In calling for the 152-nation International Monetary Fund and its sister agency, the World Bank, to "do more" to help emerging democracies in the East bloc - such as Poland and Hungary - President Bush this week acknowledged some basic realities.
First, the movement toward greater independence and democracy in the communist-led states depends in large part on their ability to overcome serious economic problems.It was the failure of national economies in the East bloc - and in the Soviet Union itself - that has caused those nations to look for answers in a freer market. If free markets - and the West - do not help, there may be a return to even harsher repression.
Second, easing the burdens of such nations, as well as the troubled economies of Latin America, is not a matter of charity or sacrifice, but rather of self-interest.
Turning problem nations into prosperous countries bolsters world trade, reduces tensions, stabilizes international banks and promotes even greater freedom.
If places like Poland and Hungary can solve their economic woes by becoming more free, it will encourage others in the East bloc and elsewhere to try the same measures.
Third, the Bush plea for support recognizes that the United States cannot promote democracy and free economies for the world all alone. The investment clearly will run into billions of dollars.
Fortunately, even as Bush was speaking to the IMF representatives in Washington, the 12-nation European Economic Community and 12 other industrialized nations, including Japan, were taking action in Europe.
The 24 pledged $650 million in emergency aid to ease economic turmoil in Poland and Hungary. This is in addition to $400 million worth of emergency food and other aid already promised by the donor countries. The Bush administration earlier promised $219 in U.S. aid would be sent to Poland.
The IMF and World Bank are working on a separate package to stabilize Poland's currency and refinance its $39 billion foreign debt.
All of this is going to take time. A cure will not occur quickly even with the investment of extra money and the opening of new markets to the West, since the economies of Poland and Hungary are in such poor shape.
But the action sends a positive political signal and marks the possible beginning of a major change in European East-West relations - the most profound change since the end of World War II.