In the course of honoring Polish resistance hero Jan Karski, President Obama managed to touch off an international crisis by saying, “Before one trip across enemy lines, resistance fighters told him that Jews were being murdered on a massive scale and smuggled him into the Warsaw Ghetto and a Polish death camp to see for himself. Jan took that information to President Franklin Roosevelt, giving one of the first accounts of the Holocaust and imploring to the world to take action.”
It’s rather difficult to imagine Karski barging into FDR’s office and announcing his discovery of “Polish death camps.”
The Poles were understandably furious, with Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski saying via Twitter, “The White House will apologize for this outrageous error.” That’s pretty much the textbook example of demanding an apology in no uncertain terms. Sikorski added, “It’s a pity that such a dignified ceremony was overshadowed by ignorance and incompetence.”
No apology was forthcoming, but National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor did offer a clarification, explaining that “the President was referring to Nazi death camps operated in Poland. The President has demonstrated in word and deed his rock-solid commitment to our close alliance with Poland.”
You see, it’s all the Poles’ fault for misunderstanding The Smartest President In History. Obama couldn’t possibly be too lazy to develop a serious understanding of Jan Karski or his people. It’s not as if he just robotically reads whatever appears on his teleprompter while daydreaming about his next fundraiser.
Would it really have been so hard for Obama to personally rush out a sincere apology for his blunder? What sort of overweening ego is necessary for a man to consider any other course of action at such a moment? Given the intensity of the Polish reaction, they’re likely to view Obama’s reluctance to take personal responsibility for his statement as salt in their wounds.
For those who think the Poles are over-reacting, imagine Imperial Japan had captured Hawaii during World War II, and some future foreign leader prattled about the “American death camps” established by the occupiers. To complete the analogy, imagine that America spent five decades after the defeat of the Axis trapped behind the Iron Curtain. Pretend the ruins of fascism and communism were scattered around your hometown.
For good measure, imagine the foreign leader in question had chosen to shoot a round of golf during the funeral of our President, following his tragic death in an airplane crash, and stripped us of the missile defenses we were promised, famously assuring the Russians that he would be even more “flexible” once he was safely re-elected. Oh, and suppose that foreign leader had openly declared war on the religion a good 90 percent of us held, compelling the Church to file dozens of lawsuits to defend its religious liberty.
We’d be a little testy under those circumstances, don’t you think? Poland deserves much more respect than Barack Obama has been willing to offer.