By Andrzej Jonas, Special to CNN
Andrzej Jonas is editor-in-chief of The Warsaw Voice. This is the second in a new series looking at how the world sees the U.S. election, and what the Obama presidency has meant for ties with other countries. The views expressed are the author's own.
If people in Poland could vote for U.S. president, Barack Obama would probably get at least half the vote. While that’s probably much less than in the liberal countries of Western Europe, where Obama could by some estimates count on nearly 80 percent support, it’s still a substantial figure considering Polish President Bronisław Maria Komorowski only had the backing of just over half of his countrymen in the last election.
Of course, my compatriots aren’t necessarily experts on U.S. politics, but then neither are many voters in America. People there, as is the case almost everywhere, are often guided by superficial impressions and assessments. But whatever their views on Obama vs. Romney, one thing is clear – Poles are no longer head over heels in love with America the way they were back in communist days, when the U.S. was seen as the epitome of success and freedom.
Why? For a start, we’ve discovered the bittersweet taste of freedom. Second, being closer to America has meant we’ve seen some of its faults up close – and the myth has been replaced by reality. We were euphoric over Poland’s entry into NATO in 1999. But it quickly became clear that Article 5 of the NATO pact, which states that member states will help one another in the event of an armed attack on another, is more than anything about saying the right words. There would be a long, winding and bumpy political road to actual deeds.
The participation of Polish troops in the operation in Iraq ended with the same kind of disappointment as elsewhere, and hopes that Poland would be able to take part in rebuilding Iraq’s economy have never materialized.
Afghanistan is another example of dashed hopes, while the proposed missile shield – our big hope for prestigious and practical improvement in Poland’s security – has turned out to be a political trick. The offset agreement accompanying the purchase of F-16 jets by the Polish armed forces has, at least in the minds of the Polish people, barely contributed anything to bringing Poland closer to U.S. technology and the prized American market. Even the mundane issue of U.S. visas – which Polish citizens, unlike most other EU nations, must have in order to enter – hasn’t moved forward.
There’s no real benefit to looking at why this state of affairs exists – it just does. But if we wanted to find a reason why we need look no further than the global financial crisis and the collapse of Lehman Brothers. These developments changed U.S. priorities – and Barack Obama allowed this change. His attitude to gays in the military or his U.S. health care plans are of little interest to Poles – they are unmoved and uninterested in such issues. The problem is that even when Poland has featured, it has been for the wrong reasons, such as when President Obama referred to “Polish death camps” instead of “Nazi death camps in Poland.”
And Mitt Romney? He knows nothing about us, and we know nothing about him. After he leaves Poland, we will remain indifferent to how much tax he pays and how he has amassed his fortune. We wouldn’t really care if the vice presidency went to Sarah Palin or Condoleezza Rice. The reality is that Romney will largely remain an unknown for Poles unless he wins in November.
Poland’s main opposition party, the conservative Law and Justice (PiS), is pinning the blame for most things on Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his Civic Platform (PO). But Law and Justice also seems eager to put Barack Obama in the dock next to Polish politicians – holding him in part responsible for all the things that Poland was hoping to secure, but which were never delivered. PiS portrays itself as the Polish Republican party and enjoys the support of a significant segment of the Polish American community (which, though largely resident in Chicago, isn’t particularly fond of Barack Obama). All this means that the ruling Civic Platform, if only because it differs with PiS on so many issues, would vote for Obama today.
But setting aside such preferences, there are also Poland’s national interests at stake, and these interests would be best served by a strong U.S. president who can steer his country onto a path of sustained growth and strengthen U.S. leadership around the world. The fact is that there’s no better way of ensuring global security. The problem is that it will be long after November before Americans, Poles or anyone else will know whether the next president – Obama or Romney – has been successful on this front.