Historically, Poland's voluntary cooperation with the United States has exceeded necessary diplomatic relations. The prevailing Polish perception of the United States is that Poland's efforts and friendship have not been returned with much gratitude. Poland may not be the most strategically important ally nor be located in a region of particular interest, but maintaining strong diplomatic relations and friendship in a time of profound national grief can be accomplished by the US with quite minimum effort: President Obama should attend President Kaczynski's funeral.
Poland's historical engagement in the fight for American independence is relatively unknown in the US. Not so in Poland. Thaddeus Kosciusko and Casimir Pulaski, both Polish generals and American war heroes, fought during the American Revolutionary War. Pulaski was a general of the American Continental Army and is credited as a hero for saving George Washington's life. More recently, Poland offered unwavering support in both the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars by sending troops to both war zones despite the fact that this support was controversial and unpopular within the European Union.
Poland's friendship and effort to maintain strong diplomatic ties has been visible in recent decades. President Kaczynski was no exception. In August 2008, during his administration, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski signed an agreement permitting an anti-ballistic missile launch site to be built in Poland in order to counter threats to the United States from rouge states such as North Korea and Iran. Though it has since been withdrawn by the Obama administration, this agreement was highly controversial in Poland, as well as in other EU member states and neighboring Russia, and the gesture should not be taken lightly.
The United States is home to over 10 million Poles and hosts the biggest Polish immigrant community in the world. President Obama's hometown of Chicago is the largest Polish-speaking city outside of Poland. Brazil, which also has a Polish community numbering just under two million, has declared three national days of mourning in the wake of Poland's tragedy, while the US has not. It will be a major letdown if President Obama does not follow Brazil's example and recognize the Polish-American community's personal grief and monumental loss.
Polish society has always been very sympathetic to the US, but the recent American lack of interest in maintaining this friendship has led to a slow disillusionment in Poland having such a close friendship with the US. Perhaps they have overestimated the strength of bilateral relationships between the two countries; nevertheless, it is to the benefit of the United States to correct this perception. Tightening diplomatic and friendship bonds with Poland during its time of tragedy can easily be done by the US. In attending President's Kaczynski's funeral, Obama can relatively effortlessly recognize and reward Poland's historical support of his country and reaffirm the Poles' close friendship with the United States.
Correction: Brazil declared three days of mourning for Poland. A previous version of this blog post said that Brazil declared just one day of mourning.