Bush: FDR Blew It On Postwar Europe
President George Bush has been saying a lot of nice things these days about the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but that’s when he has been pitching his Social Security reform plan — suggesting FDR’s showpiece program was a good one and that the late President would perhaps even support his own controversial proposed reforms.
But now, speaking in Europe, Bush has taken aim at one of FDR’s last big acts — the Yalta conference in 1945 which many believe gave the green-light to Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. He also criticized some aspects of American history.
What was Bush trying to do? It seemed he was trying to deliver a message to Russian President Vladmir Putin, as the Washington Post notes:
President Bush condemned the Soviet subjugation of Eastern Europe after World War II but acknowledged Saturday that the United States bore some blame for the “division of Europe into armed camps” and vowed never again to trade freedom for stability.
On the eve of a visit to Moscow to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, Bush escalated an increasingly pointed long-distance debate with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the true legacy of the end of World War II. With Putin refusing to renounce the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states, Bush tried to provide a model for expressing contrition for past national mistakes…..
And to make the point that the United States owns up to “the injustices of our history,” he reminded his audience — and by extension Putin — of the shameful heritage of American slavery and centuries of racial oppression.
“The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact,” Bush said, linking it to British appeasement and Soviet deal-cutting with Adolf Hitler in the late 1930s. “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.”
Those are pretty tough words. It seems to be (a)a signal to Putin about where Bush is coming from, (b)an announcement that the era of accomodation on questions of liberty for the sake of deal-making and political expedience is, if not over, on the wane. MORE:
Bush connected the struggles against Nazi and Communist despotism in this part of the world to his own campaign to bring democracy to the Middle East. “We will not repeat the mistakes of other generations — appeasing or excusing tyranny, and sacrificing freedom in the vain pursuit of stability,” he said. “We have learned our lesson. No one’s liberty is expendable. In the long run, our security, and true stability, depend on the freedom of others.”
This seems to be a further delineation of themes he made during his inagural address. The LA Times notes:
Bush’s speech in effect served as an argument for his ambitious second-term overseas agenda: promoting democracy and ending tyranny. His efforts have drawn criticism from some abroad who accuse him of meddling and oppose the centerpiece of his strategy, the invasion of Iraq.
Using language that resembled his sweeping Jan. 20 inaugural address that first outlined the new doctrine of “ending tyranny in our world,” Bush sought to link the defeat of the Nazis and the eventual end of the Cold War that followed to today’s goals of reshaping the Middle East and the former Soviet Union.
Times Online explains the context of this speech:
Bush will be among more than 50 heads of state travelling to the Russian capital for a spectacular military display modelled on the Red Armyâ€™s victorious procession 60 years ago. Eighteen cannons will fire salutes from the hills overlooking the Moscow river and the streets will be decked with 50,000 flags.
The mood of unity has been soured, however, by demands by the three Baltic states that Moscow acknowledge that the defeat of the Nazis paved the way for the annexation of their countries by Stalin. The presidents of Estonia and Lithuania are boycotting the celebration. Mikhail Saakashvili, the western-leaning Georgian president, is also staying away in protest at Russiaâ€™s failure to agree on a timetable for closing Soviet-era military bases in his country.
Bush â€” who will travel to Georgia as well â€” will have to carry out a difficult balancing act in Russia. Although keen to maintain good relations with his host, he will press him over Washingtonâ€™s growing list of grievances.
You can read the full text of Bush’s blunt remarks here.
RESOURCES ON YALTA:
The Cold War Begins
Roosevelt’s Wartime Concerences With Stalin
Yalta via Encyclopedia.com
Yalta Conference via Modern History Sourcebook