|Poland: Obama’s “Ignorance and Incompetence” Unacceptable|
By Timothy H. Lee
Thursday, May 31 2012
“The White House will apologize for this outrageous mistake. It’s a shame that such a momentous ceremony has been overshadowed by ignorance and incompetence.”
That was Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, objecting to this week’s embarrassing gaffe by President Obama.
So much for “the smartest guy ever to become President,” in the words of historian Michael Beschloss.
The occasion for Obama’s gaffe and the ensuing Polish outrage was the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House. This year’s 13 award recipients included such names as Bob Dylan, Madeleine Albright, John Paul Stevens and John Glenn. Also included was Jan Karski, a member of the Polish underground resistance during World War II and the first man to provide the free world with eyewitness evidence of Nazi death camps. Miraculously, Mr. Karski managed to not only sneak into and out of the Jewish Warsaw ghetto and a concentration camp in the darkest days of 1942, but also escaped to Britain and America to tell the world what he saw. He even managed to meet personally with President Roosevelt, but Karski’s efforts remained unheeded.
Obama, however, lit a firestorm when he suggested during the award ceremony that Karski entered a “Polish death camp” to witness its atrocities.
That gaffe is a historically sensitive one for Poles. Unlike such nations as Vichy France, Polish citizens didn’t operate a collaborative government subservient to Nazi oversight, and certainly didn’t run the Nazi death camps located within Poland’s borders. Consequently, Polish officials and citizens, as well as Polish-Americans, take particular offense to any suggestion that they share responsibility for Nazi atrocities. Presumably, an Obama Administration that represents itself as a high beacon of cultural sensitivity and worldliness should demonstrate greater knowledge and sensitivity.
Compounding that embarrassment, the White House dismissively attempted to minimize the affront after Polish officials expressed objection. Spokesman Jay Carney shrugged that Obama simply “misspoke,” adding, “We regret the misstatement, but that’s what it was.”
Understandably, that didn’t satisfy Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who demanded a more sincere correction. Tusk highlighted that Obama’s gaffe “touched all Poles,” adding, “We always react in the same way when ignorance, lack of knowledge, bad intentions lead to such a distortion of history, so painful for us here in Poland, in a country which suffered like no other in Europe during World War II. This is something that we cannot ignore.”
Pretty strong stuff.
Unfortunately, Obama’s aspersion wasn’t an isolated one. Rather, it accords with Obama’s history of antipathy toward the Poles.
Obama remains notoriously hostile toward missile defense, which both the U.S. and Israel have deployed successfully in battle, and which was the subject of his shameful open microphone comment to Russian President Medvedev that he would have more “flexibility” after the November election. After taking office in 2009, Obama bowed to Russian pressure and informed the Polish Prime Minister of his decision to cancel joint US-Polish missile defense on September 17 – exactly 70 years after the Soviet Union invaded Poland. In so doing, Obama explicitly rejected the pleas of former Polish President Lech Walesa and fellow Cold War hero Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic.
The Obama White House also insulted Walesa and Poland in the way it arranged this week’s award ceremony. As reported by Matthew Kaminski of The Wall Street Journal, the Administration deliberately rejected Poland’s request that Walesa attend to receive Karski’s posthumous award:
“The mood soured a bit before Tuesday’s award ceremony. The Poles wanted Lech Walesa to receive the medal on Karski’s behalf, but the White House nixed the choice. Last year, during Mr. Obama’s visit to Poland, the hero of Solidarity refused to attend a large gathering to meet the younger leader. Mr. Walesa felt entitled to a tete-a-tete. Administration officials told Polish journalists that Mr. Walesa’s presence was too ‘political’ for this week’s occasion. Poles read something else into it: Mr. Obama holds grudges. The counter-snub was the talk of Poland last week.”
In once again demonstrating his trademark petulance, Obama managed to again insult one of the greatest heroes of the 20th century.
Beyond what it reveals about Obama and his administration, however, this latest affront may have significant political consequences. Consider that Midwestern swing states critical to Obama’s reelection effort – Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan – include large and longstanding Polish-American communities that won’t take kindly to his behavior.
Polish Prime Minister Tusk observed that Obama had “hurt all Poles,” but Americans of Polish descent may in turn hurt Obama come November.
Related Articles :