Wednesday, October 13


This time, it's with our allies in Iraq. Are these people just naturally inept, or is it that they expect "somebody" to do something, as long as it's not them? Half our diplomatic troubles are the result of an insensitive, blustering, threatening George W. Bush; the other half are the consequences of DOING NOTHING, such as letting the "Roadmap to Peace" in the Middle East wither on the vine of inaction.

Secretary of State Colin Powell traveled to Central and Eastern European countries in July in a bid to shore up support for the U.S.-led coalition. Speaking on Hungarian television, Powell urged coalition members not to "get weak in the knees" because of kidnappings in Iraq or public opinion polls at home. But if the United States is to sustain the involvement of "New Europe" in the coalition in Iraq, it must go beyond words and take steps to address its allies' main concerns. One is the stiff visa requirements imposed on travelers from Central Europe to America. Even today, when they are members of both the European Union and NATO, every Pole, Czech, Slovak and Hungarian must pay a $100 application fee and be personally interviewed before a visa is issued.

During his visit to Washington in August, Kwasniewski asked President Bush about this publicly and directly. The administration responded by increasing consular staff at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw and establishing a program to "pre-screen" Poles traveling from the capital, but the Poles eventually want to see their country admitted into the visa waiver program. To his credit, John Kerry issued a statement in September saying that he would "work with Poland and the other newly free democracies of Central and Eastern Europe that are members of both the European Union and NATO to include them in the Visa Waiver Program."

The other bone of contention that has emerged between the United States and Central Europe concerns postwar Iraqi contracting. While Halliburton Co. and several other U.S. companies have reportedly been awarded contracts worth billions of dollars, comparatively few contracts have been awarded to companies from Central Europe. Although the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw held a workshop in September to help Polish companies understand Iraqi contracting regulations, there is widespread disappointment that the eagerness of the Bush administration to draw Poland into the war was not matched by sharing the business of postwar reconstruction. Progress in these two areas -- modernizing travel from Central Europe and opening up the contracting process to our allies -- would go a long way toward bolstering the transatlantic alliance, not only for our purposes in Iraq but in other hot spots. If current policies don't change, U.S.-Central European cooperation has the potential of becoming another example of the Bush administration's diplomatic failures.


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