Bush Does Yalta
Pierre Tristam /Candide's Notebooks, April 11, 2006
No surprise. Our Lord and Savior President appears to be boning up for a B-2 bomb run on Iran ’s 17-odd underground nuclear facilities. His Strangelove ordnance might include bunker-busting nukes, because you wouldn’t want to show the world how serious you are about nuclear non-proliferation without going nuclear on transgressors’ isotopes. The administration’s denials are enough to confirm The New Yorker account of the coming air raids by Seymour Hersh, beat reporter to Bush’s Waterloos.
“Seymour Hersh is a liar,” Bush told the journalist Bob Woodward four years ago, an odd judgment considering that The New Yorker’s fact-checking department is more reliable than this White House’s. Renewed Hersh-hissing sounds cribbed from the Iraq playbook, back when the president was wagging diplomacy’s dog in public while he’d already platted Iraq’s corporate and military subdivisions in — literally, so far as the body parts are concerned — skull and bones secrecy. Obstinacy in the face of defeat is the gift of fools who confuse their folly with divine mission. Could Bush be that far gone? Actually, yes, but God’s work may have less to do with it than Yalta . A brief tour of the Oval Office, and a look at a recurrent theme in Bush’s speeches, show why.
Bush keeps three busts in the Oval Office: Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and Winston Churchill. Only Lincoln’s and Washington’s portraits hang on walls. The only thing remotely suggestive of Franklin Roosevelt is the desk Bush uses, known as the H.M.S. Resolute, built from wood belonging to a British ship of the same name and gifted in 1880 to President Rutherford B. Hayes — until Bush the last president to steal an election on the sly of scandal and electoral minority.
Every president since Hayes except the three amigos of the countercultural years — Johnson, Nixon, Ford — has used the Resolute, some more pointedly than others. John Kennedy’s son famously used it as an air-raid shelter in anticipation, perhaps, of his father’s playing Russian roulette over those Cuban missiles. Bush uses the desk, when he uses it at all, to put people in their place. There’s an official White House photo of Bush, shortly after 9/11, reclining in his chair, his feet propped up on the desk while a member of his “war” cabinet, and presumably the public, submit to the president’s soles. There are less subtle ways to prove a point, though in fairness Bush has never been accused of knowing subtlety from a pretzel.
FDR, too, is beneath Bush: The contempt is written all over Churchill’s busty presence in the Oval Office, and FDR’s absence, except to underscore FDR’s weaknesses: In Bush’s tour of the Oval Office in a White House video, he makes a point of saying how the Resolute was once altered to hide FDR’s “infirmities.” Bush puts FDR’s infirmity, incorrectly, in the plural. It wouldn’t be the only thing he has wrong about FDR. Commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II Last May, Bush belittled FDR’s role at the Yalta conference of 1945, where FDR, Churchill and Stalin met together for the last time to sign off on the post-Nazi partition of Europe . The lazy student’s version of the conference has a tired Roosevelt giving away half of Europe to Stalin, and Winston Churchill forever bemoaning the missed opportunity to stick it to the commies.
Bunk. As historian James MacGregor Burns wrote, “ Roosevelt would have been perplexed — or perhaps amused — by reports of the ‘sick man at Yalta ’; he found the energy to get through an enormous amount of business and indeed to conduct a whole separate set of negotiations with Stalin, chiefly over the Far East .” FDR got Stalin’s commitment to join the United Nations and to join the fight against Japan after Germany ’s surrender. Eastern Europe was mostly occupied by the Red Army already. FDR wouldn’t risk another war over it. Still, Bush bashed FDR at Yalta like FDR was another Hersh in his legacy: “The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich ,” he said, when “the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable…. We will not repeat the mistakes of other generations, appeasing or excusing tyranny, and sacrificing freedom in the vain pursuit of stability.” C-student history majors alone should cheer.
Recurring speeches where Bush compares the war on terror to World War II have the same reductive simplicity, the same blind spot for politics and diplomacy. To Bush, the United States ’ unrivaled superpower status is an opportunity. The so-called war on terror is his Yalta . And this time, he wants to draw all the boundaries. If that means nuking Iran out of its nukes, then so be it. When history’s C-student looks to write history, don’t expect the results to rise above the station of his soles. But look for shelter.
This column appears in the April 10, 2006 editions of the Daytona Beach News-Journal. Pierre's email: firstname.lastname@example.org