If Poland’s new center-right ruling coalition government survives its November 10 confidence vote, Radek Sikorski, a brilliant former Polish deputy defense minister who spent the last few years serving as the executive director of the New Atlantic Initiative at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. before returning to Poland where he was elected to its Senate in recent elections, will head up the country’s defense ministry.
There is little doubt that the charismatic Sikorski will be an asset to his country. Beyond that, however, it will be useful for this and future U.S. administrations to have to deal with a man such as Sikorski: A pro-American leader who understands the political realities in both countries and wants to create strategic partnerships, but who is also willing to address the inequity of recent bargains between the U.S. and Poland, especially, but not limited to, the downright disgraceful way the American ally and active participant in the Iraq war was left out of major Iraqi reconstruction contracts as well as the inexplicable persecution of Poles seeking U.S. visas. (Both of which the new Polish government promises to address forthwith.)
When it comes to arenas outside U.S./Polish relations, Sikorski — who was educated at Oxford and is married to Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum — is almost the perfect combination of pragmatism and idealism. He’s described the UN Human Rights Commission, for example, as “morally repugnant and politically counterproductive” and further noted in an AEI publication that “many of the claims that its enthusiasts make on behalf of the UN seem to apply not to the organization as it is, but as it should be.” (For more on that point click here.)
As for the European Union, Sikorski said he believes a looser, less centralized union would be more effective and fair. In one interview he noted, “The EU needs to become more transparent, it needs to become more democratic. It needs to clearly define the responsibilities of nation-states and of the central E.U. government. Many people are afraid of ever-closer union, that we will integrate until we are all identical Europeans. We don’t want that. Countries should remain independent.”
The appointment of a Reaganite like Sikorski is one of the bright spots in the cabinet of Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, whose Law and Justice Party is something along the lines of what we in the U.S. might call Buchananite. That is to say, it is a party held aloft on the dual pillars of a social conservatism informed by Catholicism and skepticism of free market reforms that is at times unhealthy. It is this fear primarily that has prevented a (still possible, if unlikely) power-sharing deal with the pro-business, flat tax advocating Civic Platform, which came in a close second in September’s parliamentary elections.
While the rejection of more extensive economic reforms is a bit disheartening, the presence of Sikorski and other reformers in the government is cause for optimism. They include Zbigniew Religa, a heart surgeon hinting at de-socializing elements of the nation’s health care service and Grazyna Gesicka as the regional development portfolio holder. In that post Gesicka, a former adviser to the Civic Platform, will distribute European Union funds.
I met Sikorski briefly last year at the American Foreign Policy Council’s conference on missile defense, where he spoke eloquently about the dissonance between the Bush Administration’s professions of ever-growing partnership with what Donald Rumsfeld termed “New Europe” and the reality after the war was finished and the rebuilding contracts were handed out. Sikorski half-joked, “We buy F-16s and in turn we can send troops to Iraq.”
It might seem a catty remark, but after their participation in Operation Iraqi Freedom, al-Qaeda began threatening Poland in its communiques. The EU threatened various retaliations. There was a price to be paid for standing by America’s side. Imagine what it must like to be a Pole, watching your government sign on and give principled support to a war that is exceedingly unpopular on the continent, only to watch U.S. reconstruction dollars flow elsewhere. Imagine also how far those dollars would go in Poland. If the U.S. truly believes in the utility of “New Europe,” it must show it.
“I believe that what unites Europe and the United States is still far deeper and far more important than what divides them,” Sikorski said in testimony before Congress in 2003. “When the two halves of our Western civilization act in concert, we rule the world; when we divide, each suffers. It is therefore in the interest of all our peoples to work for the improvement of our relations.”
It is important that this alliance is preserved for political and strategic reasons. There are struggles ahead even the most prescient among us cannot fathom. Sikorski’s extensive knowledge of the political milieu of Poland and America will be invaluable in realigning the relationship between the two into something more approaching a true alliance. The elevation of Radek Sikorski is without a doubt the American Enterprise Institute’s loss, but the world and future’s gain.
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