More Yalta Reverberations
Joe Conason expresses more precisely than I did why Bush’s Yalta remarks were so scandalous: There is nothing wrong with criticism of Yalta, or for that matter of Roosevelt, his conduct of the war and his dealings with our wartime allies. Although F.D.R. achieved the status of household deity for many American families, including mine, ...
Joe Conason expresses more precisely than I did why Bush's Yalta remarks were so scandalous:
Joe Conason expresses more precisely than I did why Bush’s Yalta remarks were so scandalous:
There is nothing wrong with criticism of Yalta, or for that matter of Roosevelt, his conduct of the war and his dealings with our wartime allies. Although F.D.R. achieved the status of household deity for many American families, including mine, he was far from perfect. The implication of the President?s speech in Riga, however, is that the decisions reached at Yalta were morally equivalent to the feeble betrayal at Munich and the dictators? bargain between Stalin and Hitler.
And there’s more to it. The debate over Yalta is not a debate over whether the Soviet oppression of Eastern Europe for a half century was a terrible thing. There is no debate over that question. No, Yalta means something very different, as people who invoke it know — or should know. There is a long tradition of Yalta-bashing, and it was used especially by far-right demagogues to accuse FDR of being a traitor. It’s a claim that implies our brave fighting men were doing heroic work in liberating Europe but that their good efforts were betrayed by weak leaders. One doesn’t speak about Yalta in a vacuum. By uttering the words he did, Bush (or his speechwriter) aligned himself with a distinct and self-conscious historical tradition. He could have framed his remarks of sympathy with the peoples of Eastern Europe in any number of ways. But, wittingly or not, he endorsed an interpretation of history that sees Yalta as the hinge and America’s decisions there as having cast Eastern Europe into darkness. But that was not the case. Update: Kevin Drum asks:
Why did Bush mention Yalta at all? For most people alive today this is long dead history, but Bush’s speechwriters are well aware that “Yalta” was once a codeword extraordinaire among a certain segment of the population. In fact, it was perhaps the single biggest bugaboo of the wingnut right in the late 40s and 50s, right up there with Alger Hiss and Joe McCarthy’s list of communists in the State Department. But most of those people are dead. So who was the reference aimed at? Not just the Latvians, that’s for sure. Bush is a master of using codewords in his speeches, and inserting Yalta into this speech wasn’t a casual decision. It was there for someone. Who?
Not just the Latvians, that’s for sure. Key point. I should double-check this, but … [Why? When in Rome… — Ed. OK, I, but I’m gonna blame you if some expert on Latvian history contradicts me. And isn’t there something about this “– Ed.” business reminiscent of Homer Simpson talking to his brain?] … Anyway, I don’t think Yalta dealt significantly with Latvia. At least it wasn’t a central issue there. Had Bush given the speech in Poland, or even in Hungary, Yalta might have seemed more relevant.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
More from Foreign Policy
Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?
The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.
Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World
It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.
It’s a New Great Game. Again.
Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing
The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.