When candidate Barack Obama campaigned for president in 2008, he was roundly ridiculed for his simplistic world view. Obama believed that he could ignore decades of history dealing with regimes hostile to the U.S. and pursue a policy of engaging America's enemies. Inherent in Obama's rationale was that he could make a difference and that his charm and politeness would convince leaders in places like Venezuela and Iran to change or soften their policies. Obama believed previous U.S. presidents like George Bush and Bill Clinton just didn't have his charisma and personality. At the time, candidate Hillary Clinton called Obama's vision "naïve" and his strategy "irresponsible."
But once in office, President Obama quickly moved to change long standing policy to fit his world view. In March 2009, he very publicly and loudly announced that he was changing U.S. policy toward Russia -- he called it "pressing the re-set button." By June 2009, Obama was ignoring thousands of pro-democracy protesters who took to the streets in Iran after the disputed victory and reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The "green revolution" as they called themselves, had hoped for support from the U.S. in bringing down Ahmadinejad's regime. But Obama snubbed the protesters and ignored their pleas. The government of Barack Obama decided to steer clear of the developing situation that could have toppled one of the world's most brutal leaders.
Pro-democracy and human rights activists throughout the world were deflated. How could the beacon of hope and freedom turn them away in their time of need? By July 2009, six months into Obama's term, twenty-two Eastern and Central European leaders had written a 3,200 word open letter voicing strong concern and angst about Obama's new strategy and perceived coziness with Russia. The leaders, including pro-democracy stalwarts like former Czech president Vaclav Havel and former Polish President Lech Walesa wrote:
"The danger is that Russia's creeping intimidation and influence-peddling in the region could over time lead to a de facto neutralization of the region."
"U.S. engagement and support was essential for the success of our democratic transitions after the Iron Curtain fell twenty years ago. Without Washington's vision and leadership, it is doubtful that we would be in NATO and even the EU today."
"Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, however, we see that Central and Eastern European countries are no longer at the heart of American foreign policy. As the new Obama Administration sets its foreign-policy priorities, our region is one part of the world that Americans have largely stopped worrying about."
These pro-democracy leaders of Central and Eastern Europe were rightly concerned about Obama's moves to abandon the missile defense shield they needed and the U.S. wanted.
By the time President Obama visited Poland in 2011, former Polish President Lech Walesa declined to meet with him. It was a shocking rebuke for an American president by one of the U.S.' most thankful and supportive allies. Walesa called President Obama's request nothing more than "a photo op."
Today, Eastern European-Americans continue to believe that Obama's policies are cause for concern. When President Obama was caught on an open microphone begging Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for "more flexibility" in negotiating policy positions until after the November U.S. elections, Americans with ancestors from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Poland and throughout the region were rightly upset. How could a U.S. president be so naïve in dealing with Russia? And why was President Obama being more candid with a Russian president than with U.S. citizens? As Mitt Romney spends the next few days in Poland, Eastern European-Americans will be hoping for another re-set in U.S. foreign policy come November.
Update 6:00 EST, 7/30/2012: Former Polish President Lech Walesa endorsed Governor Mitt Romney from Poland today saying, "I wish you to be successful because this success is needed to the United States, of course, but to Europe and the rest of the world, too. Gov. Romney, get your success -- be successful!"
The endorsement is a snub to President Obama and a clear message to Americans that the U.S. should not abandon democracy and human rights activists around the world. With more than 7,500 Syrians killed over the last 18 months, democracy activists have pleaded with President Obama to support the people of Syria.