January 25, 2004

Note: The Ten Americans Who Did the Most to Win the Cold War

Note: Here are the ten Americans who, in my view, did the most to win the Cold War:

  1. Harry Dexter White: Treasury Assistant Secretary* who was the major force behind the Bretton Woods Conference and the institutional reconstruction of the post-World War II world economy. He accepted enough of John Maynard Keynes's proposals to lay the groundwork for the greatest generation of economic growth the world has ever seen. It was the extraordinary prosperity set in motion by the Bretton Woods' System and institutions--the "Thirty Glorious Years"--that demonstrated that political democracy and the mixed economy could deliver and distribute economic prosperity.
  2. George Kennan: Author of the "containment" strategy that won the Cold War. Argued--correctly--that World War III could be avoided if the Western Alliance made clear its determination to "contain" the Soviet Union and World Communism, and that the internal contradictions of the Soviet Union would lead it to evolve into something much less dangerous than Stalin's tyranny.
  3. George Marshall: Architect of victory in World War II. Post-World War II Secretary of State who proposed the Marshall Plan, another key step in the economic and institutional reconstruction of Western Europe after World War II.
  4. Arthur Vandenberg: Leading Republican Senator from Michigan who made foreign policy truly bipartisan for a few years. Without Vandenberg, it is doubtful that Truman, Marshall, Acheson, and company would have been able to muster enough Congressional support to do their work.
  5. Paul Hoffman: Chief Marshall Plan administrator. The man who did the most to turn the Marshall Plan from a good idea to an effective aid program.
  6. Dean Acheson: Principal architect of the post-World War II Western Alliance. That Britain, France, West Germany, Italy, and the United States reached broad consensus on how to wage Cold War is more due to Dean Acheson's diplomatic skill than to any single other person.
  7. Harry S Truman: The President who decided that the U.S. had to remain engaged overseas--had to fight the Cold War--and that the proper way to fight the Cold War was to adopt Kennan's proposed policy of containment. His strategic choices were, by and large, very good ones.
  8. Dwight D. Eisenhower: As first commander-in-chief of NATO, played an indispensable role in turning the alliance into a reality. His performance as President was less satisfactory: too many empty words about "rolling back" the Iron Curtain, too much of a willingness to try to skimp on the defense budget by adopting "massive retaliation" as a policy, too much trust in the erratic John Foster Dulles.
  9. Gerald Ford: In the end, the thing that played the biggest role in the rise of the dissident movement behind the Iron Curtain was Gerald Ford's convincing the Soviet Union to sign the Helsinki Accords. The Soviet Union thought that it had gained worldwide recognition of Stalin's land grabs. But what it had actually done was to commit itself and its allies to at least pretending to observe norms of civil and political liberties. And as the Communist Parties of the East Bloc forgot that in the last analysis they were tyrants seated on thrones of skulls, this Helsinki commitment emboldened their opponents and their governments' failures to observe it undermined their own morale.
  10. George Shultz: Convinced Ronald Reagan--correctly--that Mikhail Gorbachev's "perestroika" and "glasnost" were serious attempts at reform and liberalization, and needed to be taken seriously. Without Shultz, it is unlikely that Gorbachev would have met with any sort of encouragement from the United States--and unlikely that Gorbachev would have been able to remain in power long enough to make his attempts at reform irreversible.


*Also, almost surely an "Agent of Influence" and perhaps an out-and-out spy for Stalin's Russia. If so, never did any intelligence service receive worse service from an agent than Stalin's Russia did from Harry Dexter White.

Posted by DeLong at January 25, 2004 04:24 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post
Comments

How much did the international institutions and other financial paraphenalia put in place at Bretton Woods have to do with the post-War economic boom? Wasn't that mostly catchup from a catastrophic couple of decades since 1929? In fact, in committing the US to the gold standard and the most of the rest of the world to pegged currencies, didn't Bretton Woods guarantee future financial crises, which would require deflationary policies to end?

The system only worked as it was intended for (if memory serves) eight years, from 1959 (when convertibility was restored to Western Europe) to 1967 (when central banks reached a gentleman's agreement not to demand gold from the Fed). The biggest failure of Dexter White and Keynes (and Friedman's greatest insight) was to grasp that floating exchange rates were necessary shock absorbers for large economies.

Posted by: PJ on January 25, 2004 04:36 PM

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I'll let others deal with the fact that this oh so deliberately leaves off a certain later name (where's the rest of me?)-- of course it's hard to evaluate fairly between administrators, which so many on your list were, and leaders like presidents who mainly just talk big (how many divisions does the Pope have? Well, more than General Jaruzelski, as it turned out). It's not bad to see a list full of unfamiliar behind the scenes names, though putting Harry Dexter White at the top is sort of like giving Nicholas II credit for bringing on the socialist utopia. Wouldn't have happened without him, but shouldn't intentions count for something here?

But... setting aside Ronald Reagan entirely, this list is awfully frontloaded. Sure, the guys who did important things in 1946-1950 get the advantage of compound interest, so to speak, on what they did, as it has effects for 40+ years after. On the other hand, if what they did was so damn brilliant, why did it take so long?

