Monday, July 20, 2009

Central Europe to Obama Administration: Don’t Feed Us to Russia

Central Europe to Obama Administration: Don’t Feed Us to Russia

By Barry Rubin

An Open Letter to the Obama Administration from Central and Eastern Europe is a remarkable document signed by 22 top Central European figures, including 7 former prime ministers or presidents, and 9 former foreign or defense ministers. It urges the Obama administration to reconsider its policies.

The signers are the best-known and most respected regional leaders including Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa, former presidents of the Czech Republic and Poland. Other countries represented by former leaders include Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and the Slovak Republic.

Expressing gratitude or past American help in gaining their countries’ freedom, this is probably the most pro-American group of policymakers in Europe (Atlanticist, to use a popular term for that orientation) and yet they express serious concerns at a time when Europe as a whole supposedly is more pro-American than ever. Why?

Most ostensibly they believe that the United States is neglecting their part of the world. It is putting its faith on western European politicians who may flatter Obama but will not support U.S. policies in any meaningful way. The next generation of central European politicians may sound like their western neighbors, thus dismantling what might be called the American lobby in Europe.

A second issue is the irony that an American president who calls himself a liberal is in many ways a traditional conservative Realist who views—whatever rhetoric in administration speeches to the contrary—human rights and democracy with disinterest. The letter states:

“We know from our own historical experience the difference between when the United States stood up for its liberal democratic values and when it did not. Our region suffered when the United States succumbed to "realism" at Yalta [accepting Soviet domination of Eastern Europe]. And it benefited when the United States used its power to fight for principle.”

If Obama had been president in the early 1990s, the letter hints rather subtly, “We would not be in NATO today and the idea of a Europe whole, free, and at peace would be a distant dream.” The United States would have put an emphasis on good relations with Russia rather than supporting the real liberty of the nations in the area.

And Russia today is a key reason for their concern. They are deeply worried that the Obama administration is taking a pro-Russian stance which relegates them to Moscow’s sphere of influence in exchange for Russian cooperation—or more likely pretended, not real, cooperation on other issues).

The Russo-Georgian war was particularly worrisome in that context: “To see the Atlantic alliance stand by as Russia violated the core principles of [international agreements] and the territorial integrity of a country that was a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace…in the name of defending a sphere of influence

They warn that their “people question whether NATO would be willing and able to come to our defense in some future crises. Europe's dependence on Russian energy also creates concern about the cohesion of the Alliance.”

Unfortunately, they continue, hopes that Russia “would finally fully accept our complete sovereignty and independence after joining NATO and the EU have not been fulfilled.” Instead, Russia is waging overt and covert warfare against them, using “creeping intimidation” and tactics “ranging from energy blockades and politically motivated investments to bribery and media manipulation in order to advance its interests and to challenge the transatlantic orientation of Central and Eastern Europe.”

It is quite possible that without U.S. involvement, Russia could reestablish an indirect empire in central Europe. Russia is also more likely to align with Syria and Iran, and thus also with Hamas and Hizballah, than it is to help the United States bring a stable peace to the Middle East.

Of course, these leaders favor good U.S. - Russia relations but not at their expense.

The most immediate issue is the planned U.S. missile-defense installations in the Czech Republic and Poland, “a symbol of America's credibility and commitment to the region.” They urge Obama not to back down, something he is already well in the process of doing though the deployments have not formally been cancelled.

That such prestigious leaders and tested friends of the United States, democracy, and human rights are ringing an alarm bell should set off serious rethinking in Washington. Alas, though, the last time some of these leaders spoke up in support of U.S. policy, French president Jacques Chirac, who viewed himself as Europe’s uncrowned king, told them to shut up. Will Obama merely not listen to them at all?

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center. His latest book are The Truth About Syria and The Long War for Freedom.

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