September 17, 1939 Soviet troops plow into eastern Poland a little over two weeks after the Germans blitz across Poland’s western frontier started World War II.
Most people are unaware that Nazi Germany’s original ally in aggression was not Mussolini’s Italy but Stalin’s Russia, an inconvenient fact Moscow would like the history books to play down or forget altogether. Prior to launching his Polish conquest, Hitler wanted to secure his eastern front to avoid the dreaded encirclement nightmare that plagued the minds of Prussian kings and German Kaisers.
In addition to striking a peace-deal of convenience, Germany sweetened the arrangement with the USSR carving up Poland as if it were a turkey and assigned spheres of influence (occupation and absorption) in the newly redrawn Europe. The eastern half of Poland, the Baltic States, parts of Finland and Romania’s Bessarabia region (most of what is the country of Moldova) were “given” to Stalin while Germany enjoyed a free-hand in elsewhere.
During the time between the first Soviet invasion of Poland and the Nazi violation of the non-aggression/land grab pact, tens of thousands of Poles in the Soviet zone were arrested, tortured and/or killed, with the most infamous example of the first Soviet occupation being the Katyn massacre, when thousands of Polish military officers, civil authorities and other persons considered a threat to the new Soviet order perished in a mass execution.
I didn’t need a doctorate from an Ivy League university to know the significance of September 17th, a day of infamy for Poles as December 7th is for Americans.
Yet September 17th must have seemed like just another day on the calendar for the graduates of expensive colleges with bad football programs that signed off on that being the day the Obama Administration was to announce they were scrapping the missile shield the Bush White House had asked political leaders in Poland and the Czech Republic to expend political capital supporting in the face of Russian consternation and criticism from domestic proponents of appeasement.
How anyone in the US State Department or the White House intelligentsia could be ignorant of the significance of September 17th for our Polish allies when announcing a defensive position that would weaken the West’s capacity to respond to future Russian military aggression is astounding assuming it was indeed a blooper, which isn’t as unlikely as you would think.
The Obama Administration already had one high-profile diplomatic “d’oh” moment when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented a novelty button to the Russian foreign minister that had the wrong word in Russian printed on it. The button was supposed to read “reset”, a thinly veiled jab at the Bush Administration’s assertive/realist dealings with the Kremlin. Their attempt at being cute backfired as the button had the Russian word for “over-priced”, something the Russian foreign minister undiplomatically pointed out to an embarrassed Clinton before television cameras.
These things can happen when engaging in Carrot-Top prop-diplomacy.
On the other hand, what if the September 17th announcement was not simply an “oops” moment but a crass signal of displeasure aimed at Poland and other eastern European’s for their gleeful accommodation of George W. Bush’s foreign policy?
Have the old Jimmy Carter days of trading allies for satellites of adversaries returned less than a year into Obama’s administration?
Regardless of intended or unintended public relations fallout for the kind of foreign policy bumbles Obama and his brethren had assured Americans would be relics of the preceding White House, there is the more serious matter of the real strategic consequences of the decision to back down from a defensive system that annoyed Russia (a frequent uninvited occupier of Poland over the past few centuries) and Iran, whose nuclear and rocket program should be a source of great concern to Europe.
Is there ever a time when it is better to accrue goodwill at the expense of actual strategic concessions?
That Russia welcomed the news should offer little comfort. The missile defense shield was in no way a threat to Russian security. That Russia took offense to the interceptor system had nothing to do with upset sensitivities a desire for their neighbors (AKA those countries Hitler assigned to Moscow’s spehere) to be more susceptible to Russian diplomatic and economic bullying.
Recklessly abandoning a missile system of a purely defensive nature in order to score points with the Kremlin makes little sense and is a sign to other countries that the current Oval Office has little regard for eastern Europe and that they cannot trust Washington to protect their interests.
Obama’s strategic gaffe didn’t make the United States any more popular with countries that didn’t like us before he ascended to the presidency. By making Russia “happy”, the president made us a lot less popular with new allies who backed America when many of our older allies did not.