If you define winning the Cold War as outlasting the USSR, then it almost didn't matter what any American did as long as we didn't get totally blown up-- about three or four generations after the revolution, the internal contradictions were bound to make the USSR fall apart. So as impressive as some of the setting-up moves you describe were, they sort of didn't matter to the end result. In which case, I think you are overvaluing the first few years of the Cold War-- at the least, for instance, Nixon helping drive the wedge further between Russia and China, and helping bring China back in from the pale where he had played such a role in exiling them, surely ranks ahead of some of these positioning moves.

Posted by: Mike G on January 25, 2004 04:49 PM

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Or is the list meant to be chronological rather than a 1-to-10 ranking? Still front-loaded, I'd say, but less so.

Posted by: Mike G on January 25, 2004 04:55 PM

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Mike G writes: If you define winning the Cold War as outlasting the USSR, then it almost didn't matter what any American did as long as we didn't get totally blown up

And IMHO this is precisely what happened. The history was on on the side of the US and the West. But we gave more than we had to - non-democratic China and Vietnam and totalitarian North Korea are the prices we are still paying.

Posted by: Leopold on January 25, 2004 05:41 PM

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Brad writes: And as the Communist Parties of the East Bloc forgot that in the last analysis they were tyrants seated on thrones of skulls

Great, we are making progress.

Posted by: Leopold on January 25, 2004 05:56 PM

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"And IMHO this is precisely what happened. The history was on on the side of the US and the West. But we gave more than we had to - non-democratic China and Vietnam and totalitarian North Korea are the prices we are still paying."

Why was this more than we *had* to pay? I'd say that we got off lightly, as to North Korea and Vietnam. As for China, that was not democratic in the first place.

Posted by: Barry on January 25, 2004 07:53 PM

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Leopold's haiku of history:
(stolen, but it seems apropos)

if we had some ham
we could have some ham and eggs
if we had some eggs

seriously, everyone knows how many empires have foundered making war on Asia. you think the US could have taken China? I don't.

Posted by: wcw on January 25, 2004 07:59 PM

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>>I'll let others deal with the fact that this oh so deliberately leaves off a certain later name<<

It does not. George Shultz is on there.

Posted by: Brad DeLong on January 25, 2004 08:11 PM

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You could include Jerry Pournelle and Stefan T. Possony.

Their 'The Strategy of Technology' published in 1970. Online link is http://www.jerrypournelle.com/slowchange/Strat.html

Posted by: Brian on January 25, 2004 08:49 PM

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Don't be silly. Everyone knows that the cold war was won singlehandedly by St. Ronald.
A better list is to count those poor sods who payed the price for the tragic way it was waged.
A few million Vietnamese, South Africans, Chileans, Guatamalans, Nicaraguans the list goes on.

Posted by: Matthew on January 25, 2004 09:10 PM

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Why Ford instead of Kissinger? You chose Shultz instead of Reagan

Posted by: Mike on January 25, 2004 09:21 PM

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Barry writes:

Why was this more than we *had* to pay? I'd say that we got off lightly, as to North Korea and Vietnam. As for China, that was not democratic in the first place.

I am not going as far as democracy. Non-Communist and sane works for me. Easier to evolve from authoritarian dictatorship to democracy (Greece, South Korea). As for lightly, we got lucky Stalin died before starting WWIII and his successors were a lesser breed (of evil dictator).

wcw writes: Leopold's haiku of history:

Actually,

if we had some ham
we could have some ham and eggs
if we had some balls

(meaning US foreign policy and not anyone in this group of course)

Posted by: Leopold on January 25, 2004 10:04 PM

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Thank you, sincerely, a very interesting list.

Posted by: a troll on January 25, 2004 10:08 PM

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Brad, if you haven't been chased off yet, I'd encourage you to delete any of my posts (including this one) in the last couple threads. sometimes, I just can't help myself.

Leopold, let me understand: to you, a late-'40s land war in China would have been but a trifle for the US, had it only had sufficiently manly leadership. do I have that right? I retract all my previous criticisms. you, sir, are a foreign-policy super-genius. in fact, they may already have made a movie about you. I think Stanley Kubrick directed.

Posted by: wcw on January 25, 2004 10:30 PM

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Bravo for listing Ford. I was not at all a fan of his, but so few have credited the human rights section of the Helsinki Accord as you have. I realized the power of that section as the Accord became the lever in the Wests assertion of human rights, and the Soviets could not longer say, it was not our business or concern.

Posted by: secular clergyman on January 25, 2004 10:40 PM

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>>Why Ford instead of Kissinger? You chose Shultz instead of Reagan<<

I've been told (by people who ought to know) that Reagan was really out of it by his second term. Ford was a president.

Posted by: Brad DeLong on January 25, 2004 10:43 PM

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Mathew:

Yeah, but you missed Indonesians.

