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WikiLeaks overshadows Polish president's US visit

Leaked cables show Poland it is not as close to America as it thought.

Bronislaw Komorowski Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks alongside Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski at the White House on Dec. 8, 2010. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

WARSAW, Poland — The diplomatic revelations of WikiLeaks have strained relations between the United States and many of its allies, including Poland, which has rapidly shed what illusions remained about the special nature of its ties with America.

The awkwardness was on full view during this week's visit to Washington by Bronislaw Komorowski, Poland's new president.

Although Komorowski had the traditional Oval Office chat with U.S. President Barack Obama, there was a strong sense on the Polish side that this was a visit that could accomplish very little.

“We never gave the impression that we have had some sort of great breakthrough and America thinks of nothing but how to defend Poland,” Komorowski said sarcastically to the Polish press in Washington, when asked about Obama's promise to base some U.S. fighter planes on Polish territory.

The offer came after WikiLeaks revealed the extent of Poland's disappointment over a previous U.S. offer to send a Patriot anti-missile battery to Poland, after it turned out that the battery was not armed, and that the Americans had no intention of sending a working weapons system to Poland.

“We don't need garden planters,” was the furious comment on the unusable rockets by a deputy defense minister.

The Patriots were supposed to soothe Poland's anger over last year's decision to end a missile defense program that would have been partly based in Poland. The clumsy announcement killing the project was made on Sept. 17, the anniversary of the day when the Soviet Union attacked Poland in 1939, and was made with U.S. assurances that it was a purely technical decision that had nothing to do with Russia's opposition to the project.

Again, U.S. embassy documents posted by WikiLeaks indicate that the decision to scrap the missile defense program was done to keep Russia on board with planned sanctions against Iran.

The revelations buried what little remained of Poland's hopes that it is one of the tiny band of countries that are intimate U.S. allies.

Poles have harbored enormous affection for the United States for more than a century. In part this was because millions of Polish migrants made the country home. Then Poles appreciated U.S. advocacy of Polish independence during World War I. While all the western Allies betrayed Poland during World WAR II, the United States received less blame than the British for selling Poland out to the Soviets, and the American role in leading the West during the Cold War made it a beacon of freedom for Poles living under communism.

After Poland regained its independence in 1989 and joined NATO a decade later, the alliance with the United States became the centerpiece of Polish foreign policy — prompting the country in recent years to send troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, both missions have left Poles feeling increasingly bitter about how little they have received from the United States in return.