When Men Were Men and Continents Were Divided


President Bush's stirring speech in Latvia Saturday, in which he said "The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact," has been greeted by some over-excited commentators as a jarring break with U.S. foreign policy, and a slap in the face to Saint Franklin Roosevelt himself. Jacob Heilbrunn, for instance, has a mad-as-hell column today titled Once Again, the Big Yalta Lie, that puts forth the following proposition:

The claim that Roosevelt betrayed Eastern Europe at Yalta, and that he set the stage for 40 years of Soviet domination, is an old right-wing canard. By repeating it, and by publicly charging that the Yalta agreement was in the "unjust tradition" of Hitler's deal with Stalin, Bush was simply engaging in cheap historical revisionism. His glib comments belong to the Ann Coulter school of history.

Nasssty right-wingerssses! It's all bullshit, of course. Get a load of these noted right-wing canardistas daring to challenge the great statesmanship of Yalta.

  • Madeleine Albright, March 1999: After the foreign ministers, Albright reinforced the message that the three countries would never again face isolation or abandonment, as at Yalta in February 1945 when the "Big Three" powers that won World War II-the United States, Britain and Russia-relegated Eastern Europe to the Soviet sphere of influence. "Never again will your fates be tossed around like poker chips on a bargaining table," she said. "Whether you are helping to revise the Alliance's Strategic Concept or engaging in NATO's partnership with Russia, the promise of `nothing about you without you,' is now formalized; you are truly allies; you are truly home."
  • Strobe Talbott, May 1997: "After World War II … many countries in the East suffered nearly half a century under the shadow of Yalta. That is a place name that has come to be a codeword for the cynical sacrifice of small nations' freedom to great powers' spheres of influence, just as Versailles has come to signify a short-sighted, punitive, and humiliating peace that sows the seeds of future war. … Part of the challenge we face in dealing with Russia now that the Cold War is over is to avoid both a new Versailles and a new Yalta."
  • William Jefferson Right-Wing-Canardton, January 1994: "Let me, therefore, conclude by expressing my firm conviction that this meeting has become an important landmark on the road toward a new democratic and truly peaceful Europe, sharing firm and natural ties with the North American continent. At one time, the city of Yalta went down in history as a symbol of the division of Europe. I would be happy if today the city of Prague emerged as a symbol of Europe's standing in alliance."

Munich doesn't = Yalta, but A) I don't think Bush was saying that, and B) they do share some notable characteristics, namely that the fate and even existence of several small countries was decided at a superpower conference where the little guys weren't even invited. I would hope that's a tradition no one finds worthy of defense.