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: Mr. Bush has criticized Yalta at least six other times publicly, usually in Eastern Europe, but ...
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:
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:
Mr. Bush has criticized Yalta at least six other times publicly, usually in Eastern Europe, but never so harshly. In the dust kicked up by the quarreling, the central questions for White House watchers are these: How did the unexpected attack on Yalta get in the president’s speech? What drove his thinking? Did the White House expect the fallout?…. At the White House, Mr. Bush’s speech was written by Michael Gerson, the assistant to the president for policy and strategic planning and the former chief speechwriter who still has a big hand in Mr. Bush’s major addresses. The language in Mr. Gerson’s Latvia speech that Yalta, in an “attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability” left a continent “divided and unstable,” built on steadily intensifying language over the previous four years. In June 2001 in Warsaw, Mr. Bush said, “Yalta did not ratify a natural divide, it divided a living civilization.” In November 2002 in Lithuania, he declared that there would be “no more Munichs, no more Yaltas.” In May 2003 in Krakow, he said, “Europe must finally overturn the bitter legacy of Yalta.” This February in Brussels, Mr. Bush said, “The so-called stability of Yalta was a constant source of injustice and fear.” An administration official said on Friday that in the discussions about Mr. Bush’s address – the president typically gives his speechwriters big-picture thematic direction and then has a heavy hand in the editing – the goal was to make the point that “countries need to look at their pasts.” In this case, the White House wanted to make the point that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Mr. Bush’s host the following day, should apologize for the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, which led to the Soviet annexation of Latvia and the other Baltic states. So Mr. Bush’s assertion of American failure at Yalta was viewed at the White House as a model for what Mr. Putin should – but did not – do. It was also a poke in the eye to the Russians, salve to Mr. Bush’s Baltic hosts and an effort to contrast what Mr. Bush promotes as his uncompromising vision for democracy in the Middle East with what he sees as the expedience of the past.
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.
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
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