How about nobody "won" the Cold War? The Cold War was simply a tremendous waste of resources and foreclosure of possibilities. A bipolar world was never the real world and "containment" and "deterence", while, under the circumstances, reasonable ideas in themselves, were stretched politically and ideologically far beyond their proper carrying capacity to incorporate all sorts of wretched excess. "Extended deterence", a violation of the already somewhat paradoxical doctrine of nuclear deterence, in response to a misperception of aggressive intentions on the part of Stalinist Russia, when Stalin's approach amounted to hyper-aggressive defensiveness, tremendously exacerbated geo-political tensions- (Cuba anyone?)-, whereas "containment", contrary to the original intention of its formulation, came to embrace the repression of its "enemies", foreign or domestic, far in excess of any realistic assessment of the "Communist threat". I doubt that even real economic interests could account for such ("counter")-imperialistic overextentions- (Mossedageh(?), Allende, Vietnam anyone?)- but I'm sure they were tempted to try after the fact. Yet the political/ideological/bureaucratic overhang/hangover of the Cold War remains in place- (Iraq anyone?). Perhaps it is time that "we" attempt a shift in perspectives. Otherwise, we are left with the vocation of ideologues, from Richard Perle to Paul Berman, who are attempting to resurrect, Voltaire style, the omnipresent THREAT.

For anyone who may be tempted to respond to this post, please be informed that history justifies no one. The facts and forces of history are too large and diverse to be incorporated into any human personality/identity, though there is a significant difference between before and after the fact.

Posted by: john c. halasz on January 25, 2004 11:05 PM

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Kissinger engineered what was perhaps America's worst Cold War setback - the surrender of South Vietnam to the North.

Posted by: Alan K. Henderson on January 26, 2004 12:10 AM

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Mr. Halasz is correct. I know he cautioned against responding to the post, but I would have to approve of every single sentiment in it.

Posted by: James R MacLean on January 26, 2004 03:11 AM

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Mike G.

Without getting into who did what, it is interesting how lists of "most important" or "best" compiled around the turn of the millenium were often overwhelmingly devoted to things that happened within the lifetimes of those who voted on the lists (these were mostly the result of polls of readers and the like). Often, the majority of items on such lists were from the past 30 years.

My point is that it takes a pretty strong sense of history to avoid thinking that the Beatles invented western popular music, that Stephen King is a better writer than Chaucer, or that Ronald Reagan (or his lucid advisors) deserve all the credit for ending the Soviet Empire. There is no way of knowing who was most influential in saving the communal western backside, but a list weighted heavily toward the early days has at least two overlapping virtues. It avoids allowing an "Elvis is the most important musician of the last 1000 years" soft of mistake, and it forces us to think about what and who actually got us where we are. Doesn't matter so much who is on the list - never gonna satisfy everybody.

Posted by: K Harris on January 26, 2004 04:53 AM

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In the final analysis, the fighting of the cold war came down to the military and what was done to confront and contain the Soviets for 50 years. Yes, the military is enabled in logistics, policy, and strategy by the named civilian leaders (except for Reagan being appropriately recognized here), but the people on the frontlines for those times are the key. This is so in the end because the Soviets were forced to the realization that they could not compete militarily with our forces and our technological superiority (particularly the improvement rate and cost). There are two seminal parts of this success that must be acknowledged (1) the ability to field ballistic missile submarines for undetected deterrence (credit to Admirals Raborn and Rickover), and (2) raising the bar by committing to build SDI (Ronald Reagan).

Posted by: Jim Crockett on January 26, 2004 07:03 AM

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Mike G wrote, "...at the least, for instance, Nixon helping drive the wedge further between Russia and China..."

Nixon "helped," but marginally. The USSR and China had a small border war, late-1950s/ early 1960s if I recall correctly. Of course, those in the US establishment who were nutso thought it was a feint, to deceive us.

"But... setting aside Ronald Reagan entirely, this list is awfully frontloaded."

Reagan's roll is greatly exaggerated by his hagiographers. Why? As you yourself point out, "If you define winning the Cold War as outlasting the USSR, then it almost didn't matter what any American did as long as we didn't get totally blown up-- about three or four generations after the revolution, the internal contradictions were bound to make the USSR fall apart." Without Reagan's "assertiveness," the collapse of the USSR would have taken longer, but probably not a lot longer. Furthermore, just as in the investment world, you have to make a risk-weighted assessment of Reagan's performance. His placing Pershing missiles, which were relatively accurate, first-strike weapons, in Western Europe certainly increased the chance that, as you put it yourself, we would "get totally blown up."

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on January 26, 2004 07:04 AM

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Leopold wrote, "But we gave more than we had to - non-democratic China and Vietnam and totalitarian North Korea are the prices we are still paying."

China--as other posters have pointed out, China was well beyond our control/influence.

Vietnam--the US had zero democratic bona fides going into Vietnam, given we supported the French in their attempt to maintain their colonial hold there.

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on January 26, 2004 07:06 AM

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Brad, what's the evidence that HDW was a Soviet spy?

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on January 26, 2004 07:06 AM

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Jim Crockett wrote, "...(2) raising the bar by committing to build SDI (Ronald Reagan)."

