President Bush's Interview with Polish Journalists
During the spring of 1989, the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union, George H. W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev, issued contrasting visions for the future of Europe. In a series of speeches during April and May, Bush called for a Europe “whole and free” and envisioned a shift “beyond containment,” the fundamental strategy of preventing Soviet expansion that had guided US strategic policy since the start of the Cold War, to a new policy that sought to encourage a “significant shift in the Soviet Union,” one that would allow “the integration of the Soviet Union into the community of nations.” In a speech to the Council of Europe, Gorbachev professed a contrasting vision of a “common European home” that allowed for “the presence of two social systems” and blamed the “widespread conviction (sometimes even a policy objective) according to which overcoming the division of Europe means ‘overcoming socialism’” for standing in the way of a unified Europe. In July, Bush visited Poland and Hungary, in part, he later wrote, because the “popularity of Gorbachev’s new proposals in Western Europe made my trip to Eastern Europe imperative in order to offset the appeal of his message.” Prior to leaving Washington, Bush gave an interview to three Polish journalists. His call, in the excerpt that follows, for the Soviet Union to remove its troops from Poland led Gorbachev to relay a message to Bush through the US Ambassador in Moscow, Jack F. Matlock, Jr. – so Matlock has speculated – that such public statements were complicating his efforts and making it “harder, not easier for Gorbachev to agree.” When he arrived in Eastern Europe, Bush’s rhetoric towards the Soviet Union was more circumspect.
George H. W. Bush, interview by Polish Journalists, June 30, 1989, Bush Presidential Library, Public Papers, Bush Library (accessed March 5, 2008).
The President. Well, let me say at the outset of this interview that this visit ... is in keeping with my view that Europe should be whole and free, and in saluting the changes that have taken place, and hopefully in contributing to Poland's quest for more democracy and economic reform.
Q. … [A]s a very experienced politician, you certainly know that good policy requires not only change but also some elements of stability that prevent the change from erupting, from being blown up and leading to some kind of a deep crisis. Would you like to comment about what elements of continuity in central and Eastern Europe would you like to see?
The President.... I'd like to see Soviet troop—we're talking about Poland now—out. I don't think anyone, anymore, thinks that there's a danger of invasion from the West into Poland, for example. And I would like to see a continuation of the change that would result in the Soviets feeling comfortable in taking their troops out of there.
Having said that, I will not be trying to inflame change so that it does what you're talking about. The people seem to be handling it very nicely now, with elections and with discussions around a table. And I don't want to do something that would inadvertently do what you're talking about, or that you asked about; and that is, to have some crisis that will compel other answers. And I don't want that, and I'm not going to deliberately do anything that is going to cause a crisis....
Q.... In September you had a chance to talk to General Jaruzelski, who is both the man who introduced martial law, but also the roundtable talks and the first honest elections since the Second World War. What are you expecting of your conversation, of your forthcoming conversation now, with the General?
The President.... [W]hat I think we ought to do is pick up from where we started and then say: All right, we've come along here. We want to help you in an economic sense. Some of that won't be easy, because the concept of reform—economic reform—to get full cooperation from these international institutions, monetary institutions, is essential. And I expect he'll be saying, I've tried to make reforms, and don't push me too far on all this.
And I'll understand that, but I'll say: Please understand my position. We want to help you.... But we need to know that you're going to be able to not only continue existing reforms but expand on reforms so that the economic system that works will be given a chance to work unfettered. And that's a big key, and that isn't easy for a lot of regimes all around the world. It's not just Poland and Hungary and Eastern Europe; it's many countries....
Q. Just pressing this a bit, Mr. President, will you intend to set any specific conditions for the U.S. aid to Poland, and would you like to have control over implementing such conditions, if any?
The President. Not control—we cannot try to control the internal affairs of another country—but we've got to be clear that to get the kind of financial support from the outside world and the kind of private investment that I think can be enormously helpful, that certain reforms must go forward.
But I'm not going there in an arrogant mode, trying to say we've got all the answers....