Monday, May 16, 2005
previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)
Follow-up on Yalta
I missed the whole Yalta brouhaha last week, but I thought it was worth linking and quoting Elisabeth Bumiller's White House letter in the New York Times that articulates the thinking that went behind the Yalta mention in Latvia:
Read the whole thing. This would appear to support Jacob Levy's assertion that the audience for the speech was not the remnants of the John Birch Society, but the former Warsaw Pact countries. [But clearly what Bush said pleased Pat Buchanan and his ilk--ed. Yes -- which means Bush has pleased Buchanan with about two percent of his foreign policy pronouncements.]
Was Bush's statement historically accurate? Here I'll side with the quoted historians in the piece (John Lewis Gaddis, Robert Dallek, David M. Kennedy) and agree that while Yalta didn't help matters, the counterfactual would still likely have been Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Furthermore, if Yalta was the abject capitulation that some have described it, then why were the Soviets so desperate for the 1975 Helsinki Accords?
However.... Bill Clinton never met an apology he didn't like on the international stage, in part because he knew that admissions of past error -- even if slightly exaggerated -- played well abroad. If Bush picks up this trope from Clinton -- and doesn't abuse it -- then liberals are protesting about this way too much.
UPDATE: For more evidence supporting the Bush officials' explanation of its motives, read these comments from last week by NSC adviser Stephen Hadley.posted by Dan on 05.16.05 at 05:43 PM
Bush apologized for slavery too, as I recall. That should not neccesarily be taken as a criticism of the Founding Fathers and neither should this be taken as a criticism of FDR.
Its a shrewd message that resonates well in East Europe (the corollary, that the US should have been willing to risk a major war in 1945, wjich may not go over will with Americans doesn't need to be stated publically), sends a message to Russia, pleases FDR haters, pleases Americans of East European origin.
Re: Buchanan -- I've never been able to understand his foreign policy. He supported Vietnam and other anti-Soviet activities in the COld war, he attacks Yalta. Yet, he says the US should never have been involved in WW-II (which would have been Yalta^2) , opposes Gulf War 1 and 2.
Uh, folks, why shouldn't Bush apologize for Yalta even if it was unavoidable? Whether there was a way to have prevented the USSR from controlling Eastern Europe after the war, it none the less led to immense and protracted human suffering, including hundreds of thousands of deaths, and the Poles, the people of the Baltic region, the Magyar, and so on, all know it.
I mean, cripes, I apologized today for being late to a meeting, even though it was because a more important meeting ran over time. This just slightly inconvenienced a few people.
But it's somehow "ugly" to apologize to people who were rather more than invconvenienced, and suffered this for years, not minutes?
For Pete's sake, put down the political calculus for a minute and think about the people who were actually harmed.posted by: Charlie (Colorado) on 05.16.05 at 05:43 PM [permalink]
Surely what bothered people was the elevation of the previous Yalta references to compare Yalta to Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Why wouldn't the blogosphere pursue the implied comparison of Chamberlain and Hitler to FDR and Churchill? And then the conjunction of that with Scott McClellan's nod and wink to the repression of small nations (Uzbekistan) on Friday, before they realized how bad that was playing from a PR perspective over the weekend. Yalta can't be undone but the complaints will sound more credible when the White House shows a greater commitment to the rights of small nations that it did with our friends the Uzbeks.posted by: P O'Neill on 05.16.05 at 05:43 PM [permalink]
Isn't it outrageous that the president of the United States said that his country was the moral equivalent of Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany?
That's the implication of Yalta = Molotov-Ribbentrop and it's a disgrace. Shame on Bush for having said it, and shame on those who defend that equivalence.posted by: Doug on 05.16.05 at 05:43 PM [permalink]
The interesting question the entire Yalta thing brings up now that we know the costs of letting the Reds have Eastern Europe was millions of people being forced to live under a communist dictorship for some 50 years. How do you compare this with the costs of a war between
But the question of is the world better off because of Yalta or would it have been better off if there had been a war? A component of this counterfactual history is the question of would the would bulk of the war have been fought in Eastern Europe and generated massive casulties among the very people being liberated?
Pat Buchanan is an old style midwest isolationist America Firster. A type we know well in Chicago. The kind of Irish Pol who supported the Kaiser in WWI because he was fighting the Brits.