It might have made the Soviet military worried, but what's the evidence that the USSR increased military spending in response?

We didn't have to engage in the mind-boggling idiocy of SDI in order to help the Soviet Union crumble. In the long run, the two most important ingredients for "winning" these confrontations are:
(1) political resolve;
(2) economic strength.

Thus, the Soviets could look at our *civilian* computer industry and realize that they were sunk. SDI was (is) a waste of $$.

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on January 26, 2004 07:10 AM

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"I've been told (by people who ought to know) that Reagan was really out of it by his second term. Ford was a president."

Did you just say "Now Ford, THERE was a president!" Almost. That's kinda funny, even if there probably is some truth in it. (Hey, John Updike defended Ford and James Buchanan... or was linking Ford to Buchanan the worst thing anybody ever said about him?)

Anyway, your answer is revealing in that you are, indeed, focused so much on administrative acts and one-on-one diplomacy, not the bully pulpit of the presidency. I don't, by a long shot, think Ronald Reagan (let alone George H.W. Bush) "won" the Cold War-- to the extent that "winning the Cold War" is something we did. To a certain extent that's like our solar system saying we won a war with another solar system that blew up in a supernova. Indeed, maybe if we'd let Communism invade even more places and not fought them, it would have collapsed even sooner from having 50 Cubas sucking it dry instead of a few.

But ultimately the collapse of the USSR came from a massive loss of nerve. Guards wouldn't shoot, their commanders wouldn't order them to do so, the Party bosses dithered, and after decades of rot it all came down in a day. What made them give up like that? If we give credit to the Walesas and the Havels and other beneficiaries of Helsinki for being the energetic alternative staring them right in the face, showing the Jaruzelskis and Honeckers that they were too old and tired to keep up the pretense, then we ought to likewise give credit to the implacable hardliners outside the walls, Reagan and Thatcher and John Paul II, making it clear that the rest of the world thought they were wrong and finished, too.

Posted by: Mike G on January 26, 2004 07:32 AM

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"Without getting into who did what, it is interesting how lists of "most important" or "best" compiled around the turn of the millenium were often overwhelmingly devoted to things that happened within the lifetimes of those who voted on the lists (these were mostly the result of polls of readers and the like). Often, the majority of items on such lists were from the past 30 years."

Yeah, and to just to prove that I'm not here solely to defend St. Ronnie's honor, I made that exact point about "recent history bias" in a letter to Time magazine when they put out one of their "people of the millennium" issues. I told them it was wrong to include Reagan and leave off the president who had by far the greatest influence on 20th century foreign policy-- including Reagan's-- Woodrow Wilson.

Posted by: Mike G on January 26, 2004 07:36 AM

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Okay, sorry about multiple responses that should have been one long one. I agree with K Harris' point, as noted, but there's also the flip side of it-- the one that says Gutenberg is the most important figure of the last 1000 years because without him we wouldn't have Joyce, the Bill of Rights, newspapers, TV Guide, etc. Well, yeah, but he still didn't WRITE Ulysses. But that's the fun of making lists like this, weighing all those factors. I'd still like to hear a ringing defense from Brad of the implicit idea that all the big moves were made in a very short period right at the beginning of the Cold War, and everything after was filigree. Maybe so, but defend it!

Likewise, the fun of debating these things is taking one side or the other, and Stephen Fromm does a nice job of presenting the counter to my points. With Nixon I stressed bringing the Chinese back from the pale because he is quite right to say we didn't drive the initial wedge between the USSR and China. But we still acted like they were the same thing (The World-Historical Inevitable Rise of Communism) until Nixon started treating them differently. I think that was a big deal because it helped kill off the idea that Russian Marxism-Leninism was the inevitable destiny of mankind, an idea which, quaint as it seems now, was still plenty current in the 70s. If there can be other flavors of Marxism, and they can have an equal seat at the table, then maybe some day there might also be NO flavors of Marxism to speak of at the table. Giving Nixon credit is hard, I know, but once in a while his satanic majesty did things right. (My favorite quote on Nixon, one that pretty much sums up the whole era in which that Gollumesque figure dominated our politics, is Gore Vidal's-- "Only Nixon could go to China, because only Nixon wouldn't have Nixon back home calling him soft on Communism.")

As for SDI-- wonderfully effective as a tool for scaring our enemies that the status quo of MAD might end one day, as long as it stayed in the testing phase. Let's hope it stays there forever.

Posted by: Mike G on January 26, 2004 07:53 AM

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The ballistic missile submarine deterrent point is a good one...

Posted by: Brad DeLong on January 26, 2004 07:53 AM

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Mike G,

Thank you for your kind comments.

You wrote, "I told them it was wrong to include Reagan and leave off the president who had by far the greatest influence on 20th century foreign policy-- including Reagan's-- Woodrow Wilson."

I don't know enough about Wilson's foreign policy to decide whether it was all just lip service. It's interesting to note, however, that he was the bastard who introduced Jim Crow into the US federal civilian workforce. (See Richard Kluger's _Simple Justice_, perhaps the authoritative work on the history of _Brown v. Board_.)

