Obama pledges support for eastern Europe but do they believe him?
President Obama began his 5 day trip to Europe this week in Warsaw by trying to assure eastern European nations of America's commitment to their security.
The White House unveiled plans for a $1 billion initiative to send more of its military to Europe on a temporary basis but stopped short of promising to beef up its permanent presence as some of Washington's allies are seeking. It said the United States would review its force presence on the continent.
Speaking in an aircraft hangar at Warsaw airport where he met U.S. airmen taking part in a joint program with the Polish air force, Obama said U.S. commitments to Poland and the region were a cornerstone of the United States' own security.
"As friends and allies we stand united together," said Obama, whose two-day stay in Warsaw will include meetings with Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko and other central and eastern European leaders.
Obama is under pressure from critics at home, who say he is not showing enough firm leadership on the world stage, and from some NATO allies in eastern Europe who fear they may be the next targets for Russian expansion and want more U.S. protection.
But Western powers must also strike a delicate balance, because a big increase in NATO forces on Russia's borders could prompt reciprocal steps from the Kremlin and spiral into an arms race.
Russia is the threat but we'd take the blame for a new arms race if we respond to Russian aggression? Sheesh. No wonder we're in trouble.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, also in Warsaw, said how to respond to the crisis in Ukraine would be a focus of Obama's meetings in Poland.
“We are here today because this remains a new moment of challenge for all of us,” Kerry told reporters.
“Events in Ukraine have unfortunately unleashed forces that we had all hoped had been put away ... were behind us. So it requires new vigilance and it requires clear commitment."
Kerry and Obama may be the only two people in the world surprised by "events in Ukraine" where the pair of foriegn policy geniuses believed that Russia's aggressive military moves "were behind us." Putin has been making threatening noises toward his neighbors since the Bush administration. Where have those two been?
The White House said in a statement it would build the capacity of Ukraine and two other Western-leaning countries on Russia's borders, Georgia and Moldova. Obama would be seeking the support of the U.S. Congress for the plan, it said.
"In addition to this initiative, we are reviewing our force presence in Europe in the light of the new security challenges on the continent," it said.
"These efforts will not come at the expense of other defense priorities, such as our commitment to the Asia Pacific rebalance."
Obama's visit to Poland coincides with the "Freedom Day" anniversary in Poland, which marks the holding of the country's first partially-free elections 25 years ago.
Lech Walesa, the leader of the movement that forced those elections 25 years ago, had this to say about American leadership recently:
Speaking to The Associated Press, Walesa said "the world is disorganized and the superpower is not taking the lead. I am displeased."
The former Solidarity leader said that when he meets Obama in Warsaw, he wants to tell him that the U.S. should inspire and encourage the world into positive action.
"The point is not in having the States fix problems for us or fight somewhere, no," Walesa said. "The States should organize us, encourage us and offer programs, while we, the world, should do the rest. This kind of leadership is needed."
"I will say: Either you want to be a superpower and guide us, or you should give the superpower to Poland and we will know what to do with it. Amen," said Walesa, who is known for sometimes abrasive comments.
That kind of courage and leadership is missing from the world today.