McCain and Polish foreign minister speak out for freedom

By Clayton M. McCleskey / Contributing Writer

Speaking yesterday in Washington, Sen. John McCain and Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski passionately called for increased Western committment to promoting freedom, not only in the Middle East , but also on Europe's eastern edge, where Belarus remains an oppressive dictatorship.

McCain - who just returned from a 12-day tour of the Middle East - warned that the West needs to avoid taking the easy, isolationist way out:

... there is a temptation--we all feel it from time to time--to look at the desire for democracy in places like Moldova, or Ukraine, or Belarus --and further afield in places like Tunisia, or Egypt, or Libya--and to see only what sets us apart from these peoples, what divides us from their aspirations.

It is our obligation as transatlantic democracies to look beyond these divisions ... and to reaffirm instead that core idea which still unites us and summons all of us to nobler endeavors: solidarity--solidarity with the universal longings of the human soul, for basic rights and equality, for liberty under the law, for tolerance and opportunity.

As unrest in the Middle East drags on there is a risk that Americans - and others in the West - could slowly start to lose interest. That's especially true at a time when some are calling for reductions in foreign aid. Minister Sikorski - who was active in the Solidarity movement in Poland - stressed the need for transatlantic cooperation in order to foster democratic growth, saying that governments on both sides of the pond are strapped for cash and looking to cut costs. Transforming the Middle East will be a slow process, and Euro-American teamwork is necessary.

To make democracy work, "there are no short-cuts," Sikorski said.

Poland and its people are now six times richer than we were in 1989. A major improvement. But a long way to go before we catch up with countries not held back by communism.

Tunisia, Egypt, Libya are all starting out on that long journey.One day Belarus, Cuba and North Korea will start too. We can't tell them what they want. Or try to impose an outcome.These days that just won't work. What we can and must do is offer a principled, generous helping hand ...

They know what they don't want. They have yet to discover what they do want. We can't be sure that they will want what we want.

McCain added that based on his conversations with young people in the Mid East, they "want our systems, but not our intervention."

Finding the happy medium, where you provide support but don't look too interventionist, is tough. Europe can help Washington with that. Europeans are very good at soft power, while the U.S. can muster more military resources. That need for continued Euro-American cooperation was a major theme at yesterday's event, which was sponsored by the Atlantic Council.

So much of the coverage of the unrest in the Middle East has focused solely on the Obama administration's handing of events, but it's important to remember that Washington is closely coordinating with our European allies. This is in their backyard after all. Britain and France have of course played prominent roles, but Poland - as a rising star within Europe - is positioning itself to act as a champion of Europe's efforts to encourage democracy.

As foreign minister, Sikorski has raised Poland's profile internationally as the country has transformed from a poor, post-Soviet country into a major player in Europe. Under his watch Poland's clout in the European Union and its status as a strong U.S. ally have steadily grown. For example, Poland hosted a massive democracy shindig this summer in Krakow, and Warsaw has called for the creation of a European Endowment for Democracy. Furthermore, Sikorski - who is married to Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum - has made it clear that the U.S. has a strong helper in Poland, a point he reiterated last night:

Poland is ready to lead Europe as an active partner for the United States in exporting the technology of democracy, wherever it is needed and welcomed. Poland is a country of success - embracing freedom, ready to share it.

Poland has been down the long path from oppression to democratization before. The rest of Europe and the U.S. would be wise to listen to Warsaw. Keep your eye on Poland and Radek Sikorski. You will be hearing more from them in years to come.


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