- - Sunday, February 22, 2015

It’s ironic that President Obama’s hope for a political framework agreement on nuclear issues with Iran by March 31 coincides with the diplomatic hope of President Franklin D. Roosevelt 70 years ago in a March 1 speech before Congress. That hope was to trust the Soviet Union at the recently concluded Yalta Conference — trust that would result in the diplomatic end-all to the European theater in World War II. No doubt, FDR at Yalta illustrated naivete with the Soviets. Given Mr. Obama’s zeal to effect a paper deal with Iran instead of congressional sanctions against the rogue nation, it’s likely that the end result, like Yalta, will reflect more smoke-and-mirrors, secrecy and subterfuge than substance.

Held Feb. 4-11 in Joseph Stalin’s home turf, Yalta was the second of three wartime conferences among the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union. It was Roosevelt’s last confab with Stalin and Winston Churchill before he passed away in April 1945. His successor, Harry S. Truman, would attend the final meeting in Potsdam, Germany in July.

The dilemma of FDR’s update on Yalta to Congress was that the important details of the agreement were secret. Yet, Capitol Hill and the public were asked to support them. “For unless you here in the halls of Congress,” he began his remarks, “with the support of the American people, concur in the general conclusions reached at Yalta, and give them your active support, the meeting will not have produced lasting results.”

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In reality, Yalta produced lasting results that were the opposite of the agreement. Relying upon the Atlantic Charter that FDR and Churchill crafted in August 1941 — analogous to Woodrow Wilson’s highfalutin Fourteen Points in World War I — agreement was reached that committed the Allied nations to ensure that Eastern European nations liberated from Adolf Hitler’s yoke would have free elections. But by the time of Yalta, Soviet troops were 40 miles from Berlin, having already overrun several nations in the process. And Poland, the biggest concern, was already in Stalin’s pocket, with the only hope a future one, namely, “a government ultimately to be selected by the Polish people themselves.”

Roosevelt got what he thought was an important concession from Stalin — his support for and membership in the United Nations. But it was a hollow victory: The U.N. was a safe bet for the Soviet Union because of the veto power it could exercise in the Security Council. Roosevelt also got Stalin to agree to enter the Pacific war within three months after the European phase was over, but it came at a high price, guaranteeing the Soviets territory belonging to Japan and China — no matter the deal’s violation of the Atlantic Charter.

What was worse, uncalled-for euphoria may well have been Yalta’s most obvious element in FDR’s congressional speech: “Never before have the major Allies been more closely united — not only in their war aims but in their peace aims. And they are determined to continue to be united with each other — and with all peace-loving Nations — so that the ideal of lasting peace will become a reality.”

Even the usually suspicious Churchill was snookered by Stalin, certain the Soviet leader would keep his word. “Poor Neville Chamberlain believed he could trust Hitler.” Churchill indicated. “He was wrong. But I don’t think I am wrong about Stalin.”

It didn’t take long — just three weeks after Roosevelt’s congressional speech — for the president to get the bad news about the Soviets. On March 21, Averill Harriman, the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, cabled FDR: “We must come clearly to realize that the Soviet program is the establishment of totalitarianism ending personal liberty and democracy as we know it.”

As for Stalin’s pledge to enter the Pacific theater, he came through, but belatedly. Victory-in-Europe Day was May 8, and Stalin waited until Aug. 8 to fulfill his commitment. But that was two days after the United States had dropped its first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. After the second bomb was dropped on Aug. 9, the Japanese emperor six days later threw in the towel.

Not surprisingly, leftist revisionist historians upset by the use of atomic weaponry have argued in recent years that it was really Stalin’s entry into the Pacific war that led the emperor to capitulate — a conclusion that, like the Yalta agreements, is wishful thinking.

Thomas V. DiBacco is professor emeritus at American University.

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