Robert W. Merry: Harry Reid's McCarthyite Screed

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Robert W. Merry is editor of The National Interest and the author of books on American history and foreign policy. His most recent book is Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians (Simon & Schuster).

In early 1953, the newly inaugurated President Eisenhower nominated Charles E. ("Chip") Bohlen as ambassador to the Soviet Union. The man was eminently qualified—fluent in Russian and widely recognized as one of his country’s foremost Soviet experts. But he had been at the momentous Yalta summit conference of the Big Three Allied leaders—Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin—who carved up the European continent in ways that later proved controversial. Bohlen had been merely a young interpreter at Yalta, but it didn’t matter. He quickly became a marked man to right-wing senators who at the time were making considerable political hay with their crusade to root out communists and other presumed security risks from the government.

Wisconsin’s fiery Joseph McCarthy and New Hampshire’s Styles Bridges attacked Bohlen as being insufficiently anticommunist for such a post. It caused a stir, but Eisenhower’s popularity and Bohlen’s reputation seemed adequate to ensure the diplomat’s Senate confirmation. Then the brash Democratic senator from Nevada, Pat McCarran, threw a wrench into the proceedings. He accused the new secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, of concealing damaging FBI evidence against Bohlen. A whisper campaign followed, suggesting Bohlen was homosexual, in those days considered a point of blackmail vulnerability.

McCarran didn’t present any evidence that there were in fact any such allegations residing in secret FBI files. He was merely repeating what he had heard, he said. But, without any shred of authentication, McCarthy promptly called upon Bohlen to take a polygraph test to prove his "innocence.’"

In terms of his slashing temperament, McCarran of Nevada bears a striking resemblance to Nevada’s current senior senator, majority leader Harry Reid...

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