The criticism of Yalta is did Roosevelt really believe our own propaganda about Uncle Joe the hero. Whether we could have done anything different after WWII is one thing. Whether we understood the Nature of Stalin's Russia and bamboozled ourselves about the potential for Democracy and Liberty there is another thing. One can make a good case we were horribley naive about Stalin (Churchill wasn't) and while not starting WWIII, we could have done things differently post war. We had good relations with both Mao and Ho Chi Minh at the end of the War. Splitting World Communism then rather than waiting for Richard Nixon maybe?posted by: Bill Baar on 05.16.05 at 05:43 PM [permalink]
Bush has a 'heavy hand' (?) in the editing of his speeches (??), and insists that countries "need to look at their pasts" (???).
This from the same president who first named his Iraq invasion 'Operation Enduring Crusade'.posted by: wishIwuz2 on 05.16.05 at 05:43 PM [permalink]
Would it have been any better from a moral perspective to have supported Mao though ? If we had stuck some sort of deal with Mao and he had taken China (as he did anyway), would we now have been saying that Yalta condemned half a billion Chinese to communism whereas if we had supported Chiang Kai Shek, he could have won (he didn't, but it would have been a reasonable assumption circa 1945) ? Mao may not have been as bloodthirsty as Stalin (although even that may not be true), but he was still a murderous tyrant.
I agree with your comment about FDR.
As far as Churchill goes, I believe his concerns weren't so much human rights as maintaining the balance of power in Europe, and a version of the Great Game in Europe. Britain's greatest goal for several centuries has always been to maintain the balance of power in Europe and to ensure that no single country got powerful enough to challenge it. Churchill's concern for human rights in East Europe strikes me as hypocritical in the extreme -- this was the man who's government inactions contributed to 3 million deaths in Bengal in 1943 and who wanted to keep several hundred million Indians as subjects of the Crown.
I would also have been concerned about West Europe. The communist parties were strong in France and Italy (although in Italy they were not pro-Soviet). Communists in Greece were increasing their power (the British also held, amazing as it may seem, discussions with the Nazis in Greece over how to deal with the Communists in Greece before the war was over). It was not clear then that Yugoslavia would take an independent road.
So yes, I agree that Bush's statement was ahistorical. But it was a smart move nonetheless. Clinton and Bush's apologies for slavery probably helped us in Africa and they didn't cost us anything.
Incidentally, France recently apologized for the massacre of Algerians in 1945.posted by: erg on 05.16.05 at 05:43 PM [permalink]
Since Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis is rightly referenced in the primary post, it is perhaps worth referencing a speech of his now making the rounds in some quarters of the blogosphere, one recently delivered at Middlebury College. (Too, no less than Steven Den Beste is one of the commenters at the end of the piece.)
Gaddis, like David Greenberg, is indeed an academic historian, though one, unlike Greenberg, not so readily given to partisan pieties, solipsisms and facile reductions (e.g., his Slate piece which reacts to the President's Latvian speech). Gaddis's latest is Surprise, Security and the American Experience, came out maybe a year ago, is the book referred to in the speech itself, the book the President told all his staff to read, and a great read it is, drawing on history and then illuminating the current situation in a manner that takes in, and sustains, a breadth and depth that is well proportioned to the subject matter (i.e., again emphasizing the contrast with Greenberg-like reductions).posted by: Michael B on 05.16.05 at 05:43 PM [permalink]
Bush has a 'heavy hand' (?) in the editing of his speeches (??), and insists that countries "need to look at their pasts" (???). This from the same president who first named his Iraq invasion 'Operation Enduring Crusade'.
See? Ya learn something new every day from these anti-US types. I for one was unaware that the US even existed during the Crusades.posted by: Bithead on 05.16.05 at 05:43 PM [permalink]
What I love about the Yalta debate is that we have the right wing blamming the liberals for losing Eastern Europe despite the fact that Truman had to fight the conservative republicans tooth and nail just to get relatively small ammounts of military aid for Greece in its civil war against communist and the Marshall Plan.
I'm sure the liberals in the 1940s would have had a free hand to start WW III against the communists.posted by: spencer on 05.16.05 at 05:43 PM [permalink]
Resorting to such caricatures and labels is revealing in and of itself. It isn't the "right wing" vs. putative "liberals," it's those who are attentive to what the Latvian speech was intended to address vs. illiberal, agenda driven, variously left-of-center partisans.
