Anne Applebaum: What Liberals (And Conservatives) Are Missing About Bush's Yalta Mistake
"It just offends me that the president of the United States is, directly or indirectly, attacking his own country in a foreign land." That was 1998. The speaker, Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), was then House majority whip. The president was Bill Clinton, who had "attacked his own country" while in Uganda. "Going back to the time before we were even a nation," Clinton had told an African audience, "European Americans received the fruits of the slave trade. And we were wrong in that."
Fast-forward seven years; the president is now George W. Bush. Last weekend he unexpectedly proffered an apology for the 1945 Yalta agreement, which legitimized Soviet control of Eastern Europe. Speaking in Latvia, one of the countries that remained under Soviet occupation, Bush said that Yalta, an agreement reached by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin, "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."
Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Bush's comments is that they constitute an apology for a historical disaster most Americans don't remember. I certainly knew nothing of the bitterness that many East Europeans felt toward the United States and Britain until I was personally accused of "selling out" Poland at Yalta -- a deal done 20 years before I was born -- during my first trip to Warsaw in the 1980s.
Less surprising is the tenor of the reaction. On the left, a small crew of liberal historians and Rooseveltians have leaped to argue that the president was wrong, and that Yalta was a recognition of reality rather than a sellout. Their charges ignore the breadth of the agreement -- was it really necessary to agree to deport thousands of expatriate Russians back to certain death in the Soviet Union? -- as well as the fact that Yalta and the other wartime agreements went beyond mere recognition of Soviet occupation and conferred legality and international acceptance on new borders and political structures. But on the right, no one -- certainly not Tom DeLay -- has objected to Bush's statement because it took place on foreign soil.....
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Lisa Kazmier - 5/14/2005
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