning. And some Polish politicians expressed their disappointment – including Lech Walesa, the former president of Poland – their disappointment about the level of U.S. presentation at the anniversary in Gdansk. Does it indicate – I mean the level of the presentation, does it indicate a certain chill in the relations between United States and its major ally in Eastern Europe?

MR. KELLY: The short answer to that, Peter, is no. And I know that there are very deep and extensive ties between the U.S. and Poland. We are bound by not only ethnic and cultural ties, but also by our membership in NATO. We appreciate the tremendous sacrifice that the people of Poland made in World War II.

I think President Obama today formally announced the presidential delegation going to Gdansk to attend the 70th anniversary observance ceremony on September 1st. It’s going to be led by General Jim Jones, who is the National Security Advisor to the President. And there will be some other members of the delegation, including at least one congressman, the senior director for Europe in the National Security Council, Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, and of course, the U.S. Ambassador to Poland.

QUESTION: But the Poles expected the Secretary of State or Vice President to be there.

MR. KELLY: Well, this is a – it’s a very senior delegation led by the National Security Advisor. I don’t think it indicates any kind of indication of the lessening of our relationship with Poland.

Incidentally, the "congressman" Kelly mentioned as being part of the U.S. delegation is actually a congresswoman, Representative Marcy Kaptur, who represents Northern Ohio's heavily Polish-American Ninth Congressional District.

President Obama was there in spirit only; he sent these written remarks. SecState Hillary Clinton wasn't there in any sense.

Helle Dale, senior fellow for public diplomacy at the Heritage Foundation, notes in today's Washington Times that the Poles were lucky to get even General Jones. The administration originally planned to send William Perry, a "former person" who was the U.S. Defense Secretary from 1994 to 1997 and has no public profile of any kind today.

A few quotes from Dale's commentary:

What is the good will of a loyal allied country worth to the Obama administration? We are talking about a European nation that has stood by the United States in solidarity as few have since Sept. 11, 2001 -- one with 2,000 troops in Afghanistan and a possible willingness to step up to commit more troops at a time when others want to pull out.

The answer, very unfortunately, seems to be that relations with trusted allies are taken for granted in Washington these days. On diplomacy with Europe, the Obama administration has a terrible tin ear. Nowhere was this more evident than in the shabby treatment accorded Poland, which the administration has sought to remedy.

The Polish 70th anniversary commemorations of the beginning of World War II take place in Gdansk today. This unfortunately involves the latest in a long series of U.S. snubs felt keenly in Poland. On Sept. 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland, resulting in six years of war in Europe, the Holocaust and the deaths of 20 million people. The leaders of Russia, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and other countries will attend the ceremony, presided over by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. The head of the United States government -- unbelievably -- will be absent.

The Polish government sent out the invitation three months ago to the White House, but an answer was received only on Wednesday, a mere five days before the ceremony. Repeated attempts over the summer by the Poles to contact the White House and the State Department met with a long period of silence. One White House aide actually replied that everyone was on vacation until after Labor Day, which caused a Polish official to say he apologized that Adolf Hitler had invaded his country on Sept. 1.

The initial answer from the White House almost defied belief. The head of the official U.S. delegation was not to be a member of the Obama administration but former Clinton Defense Secretary William J. Perry. Over the weekend, a change was announced, and the U.S. delegation is to be headed by National Security Adviser Gen. James L. Jones. Gen. Jones will head the U.S. delegation, rather than President Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. or Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Gen. Jones will stand alongside Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Anyone want to play "who doesn't belong in this picture?"

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