I come to Berlin as so many of my countrymen have come before. Tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen – a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world.
-- Senator Obama at the Brandenburg Gates, July 2008
From Scott Johnson:
I first learned of Karski’s story in Walter Laqueur’s The Terrible Secret: Suppression of the Truth About Hitler’s “Final Solution,” published in 1980 (and first learned of Laqueur’s book from George Will’s excellent column on it in the Washington Post that year).
Laqueur notes that Karski patiently submitted to his detailed questioning in a September 1979 interview and even wrote out for him the message that he (Karski) conveyed to President Roosevelt, Anthony Eden and others in 1942 and 1943. According to Laqueur, the message could not be published during the war. Karski’s message is included in Appendix 5 to Laqueur’s book. Laqueur comments elsewhere in the book:
Democratic societies demonstrated on this occasion as on many others, before and after, that they are incapable of understanding political regimes of a different character….Democratic societies are accustomed to think in liberal, pragmatic categories; conflicts are believed to be based on misunderstandings and can be solved with a minimum of good will; extremism is a temporary aberration, so is irrational behavior in general, such as intolerance, cruelty, etc. The effort needed to overcome such basic psychological handicaps is immense….Each new generation faces this challenge again, for experience cannot be inherited.
In New York magazine this week, John Heilemann contends that President Obama is the “best thing Israel has going for it right now” and despite some setbacks he remains a president “every bit as pro-Israel as the country’s own prime minister — and, if you look from the proper angle, maybe even more so.”
The cover story‘s attention-grabbing, Toni Morrison-esque characterization of Obama as “The First Jewish President” comes from a quote by Abner Mikva, a White House counsel, who during the run-up to the last presidential election said, “When this all is over, people are going to say that Barack Obama is the first Jewish president.” While Heilemann thinks that prediction “has so far proved to be wildly over-optimistic,” he believes there is “more truth in it than meets the eye.”
In the piece, Heilemann chronicles Obama’s various struggles in his policy making over Israeli-centric issues. Despite Obama being “well attuned to the Jewish community and its views”, his wrangling with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his support of Israel’s 1967 borders “with mutually agreed [land] swaps” and Ed Koch‘s high profile criticism has left some Jewish voters under the impression that he wasn’t fully on their side.
Heilemann strongly disputes this by saying “Obamans have never wavered in going balls-out for Israel”
At the White House just an hour or so before the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony via Haaretz:
Earlier Tuesday afternoon, Obama and White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew met about 20 Conservative Jewish community leaders. ...
"I not going to tell you again how I even feel about Israel, but why [are] we still talking about it," Obama said, reminding his guests that all his friends in Chicago were Jewish - and at the beginning of his political career he was accused of being a puppet of the Israel lobby. ...
Obama also stressed he probably knows about Judaism more than any other president, because he read about it - and wondered how come no one asks Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner or Senate minority leader Mitch McConnel [sic] about their support to Israel."
As in England where private schools are called public, in Judiasm, liberal rabbis are called conservative. YNET gives an excellent window to the "conservatism" of the assembled rabbis at the White House :
Obama to rabbis: I'm vilified because of Muslim name.
U.S. president tells group of Conservative Movement leaders Republicans falsely portraying him as being unsupportive of Israel.
During the meeting, one of the rabbis told Obama that he has a gay son and thanked the American leader for publicly supporting gay marriage.
"The president shared his sense of personal connection to the State of Israel and his deep knowledge and appreciation of Jewish tradition,” said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), which is the international umbrella organization for Conservative rabbis...
Again from Haaretz, the "vilified" president who knows more about "Judiasm more than any other president", demonstrates his deep knowledge of all things Jewish while awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom (posthumously) to the man who provided the first eyewitness account to the world of the Nazi atrocities and crimes against Jews and others, Polish resistance fighter Jan Karski :
Before one trip across enemy lines, resistance fighters told him that Jews were being murdered on a massive scale and smuggled him into the Warsaw Ghetto and a Polish death camp to see for himself.
AP WARSAW, Poland -- Poland's leaders said on Wednesday they weren't completely satisfied with a White House explanation that President Obama misspoke when he referred to "Polish death camps" during a ceremony honoring a World War II hero, saying they wanted a stronger response.
The phrasing is considered hugely offensive in Poland, where Nazi Germany murdered Poles, Jews and others in death camps it built during World War II on Polish and German territory. Poles have responded with outrage, saying Obama should have called it a "German death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland" to distinguish the perpetrators from the location.
President Bronislaw Komorowski said he has written to Obama and hopes the letter will lead to a "joint correcting of the unfortunate mistake" that could prevent the use of such phrases in the future.
"In my opinion, the words of the U.S. president -- unjust and painful to us all -- about a Polish death camp, do not reflect either the views or the intentions of our American friend," Komorowski told a news conference.
White House spokesman Jay Carney yesterday reiterated the administration's earlier assertion that Obama simply misspoke when he referred to "Polish death camps."
"This was a simple mistake and we regret it," he said. "It was Nazi death camps that the president was referring to."