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on January 26, 2004 07:59 AM

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Gore Vidal had one other astute observation, both about Nixon and about the Cold War. Nixon, he said, was the first president to realize that "Communism was a failed system with few voluntary adherents." Nixon realized the implications of this and started (with some inconsistency) down a more restrained, less crusading foreign policy path that would let history, and the demise of the Soviet Union, work itself out.

Posted by: C.J.Colucci on January 26, 2004 08:14 AM

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"Why not Kissinger?"
Jeez, where to start? It almost suffices that say that Kissinger, by his own acknowledgement (and notwithstanding his latter day revisionism), never pursued the objective of "winning the Cold War". The architect of Detente was committed to a dogmatic foreign policy realism that valued stability (including the stability of the graveyard that prevailed behind the iron curtain) above all else. Kissinger is a uniquely disgusting figure in American history precisely because of his willingness to deploy radical foreign policy means (i.e. all manner of subterfuge and violence) in the service of an essentiallly mundane and amoral objective.

Posted by: JohnL on January 26, 2004 08:28 AM

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I disagree dramatically with john halasz:

First, human agency is real. Stalin directed the purges as surely as Mao led the Great Leap, and Kissinger pushed detente. It is often difficult to define an individual's specific contributions, but at key points people like those Brad lists made decisions that had outcomes that we can follow and identify for their importance in determining future events. Although, we may disagree over relative importance one over another we can agree that they had overlarge influence on the course that was taken.

Second, there is a tendency among those on the Western left to define all of the tragic Cold War side battles as unnecessary work of warped ideologues from the Western right. This line of thinking is ahistoric in its view. Vietnam, Chile, Korea and Cuba were each important for changing both how the Western countries perceived the world and showing levels of resolve to those in each Cold War sphere. They each set the stage for the next act and were pieces themselves of the reality which each side used to temper their views for the next tragic scene. Justifications and perceptions at each time were tempered and shaped by the events that had occurred before. Disagreeing with their necessity at the time certainly does not obviate their agency on events as they occurred. The actions and overreactions of those days help to define what actions we are willing to contemplate today. Think about the logic of the Powell Doctrine today without the lessons of Vietnam.

Third, it is a unique fiction to label Soviet plans as "hyper-aggressive defensiveness" when comintern's stated and known objective was world Communism. It is the same fiction used to place blame for all of the Cold War tragedies on the West, and to deny rationality to economic actions taken in the post-Cold War world. Only data mining for the most favorable writings can possibly support this view. Too many writings by former Soviet officers undermine this idea completely. Containment was necessary by the Soviet's own admissions.

Finally, despite the many tragedies played out around the globe in the many conflicts that made up the Cold War, it is clear that all those who survived were winners of the Cold War. Had the Cold War been lost, World War III was sure to have more tragic results than those the world actually did sustain.

Posted by: Stan on January 26, 2004 08:28 AM

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Woodrow Wilson!

Now there's a president who was really "out of it" in his second term. Nancy Reagan couldn't even dream of having the power Mrs. Wilson did.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on January 26, 2004 08:37 AM

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Brad wrote:

"I've been told (by people who ought to know) that Reagan was really out of it by his second term. Ford was a president."

I'm sure that the fact that Shultz was an academic economist with no particulalr love of social conservatism had NOTHING to do with the fact that you elevated his role in the winning of the Cold War above that of his boss who, "out of it" as he may have been, did manage to win one near landslide and one total landslide election on a foreign policy platform explicitly centered around aggressively confronting Soviet communism in terms that would have been considered shockingly blunt in polite Washington society at any point between roughly the mid 1960s and 1980. You reveal yourself to be too much of a technocrat if you fail to see that the ideals articulated by Reagan are what allowed George Shultz to become Secretary of State in the first place.


You are right to acknowledge the tremendous contribution toward the destruction of totalitarian communism played by people on both sides of the political spectrum in the years immediately after WWII. But you are naive if you think that there was no crisis of faith regarding the rightness or sustainability of anti-communism in the West in the years leading up to Reagan's election. Reagan's posturing toward the Soviets was considered radical, even though it was very much of a piece with the attitudes of the architects of the post-war consensus.

Also, Reagan's unwavering support of the Afghan resistance played an enourmous role in breaking the morale of the Soviet army (leaving aside the question of whether it did more harm than good by planting the seeds from which Al Quaeda grew - we are talking abou the Cold War here).

Posted by: sd on January 26, 2004 08:58 AM

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The thing about SDI is that it is immensely more expensive to defend against missles (sophisticated computers, software, satellites, etc.) than it is to outfox those defenses (flatter trajectories, less predictable flight paths, more missles) that SDI to some extent negated the comparative advantage the US had in money and technology. The Soviets could have spent comparatively less money and forced us to spend considerably more money. If they had really understood the technology I'm sure their response would have been "Bring it on!"

