why poland supports the us in iraq

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    By Tony Parkinson
    October 11, 2003

    Bronislaw Geremek was a major intellectual force in the events that brought an end to the Cold War. Today, less than 15 years on, the former Polish foreign minister is anxious to prevent the dispute between leading European powers and the United States over the war in Iraq becoming another dangerous and destabilising fault line in the history of Europe.

    On a visit to Melbourne this week, one of the giants of eastern Europe's liberation from communist rule spoke frankly of the dangers for the European project if feuding persists between France and Germany, on the one hand, and the US on the other. At stake was not just unity within an enlarged European Union, but the future of the Western alliance.

    For his part, Geremek believes there were incontestable grounds for removing Saddam Hussein's regime. "I can understand that some leaders in Europe were not convinced by America's justification for war in Iraq," he says. "But we will never understand that part of European public opinion that said it would be better for Saddam to have won the war than the Americans. Our experiences in Poland have given rise to a strong anti-totalitarian culture. For us, these are not theoretical questions. Even those Poles who were critical of the war were in no doubt that it was a good thing that one of the bloodiest dictators of the past century is no longer in power."

    Like his close friend and courageous French intellectual Jean-Francois Revel, Geremek is not about to let the current fashion for anti-Americanism in Europe obscure the fundamental human rights imperative at the heart of the Iraq debate. He sees parallels with the failings of the European Left in the 1960s and 1970s to acknowledge and accept the evidence of the brutality of the Soviet system.

    In the 1980s Geremek spent a year in a Polish prison as the panicked communist regime of General Wojciech Jaruzelski sought to stop him from mobilising workers at the Gdansk shipyards. This time, the price of reminding European opinion about the importance of the Western tradition of confronting tyranny has been the tarnishing of his lifelong love affair with France.

    As a young man, Geremek studied at the Sorbonne. He has written extensively on French history. In recognition of his role in the formation of Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement, an event that arguably marked the beginning of the end of communist rule in Europe, the French Government awarded him one of the nation's highest honours.

    "I am a Francophile," he says. "I feel very close to France in a cultural sense, and it's been very important to my intellectual life. But sometimes I am critical of France because I expect more of it. I had been very popular there until this last year, when they asked me what I thought about Iraq. When I told them I could not accept the indifference to this dictator, I was finished."

    Poland, as a nation, is also feeling the heat. The "them or us" antagonism towards US power began to percolate noticeably at the time that Geremek was negotiating Poland's accession to the European Union. When Poland decided to buy 48 American F-16 fighter jets to modernise its air force, rather than Eurofighters, the government of Jacques Chirac did not disguise its displeasure.

    There was talk of a French-German veto of Poland's admission to the EU. "I believe Chirac was astonished these newcomers should be so disobedient," Geremek recalls. The French media vilified Poland as the "51st state", a "Trojan horse for US interests".

    By supporting US policy on Iraq, Poland has teased those same raw nerves. It not only joined the military action, but has deployed 2200 troops, and assumed command of one of the four stabilisation zones. In parts of Europe, this is seen as close to betrayal.

    But, deeply scarred by the history of Munich and Yalta, many Poles, according to Geremek, see the American superpower as every bit as crucial to Europe's security today as it was during the Cold War years. "We cannot accept, we cannot understand, how France can speak of a troika with Germany and Russia. We still need America, and America needs Europe."

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