We welcome a guest post today from Gregory F. Domber, author of Empowering Revolution: America, Poland, and the End of the Cold War (October 2014). During the 1980s, both the United States and the Soviet Union vied for influence over Poland’s politically tumultuous steps toward democratic revolution. In Empowering Revolution, Domber examines American policy toward Poland and its promotion of moderate voices within the opposition, while simultaneously addressing the Soviet and European influences on Poland’s revolution in 1989.
In today’s post, Domber counters Vladimir Putin’s current denouncements of American manipulation of regime changes throughout the world with an account of America’s backseat approach to revolution in Poland 25 years ago.
This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the revolutions that brought an end to Soviet-dominated Communist governments in Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. And while these countries have all successfully rejoined Europe, the mythology of the revolutions of 1989 is now echoing further to the east—in the Ukrainian crisis—where Russian President Vladimir Putin’s worldview is informed by a skewed vision of America’s central role in undermining the Soviet Union’s empire. As numerous commentators have noted, Putin is pushing a new nationalist conservatism with a strong strain of anti-Americanism, promoting a vision of the United States as the primary conspirator pulling strings to foster international chaos and regime change.
As former Ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul noted recently in the New Yorker, “Putin has a theory of American power that has some empirical basis.” The CIA overthrew governments in Iran and Guatemala, the United States bombed Belgrade to remove a dictator, and there is, of course, Iraq. However, a close examination of American policy toward Poland—the country the United States pushed hardest to break from the Soviet sphere in the 1980s—brings to the fore just how far the Russian president’s views are removed from reality. The United States is not nearly the revolutionary mastermind Putin seems to think it is.
From the birth of the Solidarity trade union in 1980, the U.S. government understood the movement’s potential to overturn the status quo; it was an independent trade union in a country where the government’s legitimacy grew out of an ideology based on defending workers. But the Carter and early Reagan administrations initially restrained their direct contacts with the movement because Solidarity distanced itself from foreign governments and only accepted things like fax machines, office supplies, and printing equipment from other trade unions.
After General Wojciech Jaruzelski declared martial law in December 1981 and Solidarity leaders were either jailed or forced into the underground, the United States took a more provocative line. Continue reading ‘Gregory F. Domber: What Putin Misunderstands about American Power’ »