Tuesday, May 10, 2005

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"In the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact"?

Contrary to my first impression, Bush's outrageous Yalta remarks aren't going unnoticed. Along with the indefatigable Arthur M. Schlesinger, add Jacob Heilbrunn at the LA Times to those pointing out the ugliness of Bush's remarks.

Update: Liberals Against Terrorism and Matt Yglesias are both on the Yalta case.

posted by on 05.10.05 at 05:25 PM


Did you see this?

posted by: Bo on 05.10.05 at 05:25 PM [permalink]


When do we get Dan back?

posted by: Matthew Cromer on 05.10.05 at 05:25 PM [permalink]

There's a reason "Round up the usual suspects" might just be the blogosphere model. Then it's just like TV talk shows, but without the ability to make fun of what people are wearing.

posted by: Tom on 05.10.05 at 05:25 PM [permalink]

I'll grant you that trying to evict the Soviets by force of arms was probably not an option. But does that make Yalta something to be proud of? What is it you find so ugly about lamenting our inability to defend Eastern Europe against the Soviets sixty years ago, and vowing to do otherwise in the future?

If you called it hypocritical given the situation in North Korea or Sudan, and I would agree with you. But I don't see how you get 'ugly' - and I doubt anybody in Georgia or Belarus do, either.

posted by: Independent George on 05.10.05 at 05:25 PM [permalink]

From NRO's Corner:


YALTA! YALTA! YALTA! [John Podhoretz] Bang that spoon, Jonah. We should never forget that one of the senior American diplomats at the Yalta conference was none other than Alger Hiss -- who was, of course, not serving the United States but the Soviet Union, whose undercover agent he was. A cable from the U.S. Embassy in Washington to the Kremlin in March 1945 made clear just how crucial Hiss's role was in the discussions that resulted in the 45 year subjugation of Central and Eastern Europe. (The cable uses Hiss's code name, ALES.) "After the YALTA conference," the document reads, "a Sovet personage iin a very responsible position (ALES gave to understand it was Comrade VYshINSKIJ) allegedly got in touch with ALES and at the behest of the military NEIGHNORS passed on to him their gratitude and so on." The code word "neighbors" referred to Soviet military intelligence. Comrade Andrei Vyshinski was the deputy foreign minister of the Soviet Union (and had been the chief prosecutor at the Moscow show trials in the 1930s). Hiss's presence at Yalta remains the most scandalous intelligence penetration in American history. It's probably worth bringing up once a week just to stick it to the odious Eric Alterman, who said a few years ago that he remains "agnostic" about Hiss's guilt. Posted at 10:48 AM

Opinions on the outcome of Yalta are useless when they do not consider the fact that the Soviets sitting on both sides of the table.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 05.10.05 at 05:25 PM [permalink]

David, obviously your sarcasm is lost on many of Dan's regular readers. Perhaps we could have an actual exchange of views if you'd explain why you find Bush's comments "outrageous" or "ugly", rather than using your time here as an opportunity to dispense snark.

Similar to another poster, I can accept that we had little choice in 1945 other than to accept Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. I recently finished McCullough's bio of Truman, and was struck at the Potsdam conference how every time Truman mentioned, e.g., elections in Poland, Stalin would respond "we cannot ignore the results of the war" - basically, there was no negotiating it unless we were willing to fight.

But why is it out of line to look back with shame on the fact that the western powers could do no better than to force the recently "liberated" to trade one tyrany for another? Or to honestly state that the next 45 years represented a first order tragedy for those living in Eastern Europe.

In your Slate article, you seem to be arguing that Yalta was a bad deal for Poland, some Republicans in the '50s criticised it, and the best thing would be to just forget the whole affair as quickly as possible. To be blunt, that makes no sense! Our foreign policy today is hugely concerned with making the correct tradeoffs between stability (read, accomodation with undesirable regimes) and liberty in a contentious region of the world. Why shouldn't we be discussing past instances of the same type of decision?

Anyhow, I read Bush's speech beginning to end. Where, exactly, is he promulgating a "stab in the back theory"? Actual quotes from his text would be appreciated.

posted by: Doug on 05.10.05 at 05:25 PM [permalink]

To equate Bush's remarks with Joe McCarthy is a grossly unfair comparison.

Nowhere in Bush's statements did he say it was a "betrayal" or a "stab in the back" or anything remotely close to the rhetorical excesses of McCarthy et al. in the 1950s. One is tempted to call such a guilt by association by another name. But I'll pass.