Posted by: Josh on January 26, 2004 09:25 AM

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“You reveal yourself to be too much of a technocrat if you fail to see that the ideals articulated by Reagan are what allowed George Shultz to become Secretary of State in the first place.” Ummm… Then how come Shultz managed to become Labor Secretary and Director of OMB without Reagan’s help? As regards Reagan’s own contribution, isn’t Gorby on record saying that Reagan’s bellicosity made it hard for him to back down the Soviet generals, that Reagan slowed the move away from confrontation that Gorby was trying to foster? Yes, some individual policy proposals from the Reagan cabinet did help end the cold war, but there is good reason to think others did not. The overall record seems far more mixed than argued by Reagan partisans.

Certainly, war and peace are issues over which politicians have more influence than economics, but even here, there were plenty of factors outside the control of politicians that contributed to the Soviet Union's demise. Oil prices, for one. The fact that higher oil prices, due to OPEC action, gave the Soviet Union a longer lease on life, and that subsequent lower oil prices highlighted the weakness of the Soviet economy, need a great deal more credit than most purely politics-based readings of the situation allow.

Posted by: K Harris on January 26, 2004 09:42 AM

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I'm no fan of Reagan. I would have voted against him, but I only became a US citizen in 1986. I do think, however, that he deserves a place among the ten--even if he was out of it during his second term. When Reagan was elected the Soviet government was quite worried about him and their reaction to his hardline during the first term accelerated the eventual collapse of the USSR.

Posted by: Nikolai on January 26, 2004 09:49 AM

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stan wrote, "First, human agency is real. Stalin directed the purges as surely as Mao led the Great Leap, and Kissinger pushed detente."

I completely agree human agency is real.

On the other hand, Kissinger's role in history is much more complicated than simply saying he "pushed detente." Let us note that (a) Kissinger (along with Nixon) helped spread the fire of the US/Vietnam war into Cambodia, which helped speed the rise of the Khmer Rouge. More directly, Kissinger greenlighted the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, which resulted in the murder of perhaps 200,000 (1/3 the population).

"Third, it is a unique fiction to label Soviet plans as 'hyper-aggressive defensiveness' when comintern's stated and known objective was world Communism. It is the same fiction used to place blame for all of the Cold War tragedies on the West, and to deny rationality to economic actions taken in the post-Cold War world. Only data mining for the most favorable writings can possibly support this view. Too many writings by former Soviet officers undermine this idea completely. Containment was necessary by the Soviet's own admissions."

Well, yes, the Soviets played a leading role in the Cold War, and if we had just offered various places up on a plate, they would have taken them. So what? That doesn't obviate the claim that the Soviet position was, in practice, largely "conservative". For example, Saddat kicked the Soviets out of Egypt, and they basically left without a fuss. Of course, that in no way contradicts other claims about Soviet barbarity.

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on January 26, 2004 10:09 AM

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K Harris wrote:

“You reveal yourself to be too much of a technocrat if you fail to see that the ideals articulated by Reagan are what allowed George Shultz to become Secretary of State in the first place.” Ummm… Then how come Shultz managed to become Labor Secretary and Director of OMB without Reagan’s help?"

But again, Shultz didn't get either of those jobs on his own either (Not that his role as Labor Secretary has anything to do with his role in ending the Cold War anyway.). He was appointed to these jobs be people who had won elections. The point I'm making is that to give all of the credit for an action to a political appointee, and none of the credit to the elected official who appointed him, is to elevate the value of technical expertise (which is of course essential) above that of political expetise (which is also of course essential). In this case it seems Brad is going out of his way to avoid giving credit to a man he probably holds in little regard (due to his fiscal policies and social conservatism), despite very strong evidense that had anyone else been President between 1980 and 1988 the Soviet Union would have hung around for quite a while longer. Do Reagan's admirers give him too much credit for winning the Cold War? Yes, probably. But does Brad give him too little credit? Almost certainly.

K Harris also wrote:

"As regards Reagan’s own contribution, isn’t Gorby on record saying that Reagan’s bellicosity made it hard for him to back down the Soviet generals, that Reagan slowed the move away from confrontation that Gorby was trying to foster?"

And Gorby is to be taken at face value in this matter? He has no interests of his own? No desire to be seen as the Prime Mover of the fall of Soviet communism himself, with all of the associated glory and fauning praise from liberal internationalists? Please. If Gorby's actions in liberalizing the Soviet Union are seen as an act of desperation in reaction to a renewed aggresive anti-communism on the part of the US, then he's just a supporting character in the drama. If his actions are seen as a proactive program initiaited in spite of Reagan's military buildup, pointed rhetoric, increased willingness to entertain the use of military force, etc., then he emerges as the most important geopolitical figure in the last quarter of the 20th century. What would you expect him to say?


Posted by: sd on January 26, 2004 10:14 AM

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Yet another pivotal figure left out of Brad's list is Pope John Paul II. It is almost certainly the case that without JPII there would have been no viable Solidarity movement in Poland, the first Eastern Bloc domino to fall. JPII's aggresive and courageous stance against the inhumanity of communism throughout the 1980s was critical in cementing the moral case against the Soviet system.