Carney said Obama had not spoken to Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
Earlier, Tusk said he was accepting a White House explanation that Obama "misspoke" but was still waiting for a "stronger, more pointed reaction" that could eliminate the phrasing "once and for all." Tusk said it was a "matter of the U.S.'s reputation." He hinted it should include facts about Nazi Germany's brutal occupation of Poland, during which 6 million Polish citizens were killed, half of them Jews.
Stressing that the entire Polish nation felt affected by Obama's words, Tusk said: "We always react in the same way when ignorance, lack of knowledge, bad intentions lead to such a distortion of history, so painful for us here in Poland, in a country which suffered like no other in Europe during World War II."
"When someone says 'Polish death camps,' it is as if there were no Nazis, no German responsibility, as if there were no Hitler -- that is why our Polish sensitivity in these situations is so much more than just simply a feeling of national pride," Tusk said.
James Taranto, this morning:
In a lengthy (7,000-word) feature for New York magazine, political journalist John Heilemann provides an intimate, and not altogether flattering, look into Barack Obama's re-election campaign. We were especially struck by this quote (the elision of naughty words is ours, not Heilemann's):
"Romney really, actually thinks that if you just take care of the folks at the top, it'll trickle down to everybody else," says another Obama operative. "But no one believes that stuff--no one! And once you puncture that, there's nothing left. He's not likable. He's not trustworthy. He's not on your side. You live in Pittsburgh and you've got dirt under your fingernails, who do you want to have a beer with? It ain't f---ng Mitt Romney. You're like, 'Sh--, I'd rather have a beer with the black guy than him!' "
Yesterday Obama posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski, a member of the Polish resistance in World War II. The honor was well-deserved. Karski--who later came to America, naturalized, and taught at Georgetown University--crossed enemy lines in 1942 and reported back to the West on the atrocities in the Warsaw Ghetto and the Nazi death camps.
Only in the president's remarks yesterday, he referred to them as "Polish death camps." That expression is neuralgic for Poles, who quite understandably do not wish to shoulder blame for horrors that an occupying power carried out on their soil. The White House website now carries a correction over the Obama transcript: "* Note--the language in asterisks below is historically inaccurate. It should instead have been: 'Nazi death camps in German occupied Poland.' We regret the error."
Poland's leaders want to make sure of that. [...]
Further, as our colleague Matthew Kaminski points out, the Karski award had already occasioned some tension between Washington and Warsaw:
The Poles wanted Lech Walesa to receive the medal on Karski's behalf, but the White House nixed the choice. Last year, during Mr. Obama's visit to Poland, the hero of Solidarity refused to attend a large gathering to meet the younger leader. Mr. Walesa felt entitled to a tete-a-tete. Administration officials told Polish journalists Mr. Walesa's presence was too "political" for this week's occasion. Poles read something else into it: Mr. Obama holds grudges. The counter snub was the talk of Poland last week.
Lech Walesa cold shoulders Obama: the US president is clearly no Reagan.
Lech Walesa, the great hero of the Polish Solidarity movement, was in Washington earlier this week to receive the Ronald Reagan Centennial Award. He gave a terrific speech, which I attended, in which he referred to Cuba, one of the last remaining Marxist tyrannies, as a “Jurassic Park of Communism”. Walesa remains one of the great political icons of our time, a brave freedom fighter who stood up to the Soviet Empire and led his people to liberty.
It has been announced that Walesa has decided not to meet with Barack Obama during the president’s visit to Poland. He has declined an invitation to join a group of Polish leaders in Warsaw tomorrow who will greet the president. Walesa is reportedly traveling to Italy for a biblical festival instead, and told Poland’s TVN24:
It's difficult to tell journalists what you'd like to say to the president of a superpower. This time I won't tell him, I won't meet him, it doesn't suit me.
I can see why Mr. Walesa has declined to meet with Barack Obama. The Obama administration’s approach to Poland, an important US ally, has been largely dismissive and lukewarm. In contrast to George W. Bush, who went out of his way to build friendships in eastern and central Europe, Barack Obama has paid little attention to ‘New Europe’, and has been far more interested in appeasing the Russians and “resetting” relations with Moscow.
President Obama famously threw the Poles under the bus when he announced that the United States would not proceed with Third Site Missile defences planned for Poland and the Czech Republic, and has largely treated the Poles as an afterthought in his drive to improve ties with the Kremlin and secure the New START Treaty. Obama has at times demonstrated extremely poor judgment when it comes to US-Polish relations, even playing golf during the funeral of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, the Polish First Lady, and 94 senior officials who perished in the Smolensk air disaster. The US president was unable to travel to Krakow for the funeral due to the grounding of flights over Europe at the time following the volcanic eruptions in Iceland, but he could at least have acted with dignity and respect at such as sensitive moment.
It is hard to think of anything more insulting to the Polish people on the day they mourned the loss not only of their president but much of their political and military leadership, for the president of the United States to be enjoying a round of golf after canceling plans to attend the funeral. It is yet another disgraceful example of crass insensitivity to a close American ally, which has become the hallmark of the Obama administration’s amateurish foreign policy.
