Hawks and Allies

By Daniel Larison

“It is certain that Poland is one of the most pro-American countries in Europe, only that the temperature of that pro-Americanism has fallen,” said Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister, in an interview with the Rzeczpospolita newspaper this week.

When asked why Poland is no longer as enthusiastic about America, Sikorski replied: “It comes from American mistakes. The administration of President Bush promised all sorts of things to the [social-democratic government which ruled from 2002 to 2005] in return for our engagement in Iraq — and did not follow through. Now we are seeing the consequences.” ~Jan Cienski.

Cienski’s article is another helpful reminder that the claim that the current administration “betrayed” or “abandoned” Poland as part of the “reset” with Russia was always deeply misleading. Poland already felt ill-used by the Bush administration on account of Iraq, and it was, but hardly anyone referred to Bush-era mistreatment of Poland. While the missile defense decision didn’t help U.S.-Polish relations directly, it ended up matching up more closely with the stronger European orientation of Poland’s current government, and improved U.S.-Russian relations has made it easier Poland to pursue more constructive relationships with Russia. Certainly, the Polish political elite was irritated and embarrassed by the administration’s decision to cancel the missile defense installation in Poland, and it was understandably annoyed by the way the decision was made, but in the end the decision was better for the U.S. and Poland. Cienski notes:

The project had been supported by political elites in both countries as a bulwark against Russian aggression [bold mine-DL], but it never found much favor with the broader Polish public.

It’s important to note here that in the eyes of the Kaczynski government the missile defense installation was valuable because it was seen as anti-Russian move. While the Bush administration defended the plan by invoking a non-existent Iranian missile threat, both Polish supporters and Russian critics of the plan understood what it was supposed to represent.

The hysterical way that American hawks reacted to the decision to cancel the missile defense plan is instructive for understanding how they define U.S. and allied security interests. Hawks tend to apply the same definition no matter which ally it is. According to this definition, U.S. and allied security depends on the U.S. endorsing the most confrontational and nationalistic policy view in the allied country, which in practice means that U.S. “support” for an ally becomes identified with American acquiescence to relatively hard-line nationalist allied policies, and any reluctance or refusal to acquiesce is dubbed betrayal, abandonment, or put under the catch-all label of appeasement. In this way, American hawks insist that the U.S. not only tolerate, but actively indulge Israeli intransigence regarding its settlements and occupation, and any attempt to challenge the allied government on these points is viewed as a hostile act. Likewise, American hawks believe the U.S. should enable and encourage Georgian intransigence vis-a-vis Russia and endorse unrealistic goals of reclaiming the lost separatist republics. In some respects, this isn’t surprising, since hard-liners abroad tend to view their neighbors in the same way that American hawks do, and they endorse the same sort of confrontational policies. What’s important to take away from all this is that American hawks have just as much of a warped definition of allied interests as they have of U.S. security interests, and when they charge that the administration has “betrayed” an ally it is a safe bet that the allied government the hawks are backing is pursuing a reckless, confrontational policy towards its neighbors.
The American Conservative