President Barack Obama received advice at a banquet in Warsaw from Lech Walesa, a man who helped bring down the Iron Curtain and liberate Poland from the Soviet Union 25 years ago.
“I said that I wished the United States would lead,” he told Polish television.
He did not provide more details about the conversation, but it is not the first time he has criticized Obama during what is a very tense time for Eastern Europe. Nations like Poland are worried about national security due to Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.
Walesa, 70, did not go into details about what he had said to Obama, but he had previously said the Obama White House was not being sufficiently muscular in response to Russian interventions in Ukraine and other threats to world peace.
In a view that chimes with the criticism of Obama from many in the U.S. Republican Party, Walesa told Poland’s TVN24 broadcaster last week that the United States should be a global leader yet “the superpower has not been up to the job.”
The West has come under criticism for not doing enough to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin. While the US and European Union have imposed at least four rounds of sanctions against Russia, many in Eastern Europe see the response as damningly noncommital. The Kyiv Post wrote a scathing editorial that said, “[N]ow we know why two world wars started in Europe and the dangers of appeasement.” The article continued to lash out at the EU’s “weak resolve” as east Ukraine faces violence every day.
Walesa was persecuted many times by the Communists after he formed Solidarity, which was post-Soviet Poland’s first independent trade union. He won the Polish election in 1990 and helped move Poland away from communism. He won the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize and was named “Man of the Year” in 1981 by Time.