One example (and several could be noted), no one is suggesting WWIII should have been started. At the very most, perhaps, some more specific items that Yalta and "the facts on the ground" were indicating, such as Poland, might have been handled differently, emphasis, even here, on the word "might." You continue to miss the point, entirely, with the emphasis upon WWIII, virtually a non-existent emphasis within the contexts of the Latvian speech.posted by: Michael B on 05.16.05 at 05:43 PM [permalink]
yeah, I remember when Clinton almost-sorta apologized to Iran for installing the Shah and taking out Mossadegh in 1954. So you're right, there is precedent.posted by: jared bailey on 05.16.05 at 05:43 PM [permalink]
Well, there was history even before the US existed :-)
I'm generally sympathetic to the speech, but I think the comparison to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact definitely went over the top and that goes beyond the mere suggestion you make.posted by: erg on 05.16.05 at 05:43 PM [permalink]
I don't disagree, in fact I essentially indicated agreement when I gave a nod to John Lewis Gaddis, in a prior post in this thread (as Gaddis was referenced in the NYT piece by Bumiller). Though that does require a strictly literalist interpretation, if also one that is kinder and gentler than any notion the Latvian speech was an appeal to John Bircher's or McCarthyites (yet another Greenberg inference). So I don't wish to evade that interpretation entirely, hence my agreement with Gaddis and yourself, I simply place vastly more emphasis upon the figurative interpretation that would have been received in Latvia and Eastern Europe more generally (e.g., the note at the end of Bumiller's NYT piece), not to mention Putin's Russia and, differently, troubling collectivist initiatives in the EU as well. (These broader contexts are also what makes Greenberg's reductionist interpretation as partisan as it in fact is.)
If David Greenberg would have stopped with your own emphasis, I wouldn't have had a problem with his reaction, even if I would have still placed a stronger emphasis upon the figurative interpretation that Eastern Europeans, I believe, would have accorded the Yalta reference in the Latvian speech. But when Greenberg overtly provides an analogy with Hitler's rise to power, also simplistically arrogates the Vietnam reference to further that analogy, among other reasons intoned in his piece, then it calls for a fuller response. Too, to uncritically engage Greenberg within his narrative, without critiquing it as an overall strategem per se, is to immediately default to his terms and thus capitulate to at least some degree, from the very beginning of the discussion. (Nossel, albeit differently, typically was offering similar terms of engagement.)
And as regards the Molotov/Ribbentrop analogy per se, the practical effects are not terribly different - fundamental denial of freedoms. Gaddis and the others cited in the Bumiller article, in expressing their dissent, were dissenting over the comparison because the Yalta agreement was a fait accompli, essentially, while the M/R accord was not. That was the focal point of their disagreement, not the practical effects per se, which practical effects were the focus of the Latvian speech.
Have a good evening.posted by: Michael B on 05.16.05 at 05:43 PM [permalink]
It wasnt a fait-accompli at least concerning Germany ; Western allied forces could have entered Berlim before soviets but since Berlim was outside Western allies influence zone because of Yalta it was decided -wisely- that wouldnt make sense to spent the lives of soldiers in a non-Western zone. If Western powers wanted to influence the post war from begining i think they would be able arrive first than soviets in Austria-Hungary via Italy and parts of Poland and probably we would have had a Warsaw wall...and to not talk about Land-Lease.posted by: lucklucky on 05.16.05 at 05:43 PM [permalink]
As far as I am concerned anyone proposing the idea of invading Germany through the Balkans and Austria probably never served a day above the rank of E3.
Have you ever looked at a topographical map of Austria -- at least go watch the Sound of Music.
Second the supply lines for a southern stratgegy would have been impossible. No military strategist would select the southern route over the French route because of the supply problems.
Do not forget after WW II Austria was divided, and the Soviets left Austria in the early 1950s.
posted by: spencer on 05.16.05 at 05:43 PM [permalink]
For yet another critical context within which the President's Latvian speech must be viewed and contrasted, see this post at American Future by Marc Schulman, also the discussion that follows in the comments.
Hence again, regardless as to where one stands within that additional and all important, broadly conceived context, Greenberg's partisan induced myopia, can be seen for what it is, which is little indeed.
Likewise, the President's Latvian speech can be seen for what it is: a kind of fathoming and shaping of a broadly conceived, sustainable vision. Where "... the German Chancellor continues to excuse and accomodate tyranny ...", the President has begun to chart a course that foreshortens accomodations with tyranny via outdated forms of realpolitik and detente or, stated in the positive, has begun to variously execute a vision prejudiced in favor of sustainable, constitutionally based liberty. All that reflects very broad themes that can be debated, obviously and certainly: a well tempered idealism and what can be reasonably hoped for and sustained vs. emphases upon realism, pragmatism, realpolitik.posted by: Michael B on 05.16.05 at 05:43 PM [permalink]
Worth noting Bush II's comments on Yalta also a repudiation of Bush I's "Chicek Kiev" speech. Bush II has repudiated a long like of Republican-Kissenger-Nixon foreign policy.posted by: Bill Baar on 05.16.05 at 05:43 PM [permalink]
Post a Comment: