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  • Obama’s Neglect of Central and Eastern Europe Doesn’t Impress Young Leaders

    The United States no longer considers relations with Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) a top priority. This was one of the recurring themes at the Young Leaders Dialogue with America conference last week in Prague.

    Irena Kalhousova, chief analyst at Prague’s Security Studies Institute, lamented that President Barack Obama ignores CEE and cast doubt on the certainty of transatlantic partnership. Indeed, the Administration’s brazen cancellation of the third site missile defense program last year, with radar stations in the Czech Republic and missile interceptors in Poland, was “a slap in the face for those who actually believed a key agreement with Washington was worth the paper it was written on.” Though the radar stations were unpopular with the Czech public, many Czech parliamentarians who vigorously advocated for the stations suffered at the polls the following election.

    Many believe that the withdrawal of the missile defense capabilities was part of the U.S. effort to reset relations with Russia and a sign that the new Administration cares little about the sentiments of CEE allies. Unfortunately, little can be said in defense of the Administration’s actions. Not only did the missile defense debacle call into question America’s loyalty, but other policies, such as the expansion of the Visa Waiver Program, have excelled at a snail’s pace. The White House also committed a series of public diplomacy blunders when Obama failed to appropriately acknowledge several critical World War II anniversary dates as well as the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. These missteps have not passed without notice.

    Kalhousova admitted that while CEE countries are connected to the U.S. through a critical history, powerhouses like China have a lot more to bring to the table in terms of economic incentive. She further suggested that CEE have more to gain by working closer with the European Union than by relying on the U.S. as its closest ally. If countries like Poland and the Czech Republic earn little satisfaction from its friend across the pond, closer ties with Brussels is an obvious alternative.

    Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale flatly dismissed concerns about Obama Administration’s disinterest in CEE allies, citing President Obama’s two visits to the Czech Republic. But simply paying a visit to the Czech Republic is quite different from actually caring about relations with its government and people. After all, during President Obama’s last trip to the Czech Republic, he further rekindled relations between the U.S. and Russia by signing the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

    One could argue that the very purpose of the State Department–sponsored YLDA conference was a sign that the Obama Administration does care about its friends in CEE. If so, this was a good opportunity for McHale to take the voiced concerns to heart and not take New Europe for granted.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    3 Responses to Obama’s Neglect of Central and Eastern Europe Doesn’t Impress Young Leaders

    1. Leopolis, Washington says:

      "The United States no longer considers relations with Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) a top priority."

      Instead of stating your opinion as a fact, why don't you explain why it should be a priority? The U.S. has lots of issues on the table.

      "Irena Kalhousova, chief analyst at Prague’s Security Studies Institute, lamented…"

      The quote you link to is misleading. It is in the same sentence, but Ms. Kalousova didn't make this remark. Someone else did in an op-ed in 2009. So what did Kalousova actually say?

      "Though the radar stations were unpopular with the Czech public, many Czech parliamentarians who vigorously advocated for the stations suffered at the polls the following election." Exactly… so the U.S. made a mistake by diverting an unpopular system to another NATO ally Turkey?

      "Many believe that the withdrawal of the missile defense capabilities was part of the U.S. effort to reset relations with Russia and a sign that the new Administration cares little about the sentiments of CEE allies." Many? Who? What do they say? What political parties? What about those parties in the Czech Rep. who believe otherwise? We should not believe for one minute that all politicians in Czech Rep. support BMD. After all, you just admitted that it was unpopular…

      "Not only did the missile defense debacle call into question America’s loyalty, but other policies, such as the expansion of the Visa Waiver Program, have excelled at a snail’s pace." You set up this argument as "Obama's neglect" which is horsefeathers. First, all CEE countries except Poland have visa waiver in place. Second, Clinton and Bush failed to get visa waiver extended for Poland, so this is not "Obama's neglect" — this is a bigger problem that Congress must address. The Republicans are in charge of the House now. Let's all hold them accountable for bringing Poland visa waiver status.

      "If countries like Poland and the Czech Republic earn little satisfaction from its friend across the pond, closer ties with Brussels is an obvious alternative." These countries are members of the European Union, so how is the EU an alternative? Are not Poles and Czechs EU citizens? Of course the U.S. should have close ties with CEE, but not at the expense of CEE's relations with the EU. They have their skin in the game more than the U.S. does.

      "But simply paying a visit to the Czech Republic is quite different from actually caring about relations with its government and people." Much more is to be done with U.S.-CEE relations, but I flatly reject the notion that Obama doesn't care about CEE. Sure, Obama failed to take into account the symbolism of Sept. 17. Bush pushed BMD for years as the primary issue in bilateral relations — a poor substitute for deeper relations. Look where we are. Mind you, under Obama's watch, NATO has developed a contingency plan for CEE, including military drills in the Baltics (Baltops, Saber Strike, Jackal Stone).

      Just because some people in CEE, including the young Atlanticists, are twitchy doesn't mean the U.S. is fully neglecting our allies.

    2. Leopolis, Washington says:

      "After all, during President Obama’s last trip to the Czech Republic, he further rekindled relations between the U.S. and Russia by signing the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START)."

      So what? Are you implying that START doesn't serve the interests of CEE, or that somehow Obama and Medvedev are conspiring behind the backs of our CEE allies? If so, this is a gross misinterpretation. Radoslaw Sikorski endorses it for the reason that inspections have stopped and New START would ensure that Poland would not have to worry about what is going on in Russia. http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/sikor

    3. Anonymous, DC says:

      Actually, I was at that same conference, and perhaps you were not in attendance during the State Dept Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Judith McHale stated repeatedly that she didn't understand why it is that this perception is held when the president has visited Central and Eastern Europe several times since taking office. Additionally, the very fact that you were participating in a conference to encourage dialogue between Central and Eastern Europe and the US points to the very opposite of what you claim in your article. Perhaps you should focus your energy on how deepen cooperation than encouraging division by claiming that the US doesn't care about CEE.

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