Earlier this week, on the seventieth anniversary of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Poland at the beginning of World War II, President Obama announced that the United States is reneging on a promise to build a missile defense shield against future, likely Iranian nuclear missiles. This program was started under Bush, enacted in Poland and the Czech Republican at the cost of immense political capital to the Polish and Czech governments.
The date, of course, was Vladimir Putin’s way of telling the recalcitrant, west-leaning, NATO-joining Poles that he’s watching them.
But the reverse on the missile program? That was all Obama. The President seems to think, as Jimmy Carter did, that if he just gives a few more concessions to Putin, to the Mullahs, to the world’s thugs and gangsters, that eventually even they’ll start believing in all the Hope and Change.
Of course, as we saw earlier this summer, earnest promises of Hope and Change didn’t stop the mullahs from gunning down protesters in the streets of Teheran.
What a contrast with thirty years ago, as Jeffrey Lord noted earlier this summer in American Spectator:
One need look no further than President Obama’s cautiously timid response to the demands of freedom from Iranians. Contrast this with Reagan’s response to similar demands from Poles in the 1980s and the miserable inadequacy of the Obama foreign policy is thrust into a stark and shameful relief.
Finding historical parallels is a slippery slope that leads to madness. But sometimes they’re illustrative:
When Reagan took office in January of 1981, Poland had been a Soviet satellite for almost four decades. The American foreign policy establishment had long since settled into an acceptance of moral equivalency between the United States and the Communists. The policy was acted out in a thousand different ways ranging from so-called “détente” (a relaxing of tensions) to a vast, arcane arms control process which over time had substituted the process itself instead of the unconditional victory of freedom as America’s chief foreign policy goal.
As opposed to the example from the last time we had a thug-ocracy beating freedom-loving demonstrators in the streets, I mean?…:
Reagan had campaigned on a completely different idea, a very old principle when dealing with an adversary. He phrased it this way to his first national security advisor, Richard Allen: “We win, they lose.” It was this goal that Reagan sought, and thus caused him to speak bluntly about America’s adversary in the Cold War. An “Evil Empire” is how he early-on famously described the Soviet Union, completely horrifying the Obama-like striped-pants set in the State Department and Establishment foreign policy circles…
Joe Biden said during the campaign that Obama would face a foreign policy “test”. Well, Ronald Reagan certainly did:
One of the very first items that arose on Reagan’s watch was the rising demand for freedom from the Polish people. On January 21, his first full day in the Oval Office, word reached the White House that a young shipyard worker and union leader named Lech Walesa had informed the Communist government of Poland he had called a series of strikes in four Polish cities, beginning the next day. Within 24 hours hundreds of thousands of Poles in ten cities — not four — were publicly defying the Polish Communist dictator, General Wojciech Jaruzelski.
A fight for freedom was on — and Ronald Reagan had zero intention of standing on the sidelines…Liberals all over Washington paled. This, they insisted, was no way to conduct diplomacy. One just does not say these things in public. But Reagan had only just begun.
And we all know how that ended – in this case, with a free Poland; a nation that reveres the Reagan legacy; a place that is probably the best place in Europe to be an American; a place that has repaid Reagan’s efforts many-fold, by becoming not just a leading voice for freedom, but a leading supplier of muscle to defend it; Polish troops were among the largest allied contingents in Iraq.
Iran today and Poland in 1980 aren’t perfect analogues – but the similarities are strong enough to help us gauge the character of our nation’s leadership.
Which is bad news for Obama:
As Walesa and his fellow Poles demanded the most basic of human liberties, Moscow responded by sending troops on maneuvers along the Polish border, then installing a military government with instructions to stop Walesa in his tracks.
Distinctly unlike Obama’s reaction to the demonstrators filling the streets of Iran, Reagan looked at similar crowds in Poland and said the sight was “thrilling.” Said Reagan: “I wanted to be sure we did nothing to impede this process and everything we could to spur it along.”
And so he did. In a stiff note to Soviet boss Leonid Brezhnev, Reagan said that if the Russians kept up their thuggish response to Poland they “could forget any new nuclear arms agreement.” Gone too would be better trade relations, and in their place would be the “harshest possible economic sanctions” if they even thought of invading Poland as they had done with Czechoslovakia in 1968 or Hungary in 1956.
Of couse, Reagan did much more; he formed an unlikely alliance (according to Dinesh D’Souza) with Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, and AFL-CIO president Layne Kirkland to send financial as well as moral aid to Solidarity.
Hope and change didn’t come for free in 1980, either; as tensions ratcheted up, Reagan took the occasion of the normally-pacific Christmas speech to stump for the Poles…:
… “We can’t let this revolution against Communism fail without offering a hand,” he wrote that day in his diary. “We may never have an opportunity like this in our lifetime.”
Christmas or not, Reagan proceeded to write Brezhnev about the “recent events in Poland.” Warned the President: “Attempts to suppress the Polish people-either by the Polish army or police acting under Soviet pressure, or through even more direct use of the Soviet military force — certainly will not bring about long term stability in Poland and could unleash a process neither you nor we could fully control.” Reagan said the Soviets were encouraging “political terror, mass arrests and bloodshed” and they must either halt this behavior or “we will travel a different path.”
On Christmas morning, Reagan had a heated, angry reply from Brezhnev. Furious, he accused the President of “defaming our social and state system, our internal order.” It was a charge, Reagan said, “to which I pleaded guilty.”
Words were followed by actions – sanctions against Poland and the USSR – and then by years of committed agitation to bring down, not Poland, but the USSR itself. These efforts paid off almost twenty years ago, as first the Poles, and then the rest Eastern Europe, and finally the Russians themselves cast off the Communists. History’s bloodthirstiest regime fell without a shot in less than ten years, because of a show of backbone and resolve.
And some people know it:
Lech Walesa went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize and later become the freely elected President of a democratic Poland. In 2007, Walesa’s successor as President of Poland traveled to the Reagan Library to present Nancy Reagan, who accepted on behalf of her late husband, The Order of the White Eagle, the oldest and highest honor within the gift of the Polish people. Today one can visit Ronald Reagan Square in Krakow, a Reagan statue is planned for Warsaw and Reagan streets and parks dot the country. He is considered, in the words of the Polish president, the “architect of democracy.”
Compare and contrast:
This is a lesson that one realizes the Obama White House simply doesn’t have the courage to embrace. As over a million Iranians fill[ed] the streets of Tehran, the message from this President of the United States is that he is afraid to be seen as “meddling” — precisely the charge Reagan faced down from Brezhnev. Instead Obama backs away from standing up for freedom, saying (as if Iran were a free country): “It is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran’s leaders will be. We respect Iranian sovereignty and want to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran.” He does say he is “deeply troubled.”
As those Iranians who seek freedom are literally shot dead in the streets, Obama observes cautiously that “the democratic process, free speech, the ability of people to peacefully dissent — all those are universal values and need to be respected.” Instead of dealing with the mullahs of Iran in the fashion Reagan dealt with Brezhnev and the Polish Communist puppets, Obama refers deferentially to Ayatollah ali Khamenei, as the “Supreme Leader.”
And so inside a generation, American leadership has gone from embracing and pressing for freedom, to equivocating and waffling – and, worse, betraying it, allowing Vladimir Putin not only to use the symbol of Poland’s subjugation before the Soviets to deliver his message, but carrying Putin’s water for him. Obama’s selling-out of Poland in the face of Putin’s pressure was the sort of thing that might make pragmatic sense to those diplomats more allied to “process” than to the goal of liberty…
…and it’s the sort of thing that wouldn’t have gotten on Ronald Reagan’s short list.