Yalta WAS a disaster for the peoples of Eastern Europe. What historian besides Eric Hobsbawm would deny this?

FDR was obviously in a terrible weakened position - both his own physical capabilites and the ability as commander in chief to challenge Stalin. We were exhausted after having fought on two fronts and had little will to militarily engage the USSR.

We can debate this, discuss the pros and cons, argue that FDR perhaps could have tried more, bluffed more.

But bringing up McCarthy and equating Bush's criticism with him ends the debate and doesn't really further it.

One of the great gifts, as I see it, of Dan's is his remarkable willingness to engage all sides. To consider fairly all points. To point out an argument here, a view there with respect.

Unfortunately, that standard has been lost with these posts.


posted by: SteveMG on 05.10.05 at 05:25 PM [permalink]

Schlesinger's judgment about the Soviet Union has had its own notable lapses:

"Arthur Schlesinger, just back from a trip to Moscow in 1982, said Reagan was delusional. 'I found more goods in the shops, more food in the markets, more cars on the street -- more of almost everything,' he said, adding his contempt for 'those in the U.S. who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic and social collapse, ready with one small push to go over the brink.'"

posted by: Tom T. on 05.10.05 at 05:25 PM [permalink]

I lost family members to Kadar Janos, and I've seen what life was like in the Warsaw Pact bloc.

Anyone who thinks its "ugly" to point out what was done to millions of people at Yalta is a moral cretin.

Not to put too fine a point on it.

posted by: Charlie (Colorado) on 05.10.05 at 05:25 PM [permalink]

Happens I just ran across a post on Hit&Run that makes an interesting point. Cf. this from Strobe Talbott:

"After World War II ... many countries in the East suffered nearly half a century under the shadow of Yalta. That is a place name that has come to be a codeword for the cynical sacrifice of small nations' freedom to great powers' spheres of influence, just as Versailles has come to signify a short-sighted, punitive, and humiliating peace that sows the seeds of future war. ... Part of the challenge we face in dealing with Russia now that the Cold War is over is to avoid both a new Versailles and a new Yalta."

The same post has similar comments by Madeline Albright and Bill Clinton.

Apparently calling Yalta a betrayal --- "the cynical sacrifice of small nations' freedom" --- is only ugly when a Republican says it.

posted by: Charlie (Colorado) on 05.10.05 at 05:25 PM [permalink]

Ah, hell. Sorry, Bo. I suspect your link is even what got me to H&R. My mistake to replicate it.

posted by: Charlie (Colorado) on 05.10.05 at 05:25 PM [permalink]

The reference to Yalta should be seen for what it is : a fine piece of political oratory. It resonates well in East Europe. At a time when we need to reduce anti-Americanism abroad (although a lot of people said in a previous message that these were all envious prats), this helps us to bolster pro-American feelings in East Europe and the Baltics, both places in which large portions of the population opposed the Iraq war.

Furthermore, it is intended to send a message to these countries, that we will not abandon you. Perhaps the possibility of a Russian invasion in East Europe is remote, but Russian influence in former Soviet Republics remains high. And Russia has still not come to grips with its atrocious WW-II past.

This was not intended as a sophisticated foreign policy treatise. It is silly to treat it as such.

A sophisticated analysis would probably conclude that FDR was dying, that Stalin already held most of the territories he was claiming, that the US did not then know if the atom bomb would work, that the US thought Russia's help in the Japanese war would save millions of lives, that Britain was sick of war, that Americans would not have tolerated another war with the Soviet Union (in 1945). One could also see this as a cynical followup to the Great Game, in which great powers divided up weaker countries.

But critcizing Yalta is still fair game. It was certainly nothing to be proud of. Its not just the Soviet domination of East Europe, it was also Britain's ability to maintain its Empire (Churchill would have kept it forever if he could) and keep hundreds of millions of people subjugated. Similarly, post-Yalta, France kept its empire and killed tens of thousands of Algerians in 1945.

