Tusk and his top deputies, Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich and Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, are playing hardball with the ailing Bush administration in the protracted negotiations to win Poland's approval. The United States is negotiating with Poland to allow U.S. contractor Boeing to construct a base on Polish territory to deploy 10 Ground-based Mid-course Interceptors -- GBIs -- that could defend Western Europe and the United States against a possible ICBM-delivered nuclear attack from Iran or other rogue states.
Tusk has made no secret, since winning Poland's general election late last year, that his foreign policy priority would be to improve Poland's relations with Russia to the east. He lacks the commitment to building the BMD base for the ABMs that his predecessor, pro-American Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, shared.
However, Tusk has not dared to openly defy the Bush administration, which remains determined to build the BMD base, and he knows that the leaders of the four most powerful European nations in NATO and the European Union want it built, too. Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France all back Bush on the European base issue. By contrast, Russia under new President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin remains implacably opposed to seeing it built.
Russia's opposition is backed by its control of vital natural gas and oil reserves that the European nations, including Poland, desperately need. Russian energy and financial clout also weakens the hand of personally pro-American Chancellor Merkel in Berlin and Prime Minister Berlusconi in Rome.
Forced to navigate these waters, Tusk and his top government ministers have adopted a "Yes, but ... " policy. They are saying that they are perfectly willing to let the United States build the base, but only if the United States dramatically increases its levels of military aid to Poland. And they keep raising the price.
Polish Defense Minister Klich has even insisted that the United States should give Poland the same exceptionally high levels of foreign and military aid -- well in excess of $1 billion a year -- that it gives to Egypt. And Foreign Minister Sikorski even said in May his government would not interfere if the United States found another nation to host the BMD base.
However, there is no possibility that the Bush administration, struggling with an unexpectedly severe economic crisis, record annual budget deficits and two houses of Congress firmly controlled by the opposition Democratic Party, could get that huge aid increase through, and Tusk knows it.
Egypt gets those huge levels of U.S. aid to buy social and political stability. No administration in Washington, Republican or Democratic, could afford to risk 35 years of pro-American governments in Cairo being swept away by an extreme Islamist revolution. But Poland does not have that problem. It is securely democratic and happily locked into the European Union and the NATO alliance.
Next: Revealing Tusk's game plan