In these troubled times it's nice to report on some good news. U.S. President Bush announced on Oct.17 that citizens of all three Baltic countrieswill be able to enter the United States without needing a visa.
This put the Baltic nations on par with countries such as the U.K and France. It is another step on the way to the eventual goal of the states, the collapse of the distinction between Old Europe and New Europe.
There is a lot of good will between the Baltic States and the American people. People haven't forgotten that the Unites States never acknowledged the 50 years of Soviet occupation and never accepted that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were legitimately part of the Soviet Union.
It may seem like a small thing, but it means a lot to the Baltic States. By making travel arrangements between the United States and the Baltics reciprocal, the U.S. Government is showing that it has respect for the region and is ready and able to deal with them as genuine partners with mutual respect for each other.
And let's not underplay the role of the U.S. president in all this. Whether you are left or right wing, you have to acknowledge that President Bush has had some foreign policy successes. Kofi Annan the former U.N. Secretary General said recently that President Bush had been better for Africa than most U.S presidents. The same could be said of the former countries of the Soviet Block. It is under Bush's tutelage that the Baltic States joined NATO. The countries also had a significant role in NATO operations in Afghanistan and operations in Iraq which has helped raised their prestige on the world state.
When it comes to this matter, President Bush has pushed ahead with the Visa Waiver-Program over the objections of some U.S. lawmakers. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California for example was very vocal in her protests. The senator's ancestors ironically fled Russia and Poland early in the 20th Century. Some Republican lawmakers were also unhappy about the program.
Of course waiving the visa regime doesn't mean that Balts can walk into the United States as they please. Nobody is afraid of mass immigration anyway. The population of the region is tiny anyway and if people want to emigrate there is always the U.K or Ireland.
But the United States is still concerned about terrorism. The visa waiver regime only applies for people who have the new biometric passports. And U.S. Immigration Authorities still have the right to refuse to let someone enter if they think the person looks suspect.
Still this is a big show of confidence and trust by the U.S. Government and the U.S. People. If you don't think so, consider this. Polish citizens still have to apply for visas to enter the Unites States despite the fact that Poland is a senior partner in the coalition of the willing in Iraq and Afghanistan and Poland recently agreed to allow the missile shield on its soil.
Whoever wins the next election, be it McCain or Obama let's hope that the friendship between the United States and the Baltic countries continue to blossom and relations are as good as they have been under the Bush administration.