Posted by: sd on January 26, 2004 10:16 AM

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Good defense of the west, Stan. I love these people who can discuss our "crimes" in the Cold War in a vacuum in which there was never a Soviet Union, never a real threat, never any reason to worry-- even in Berlin. Nobody is more Americacentric than a Chomskyite or someone making similar arguments-- there literally is no other actor on the stage, only bad bad us.

Stephen Fromm, there is a LOT to not like about Wilson, especially on race relations. As a prominent historian, decades before he became the prez, he more than anyone created the myth of the noble cause, and all the states' right stuff that was used to downplay the centrality of slavery to the war. And in terms of foreign policy, in many ways he blew it, one of the most disastrous examples of a president melting down in office next to LBJ and Nixon. And yet, like LBJ, he does have real achievements; it was a Wilsonian century for America, and more adroit hands than his (FDR, Truman, Acheson, etc.) did what he could not.

However, I think you're wrong to say that the USSR's move in Egypt (which I admit I don't know much about) is evidence that they weren't expansionist. One, it's evidence that they were LESS expansionist in the 70s and 80s than in the 50s and 60s, but doesn't really say much about other eras. Two, what would they have done, invaded Egypt at that point? And you think Afghanistan was tough... Rolling into a nearby satellite state where a Communist government was in place like Czechoslovakia is one thing, invading a client state with its own government is another entirely.

Posted by: Mike G on January 26, 2004 10:33 AM

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SD-- it IS a list of Americans.

Posted by: Mike G on January 26, 2004 10:34 AM

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Mike G.:

Oops, my bad. My apologies to all.

Posted by: sd on January 26, 2004 10:42 AM

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Mike G wrote,

"However, I think you're wrong to say that the USSR's move in Egypt (which I admit I don't know much about) is evidence that they weren't expansionist. One, it's evidence that they were LESS expansionist in the 70s and 80s than in the 50s and 60s, but doesn't really say much about other eras. Two, what would they have done, invaded Egypt at that point? And you think Afghanistan was tough... Rolling into a nearby satellite state where a Communist government was in place like Czechoslovakia is one thing, invading a client state with its own government is another entirely."

Well, they *could* have tried to overthrow Saddat. Suppose it was the US Saddat had thrown out. Do you think the US would have refrained from getting rid of him? Given the US record, I myself find it hard to believe the US would have acted as the USSR did in this instance.

Please note I'm not arguing for some kind of "moral equivalence" between the USSR and the US, since it's not logically US could be a more benevolent power overall and yet be more expansionist per se.

"And yet, like LBJ, [Wilson] does have real achievements; it was a Wilsonian century for America..." But (in terms of Stan's reference to human agency) what did Wilson really do? I have one *concrete* data point: he was a racist who extended Jim Crow to Uncle Sam. Regarding foreign policy, what *concrete* action did he take?

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on January 26, 2004 10:51 AM

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Corrected typo:

Please note I'm not arguing for some kind of "moral equivalence" between the USSR and the US, since it's not logically inconsistent that the US could be a more benevolent power overall and yet be more expansionist per se.

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on January 26, 2004 10:52 AM

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Bravo. Nice to see Kennan so near the top ... so often he is forgotten. Yet he was the first to realize and agressively argue that the Soviet system was inherently unstable and would collapse if "contained".

Two items that might be missing:

1) The role of oil. The main reason the Soviet Union was able to keep functioning despite the massively ineffience economic system was the steady influx of "hard" currency through oil exports. The exports ended in the 80s due to scarcity of easy reserves, and of the lack of advanced technology to exploit what remained. I have been told, but don't have a reference, that the Reagan administration took many actions in the 80s to cut the flow of oil dollars to the Soviet Union, including the deflating of global oil prices.

2) I wonder if Gorbachov doesn't deserve a mention, much as DeKlerk does in the end of Apartheid. It wasn't as if, like on of the posters above implied, he just sat and watched the dissolution of the satellite states ... he took and active behind-the-scenes role in laying the groundwork and making it come to pass. For example, in 1989 (September, I think) Erich Honecker was making serious noises about applying the "Tianamen solution" to the protests in E. Germany. Gorby paid Honecker a state visit, and after a brief delay for appearances, Honecker suddenly resigned ... leading immediately to the fall of the wall.

Posted by: Moniker on January 26, 2004 10:56 AM

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Reagan + Thatcher + Mitterand + Kohl?

Posted by: BigMacAttack on January 26, 2004 11:15 AM

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Via a friend who'd probably rather cut his own fingers off than comment on a blog:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/gergen/kennan.html

Posted by: Doctor Memory on January 26, 2004 11:27 AM

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I wonder what a list of those least responsible for winning the Cold War would look like.

I suggest

FDR- He let Stalin have Eastern Europe

Truman- Sure he dropped the bomb but he then dropped the ball in building the military resulting in the Korean failure giving psychological aid to the enemy and we're still paying the price.

LBJ- He committed to a war he felt he could not win all for electoral politics again giving psychological aid to the enemy.

