On the face of it there is a consensus among the great and the good in our politics over the war with Iraq. The mantra being pumped out over the airwaves and in print in respectable papers is that we are a reliable ally for the United States for whom the strength and unity of NATO are paramount.
In reality there is a hidden agenda behind all this. The country is entering the European Union at a time when the Germans and French are keen to intensify their relations with Russia and to press for a European system of defence to replace the reliance on NATO. Both of these Franco-German objectives worry the hell out of our diplomats.
Nothing good for this country has ever come out of any liaisons between her two great neighbours. The weakening of NATO would imply a reduced American presence in this region and therefore less security for us. The preservation of American influence in Europe is thus a key objective of our foreign policy. Not surprising then that we are so keen to persuade the Americans to install military bases here. That is not just about economics. It is perceived as being about the survival of our country itself.
We knew what we were doing when our leaders decided to sign the famous letter which split the EU wide open on the issue of Iraq. Our country along with other central European countries was signalling to both the Germans and the French that we want continuing American influence in Europe. We were also making it clear that the days of the Franco-German alliance being decisive on all EU matters was coming to an end.
Jacques Chirac's outburst was predictable. Together with Gerhard Schröder, he had helped us get what we wanted over the budget and agriculture, and this was the thanks he was getting. The new kid on the block, instead of settling down and learning the ropes, was going in saying that the club will now be run on different lines.
While all our politicians stand shoulder to shoulder in rejecting the impertinence of the French, they are not so united over Iraq itself. As always, party political interests predetermine choices.
The SLD has staked so much on being pro-American and pro-EU that it cannot change its tune, despite some rebellious rumblings in its ranks. The SLD needs to stay on the side of the Americans for economic reasons (the offset on the F-16 deal) and to have an external ally as an insurance policy against the Franco-German-Russian courtship. It has certainly burned its boats in the East.
The centre-right is instinctively more pro-NATO than pro-EU. It remembers the Germans and the French as the wet appeasers of the Russians in communist times. Many of its voters prefer the American economic model to that of the EU. The centre-right sees EU accession as more inevitable than desirable.
The three other parties in Poland will oppose the war. The PSL will do so because it has always wanted the country to do more in warming up the markets in the East. It still thinks that Russia is potentially a large market for our agricultural produce.
The most surprising part of the antiwar camp is the LPR. Roman Giertych is, after all, fiercely pro-American. The reason why his party is opposing the war is not just an opportunistic attempt to cash in on all those who in opinion polls say they oppose the conflict. Nor is it a sign of respect for the pope. John Paul II favours our membership in the EU, yet that has little influence on the LPR. The real reason for this stance is the fact that the godfather of the LPR believes that his kind of Catholicism can expand to the East. Giertych cannot afford an open clash with Father Tadeusz Rydzyk. He has elections he must fight.
Samoobrona will oppose the war because it has suspicion of the West as its hallmark. But more important in political terms, Andrzej Lepper is convinced that we ourselves do not think that this is our war and will increasingly view the government's participation and support for it as a sign of its weakness.
Lepper will also oppose the location of American bases here. He will say it reduces our sovereignty and remind people of the days in which foreign troops were stationed on our soil. Those who oppose the Iraq war will tend to agree with him. Even the locals who might benefit near the bases themselves may in due course come to resent the overfed, oversexed and over-here brigade.
Our political elites hope the war is won quickly and cleanly. Getting rid of Saddam Hussein could be the easy bit. But as with Vietnam, going in may be much easier than coming out when the country starts breaking up. Once America will be perceived as a colonial power, attacks on the West can only intensify. Osama bin Laden's scenario of provoking an attack that unifies the Muslim world must be a cause for insomnia.
If America is weakened by troubles in the Middle East, it is Russia which stands to benefit. That should worry us much more than any Chirac tantrum or temporary advance by Lepper and the LPR. There then would be no US bases or influence in Europe, and the country will have achieved nothing apart from antagonising its neighbours and European partners.
From Warsaw Business Journal
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