But above all, I imagine that Lech Walesa is not meeting with President Obama because he knows the current occupant of the White House is no Ronald Reagan. Reagan was a true friend of the Poles, who fought hard for their liberation in the face of Soviet tyranny. The Gipper believed in strong US leadership, in standing up to America’s enemies, and in the importance of standing shoulder to shoulder with America’s allies. President Obama’s “leading from behind” approach is the antithesis of Reagan’s foreign policy, and one which has frequently undercut US alliances rather than strengthened them.
On March 26, 2012, an open mic between Obama and the outgoing Russian president gave the Poles even more of a reason to believe Obama will undercut their interests, yet again, should he get a second term:
Yesterday Lech Walesa has told the president what he needs to do, now:
The storm over US President Barack Obama’s label “Polish camp” for a Nazi German Holocaust site is an ideal moment to halt lies about the Holocaust, Poland’s ex-leader Lech Walesa said Wednesday.
“This is a golden occasion to end this once and for all. Let’s use this chance to stop this from happening again around the world,” the communist-era dissident leader who later served as Poland’s president told the rolling news channel TNV24.
Halting the lies about the Holocaust should be among Obama's top foreign policy concerns:
As we noted yesterday, the celebratory tone of a senior Iranian figure about all his country has achieved in the negotiations with the West should scare those Americans who have been speaking with confidence about the Obama administration’s determination to prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Despite the brave talk from the president, the Iranians are right to think they’ve got him on the run. Since the Iranians have crossed every red line intended to halt their progress, they can’t be blamed for thinking that the next round of talks or the ones that follow as the process drags out over the summer will ultimately lead to Western recognition of not only the legitimacy of their nuclear program but also their right to refine uranium. Indeed, with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in charge of the talks and with France no longer led by a president who is committed to a strong policy on Iran, it is difficult to imagine any other outcome at this point.
All of which puts the public concerns expressed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the negotiating process that provoked the scorn of President Obama and much of the chattering classes in both the United States and Israel and in a very different light. Though the consensus in the foreign policy establishment is that much more time must be given to let diplomacy work, if this is the direction in which the talks are heading, Netanyahu is to be forgiven for thinking the Iranians have played the West for suckers.
President Obama took umbrage when Netanyahu said that it appeared that the first round of the P5+1 talks resulted in negotiators giving away “freebies” to Tehran’s envoys. But with Iran virtually declaring victory even before the next scheduled gathering in Baghdad later this month, that may turn out to be a generous evaluation.
This also lends credence to those who believe President Obama never had any attention of taking action on the nuclear threat but was merely talking tough for the benefit of pro-Israel voters while the diplomatic process enabled him to stall until he is re-elected and thereby have the “flexibility” to accept a policy of containment. This thesis holds that the only purpose of the talks was to prevent Israel from attacking Iran on its own.
However, if we accept the premise that the president is sincere in his desire to forestall an Iranian bomb (the point of view championed by Jewish Democrats and other Obama admirers), the coming talks present a peculiar challenge for the administration.
President Obama has taken great pride in having assembled an international coalition to oppose Iran, but now that this group is involved in talks with Iran, he is also its prisoner. The United States may have no intention of acquiescing to Iran’s demands about refinement or stepping back from the harsh sanctions that were belatedly placed on Tehran. But if the EU, Russia and China are all prepared to accept a deal that will enable Iran to continue its nuclear program, the president is going to be faced with a difficult choice. He will either have to repudiate the deal that Ashton and the other parties want to cut with Iran (and thereby embrace the sort of American unilateralism that he sought to replace when he succeed President Bush) or go along with something that he knows will present a grave threat to U.S. security. And, contrary to both the hopes of his friends and the fears of his detractors, he may not be able to put off crossing his Iranian Rubicon until after the election.
The only way to avoid such a choice is to do something that the president is equally uncomfortable with: exercising international leadership. Allowing Ashton it run the show in Baghdad is very much in keeping with the president’s predilection for “leading from behind.” But unless he gets directly involved in this process, he is going to be stuck with an indefensible deal that will give the lie to every statement he’s ever made on Iran. The coming weeks will tell us a lot about whether the president meant what he said about Iran or if he is able or willing to derail a negotiation that is heading inexorably toward an Iranian triumph.
Before Obama said Polish death camp, he already had a serious credibility issue with Poland. Poland is viewing him the very way the Obama re-elction campaign wants Americans to view Mitt Romney -not trustowrthy and not on their side. With the Polish death camp remarks and refusal to apologize, Obama is only cementing their beliefs. Obama would be wise to listen to Lech Walesa and use his "simple mistake" to put an end to the lies of the Holocaust. This would not only rebuild trust with Poland and increase his support among Jewish voters, it would improve his relations with Israel. It is a win-win-win for Obama. A win-win-win would ultimately help him win re-election.
If Obama lacks the character and good will to listen to Walesa, the world would be wise to listen to Jan Karski.