The one part of Bush's speech that I thought was a little over the top was comparing the Nazi-Soviet pact to Yalta (although it makes for good rhetoric in East Europe).

posted by: erg on 05.10.05 at 05:25 PM [permalink]

A quick followup to my previous post -- it could probably be argued that the real problem was not Yalta, which after all asked for elections in East Europe, but the unwillingness of Truman et al. to enforce those provisions of Yalta when Stalin broke them. Admittedly, the military task would not have been made any easier then, and might have been harder to impossible after the Soviets acquired the bomb (and once American troops were tied down in Korea, it would be impossible). But the political task of getting Americans and British to agree to a war with an erstwhile ally might have been easier. Democracies can rarely go to war on the drop of a pin (unless attacked), they need years of preparation.

Yalta, then, can be seen as an intermediate step. If Truman or Ike (who supported Yalta) had tried to enforce it, they might have had the political backing to do so --- but military options would still have been limited.

posted by: erg on 05.10.05 at 05:25 PM [permalink]

Isn't it refreshing to learn that there's at least one bad thing in the world for which the US is not supposed to apologize?

posted by: Paul Zrimsek on 05.10.05 at 05:25 PM [permalink]

"Opinions on the outcome of Yalta are useless when they do not consider the fact that the Soviets sitting on both sides of the table."

Yeeeesh, what a silly puerile poster "g" turned out to be!? Tom Holsinger fails to mention that the most adamant and vocal anti-communist outside of the NAZI party was at the table. Winston Churchhill. Also, Tom and the pundit who posted the long diatribe about Alger Hiss fail to keep things in historical context. In 1961, Cuba missle crisis. The Unite States had over 1,000 ICBMs. The Russians had TEN, that's right just TEN. How did we know. Little did anyone at the time know we had the world's first spy satellite, the Corona series. IN FACT the world's first useful satellite, i.e. a satellite that did something other than "bleep" through the night. WE HAD THE UPPER HAND! Kruschev knew it.
Why not attack and get it over with?

EUROPE. It would have become the world's largest permanent cemetary and memorial to man's stupidity. In some quarters this would constitute a possible charge of war crimes.

The situation was really basically the same at the time of Yalta. What's your choice Tom, Europe a vast graveyard and desolate no-man's land? Or what we have today? In the end very wise, and smart people on both sides of political philosophy made the right choice. A very painful, dark, and difficult choice. But the right choice.

posted by: manoppello on 05.10.05 at 05:25 PM [permalink]

"Furthermore, it is intended to send a message to these countries, that we will not abandon you."

Yes, something Eisenhower did durinig his administration in rejecting Yalta and Pottsdam. He encouraged the Eastern Europeans to revolt! And guess what, in 1956 the HUNGARIANS REVOLTED! Quick send in the troops! Oooops, never happened, Eisenhower, a republican, a conservative, a famous world war II general and hero just sat back and watched while thousands were rounded up and slaughtered or sent to gulags.

How could George Bush forget that defining moment in American history?

Eisenhower in the end found that it was ill-fated to encourage then expect revolt in the Eastern Europe to succeed. Years later it required an Eastern European Pope in cooperation with two arch conservatives years later to accomplish this.

So, in the end presidents of both parties were instrumental in bringing about the end of WWII and its immediate aftermath, the cold war.

posted by: manoppello on 05.10.05 at 05:25 PM [permalink]

Eh, aside from talking heads asserting it is so, what exactly did the pope do dismantle the Soviet Bloc?

I recall somebody asking how many divisions the pope has . . .

posted by: Nathan on 05.10.05 at 05:25 PM [permalink]

"Eh, aside from talking heads asserting it is so, what exactly did the pope do dismantle the Soviet Bloc?

I recall somebody asking how many divisions the pope has . . ."

Something Eisenhower didn't do. Supported the Solidarity Union and its movement using his authority as Pope to sanction its cause and existence. For starters.

Apparently, it was very difficult for the Kremlin to go against the moral authority of the holder of St. Peter's chair without creating severe consequences within the many Catholic states that were then a part of the Soviet Bloc. Apparently his influence as moral and religious leader was far more effective than 20 divisions or more. Who knew?

How many divisions? Perhaps you should ask why the Bulgarians didn't try to kill Reagan, Thatcher, or any other world leader? Why attempt to assisinate the Pope?

posted by: manoppello on 05.10.05 at 05:25 PM [permalink]

if we had attacked post august 45, europe would no thave been a graveyard. we would have won. maybe would have had to nuke moscow.

and, as always, we were betrayed by the "mythical" fifth column and soviet spies that gave the bomb to the USSR. leftists are guilty of so, so many murders. but it's all in the name of progress.

posted by: hey on 05.10.05 at 05:25 PM [permalink]

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