OK, so it was a "misstatement." Why not apologize for it?
The White House on Wednesday shrugged off Polish demands to express more than mere 'regret' after President Barack Obama mistakenly referred to a Nazi Holocaust site as a "Polish death camp."
"We regret the misstatement, but that is what it was," said Obama spokesman Jay Carney, reiterating that the president "misspoke" during a ceremony awarding the highest US civilian honor to late Holocaust hero Jan Karski.
"He was referring to Nazi death camps in German-occupied Poland."
Poland had earlier insisted that Washington must do more than simply express the "regret" offered by another White House spokesman late on Tuesday, hours after Obama's use of words deemed offensive by Warsaw.
Obama's verbal slip overshadowed his posthumous award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Karski, a Polish underground officer who provided the Allies with early eyewitness accounts of Nazi genocide against European Jews.
Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Obama's words had hurt all Poles and he expected more from Washington than just regret.
"I am convinced that our American friends can today allow themselves a stronger reaction than a simple expression of regret from the White House spokesman -- a reaction more inclined to eliminate once and for all these kinds of errors," Tusk told reporters in Warsaw.
"Today, this is a problem for the reputation of the United States," the prime minister said.
Members of Poland's Jewish community -- including the country's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich -- said in a statement that: "We expect President Barack Obama to personally correct his words."
Poland's President Bronislaw Komorowski said meanwhile he had sent a letter to Obama "counting on (...) cooperation in correcting this unfortunate error" which "I am certain in no way reflects the thoughts or views of our American friend."
What Obama sees as a simple verbal slip up, the Poles see as a blood libel. Those were Nazi death camps, not Polish ones. Correcting the historical record is pro forma in cases like this. Why is Obama resisting?
I have seen speculation that Obama hates the Poles due to his experience in Chicago politics. But this is nonsense. Chicago's Polish community doesn't have the power it once did (there used to be more Polish speaking people in Chicago than in Warsaw.). There also used to be three Polish language daily newspapers in the city - now, there is only one. Polish pols in Chicago are machine regulars through and through. Obama worked with the machine despite trying to appear to be in the reformers camp. I doubt whether Obama has any animus toward any ethnic group from his days in Chicago.
This is simply Obama being stubborn, refusing to admit he made an historical faux pas. The controversy is white hot in Poland, though, so it may be we haven't heard the last of this story yet.