President Obama was trying to honor a famous Polish man this week, but, with one slip of the tongue, he wound up sparking outrage among Poles everywhere. In a ceremony to award a posthumous Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski, a courier who alerted Allied leaders to the killing of Jews in World War II, Obama mistakenly referred to a "Polish death camp" instead of using a more accurate phrase such as "Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland." The White House said it regretted Obama's "misstatement," but Polish officials, including Prime Minister Donald Tusk, said Obama should offer a stronger apology for such an insulting blunder. Will this damage Washington's relationship with Poland, or will the outrage blow over?
This thoughtless insult is hugely damaging: "This is just awful," says David Frum at The Daily Beast. Obama's ignorant phrase — which makes its sound as if Auschwitz was Poland's idea, not the Nazis' — "is a terrible insult to a people who suffered much in those terrible years." This warrants the most heartfelt apology Obama can muster. "Whoever was responsible for honoring the late Jan Karski ought to have known enough and cared enough about his mission to have avoided this ignorant error."
"An insult to the living and the dead"
And could have serious consequences: Nothing annoys Poles more than being blamed for Nazi crimes in their homeland, says Edward Lucas at The Economist. And Obama's slip-up comes at a really bad time. Poland was already feeling bruised by Obama's "shilly-shallying" over issues like missile defense and lifting visa requirements for Poles. Judging from the "incendiary" reaction from Poland, Obama has strained already frayed relations with America's closest ally in the ex-communist world.
"Mind your language"
But Obama will patch things up with Poland: Obama obviously didn't mean to suggest Poland was to blame for the Holocaust, says Allahpundit at Hot Air. Still, it's perfectly fair to rub his nose in it — liberals certainly would have "if Bush had made the same gaffe." But let's get it over with quickly. Indeed, Obama is probably on the phone to Polish leaders right now, because he can't let this amateurish blunder drive a wedge between him and "a keystone of our eastern European policy."
"Good news: Obama alienates Poland by referring to 'Polish death camps'"
And we should put this behind us, too: It's understandable that Poles are upset, says Ed Kilgore at Washington Monthly. But it's disgraceful to see how conservatives in "Obama-hating circles" are trying to trump up this innocent mistake. The same foaming-at-the-mouth critics who accuse Obama of apologizing too much abroad now want him to beg for Poland's forgiveness? Some gaffes betray prejudice, or insensitivity, but this was just a single misplaced word. Let it go.
"The gaffe heard round Poland"