Tuesday, May 10, 2005

I'll take "Things that can be seen coming a mile away" for $100 Alex

The inevitable response to President Bush's recent comments in Latvia has been playing out this week, albeit somewhat under the radar since vastly more important world-historical events (such as this and this) have occupied much of the media's attention. Assuming that you missed it, some of the President remarks that are being found objectionable are:
The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable. Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable. The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history."
The Slate article follows the "Red Army was in the way" position, although it references this week's Arthur Schlesinger Jr. post that insists that it was really Stalin who screwed up at Yalta.

I'm willing to buy the argument that the Soviet Army occupation of Eastern Europe precluded Western military action; for all we know, even a full-scale Western invasion of Eastern Europe against the Soviet Army might have been doomed to failure. On the other hand, this seems to contradict Schlesinger's statement that Yalta did not ratify the division of Europe. Yalta was either the best deal the Western allies could get given the distribution of Soviet forces in Europe, or it wasn't, but not both.

Schlesinger's escape from this dilemna is the Declaration on a Liberated Europe, which, presumably, was based on the assumption that the possibilty of dissapproval by Western liberals would be an excellent incentive for Stalin to abide by its terms. And based on the assumption that shattered Eastern European governments that were heavily infiltrated by communist agents and heavily saturated with communist stormtroopers would prove to be resiliant democracies, I would guess that the signing of the Declaration on a Liberated Europe certainly would have seemed like a diplomatic master-stroke at the time. If the thought of, say, a mildly unpleasant speech delivered by Alger Hiss at the next United Nations meeting didn't leave the Man of Steel shaking in his combat boots, I'm not sure what did.

On the other hand, President Bush's remarks in Latvia have a certain necessity to them. Given that the American response to the Soviet takeover of the Baltic States was basically "so long and thanks for all the fish", President Bush had to admit to the United States screwing up at some point.

The other controversy mentioned in the Slate article is President Bush's supposedly revanchist view of the Vietnam War:
The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me as I look back was it was a political war. We had politicians making military decisions, and it is lessons that any president must learn, and that is to the set the goal and the objective and allow the military to come up with the plans to achieve that objective. And those are essential lessons to be learned from the Vietnam War.
Bush's remarks here are a bit of simplification, since in general the President's decisions based on his role as Commander-in-Chief of the military are inescapably military decisions. On the other hand, was there anyone in the 60's who thought that the politicians weren't screwing everything up?


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