Jimmy Carter- Every tough situation is to be negotiated at all costs although he never saw the need to negotiate from a position of strength. He simply could not make the moral distinction between the two sides. Winning was not in his vocabulary.

Posted by: Brian on January 26, 2004 11:29 AM

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Regarding Soviets and SDI, Josh wrote: `If they had really understood the technology I'm sure their response would have been "Bring it on!" '

Gorbachev did have good science advisors, and appears to have listened to them, so he evidently he did understand that SDI wouldn't do what Reagan and Weinberger claimed it would. My understanding was that he opposed SDI because of its destabilizing influence, and the main destabilizing influence was that the US might believe that SDI could handle an attack from a reduced arsenal, i.e., SDI gave the US first strike incentive. Sakarhov disagreed with Gorbachev about the importance of limiting SDI development (S thought it could be tabled and dealt with later after more important arsenal reductions), primarily because he didn't believe the US could be so crazy as to think it would actually work. He wrote a piece in TIME that pretty much showed how much it was common knowledge (to those who wanted knowledge) in the Soviet Union and the US that SDI wasn't workable:

http://www.time.com/time/daily/chernobyl/870316.sakharov.html

Posted by: Ben Vollmayr-Lee on January 26, 2004 11:54 AM

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Shame on me for butchering the spelling of Sakharov. And I'm a physicist!

Posted by: Ben Vollmayr-Lee on January 26, 2004 12:26 PM

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Posted by wcw at January 25, 2004 10:30 PM:
Leopold, let me understand: to you, a late-'40s land war in China would have been but a trifle for the US, had it only had sufficiently manly leadership. do I have that right?

Are you saying the Communist victroy in China was inevitable? That would be a first. It was an accident in Russia and forced by the Soviet troops elsewhere. What in your mind makes China so uniquely qualified for the Communism?

Posted by: Leopold on January 26, 2004 12:43 PM

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"Regarding foreign policy, what *concrete* action did [Woodrow Wilson] take?"

Uh, besides WINNING World War I?

If you want to see his monument, look around you.

The whole idea of an international order, a UN, an IMF, so many of these things are the Wilsonian impulse in American foreign policy. No, they didn't entirely start with him, nor did he carry them off particularly well compared to FDR or even Nixon. But even in losing the peace after the war, he set the terms of how foreign policy would be carried out for the rest of the century. Or to put Wilson's achievement in Brad's administrator-centric terms:

1A. Walter Lippman: wrote Wilson's Fourteen Points, which became the paradigm for international relations and the standard by which Soviet power could be judged illegitimate in the West.

Posted by: Mike G on January 26, 2004 12:51 PM

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None of the accomplishments of the top ten would have meant anything had Mikhail Gorbachev not risen to power in the mid 1980s. I believe we in the West - and especially in the US - have tended to overstate the influence we could have on Moscow.

Gorbachev came to power at a time when economic stagnation in the USSR had reached the point where it was no longer certain the country could "muddle through" as in the past. Gorbachev's insight was that improving the economic situation required foreign technology and domestic intellectual ferment. Accordingly he launched glasnost, brought Sakharov back to Moscow from Gorkii, let Solzhenitsyn be published freely, urged a frank examination of the Stalin purges, and announced that Russia was open for business, including hoped-for membership in those formerly "evil" imperialist institutions: the IMF, World Bank, and GATT (now WTO).

Most importantly, Gorbachev ended the oppressive rule begun under Lenin and expanded to Eastern Europe after WWII. Totalitarian states operate on fear; without it they cannot survive. Once Soviet dissidents and Eastern European governments realized there would be no punishment for dissent, no gulag, no sending of tanks as in 1956 and 1968, freedom was only a matter of time.

Gorbachev's predecessors, Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko, were ossified Communist Party men with no understanding of the changes the Soviet regime needed. Another one of their type might have meant years in which we faced an increasingly desperate, economically deteriorating USSR that used terrorism and other forms of violence to counter the West. The USSR and the world were fortunate to get Gorbachev.

Posted by: Lisa on January 26, 2004 01:02 PM

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Stephen, I believe Brad can't bring himself to list Kissinger so he lists Ford. Whatever else Kissinger did I believe detente was the root of what little internal leverage the West enjoyed. We can argue about the names on the list, but it is a reasonable start from a U.S. view.

In fact though, the Cold War ended because the Soviet reformers chose to let it end. I believe those arguing an end was due under any course are greatly underselling the incredible nature of Gorbachev's (and his followers) decisions. The internal contradictions did not have to lead to the end that occurred. People have gripped power despite much more appalling costs than economic stagnation. Throughout history, they normally do so when democratic traditions are not already in place. Gorbachev's actions are no less remarkable than General Washington's in that respect.

Posted by: Stan on January 26, 2004 01:24 PM

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Touche, Lisa...:)

Posted by: Stan on January 26, 2004 01:27 PM

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Are you saying the Communist victroy in China was inevitable? That would be a first. It was an accident in Russia and forced by the Soviet troops elsewhere. What in your mind makes China so uniquely qualified for the Communism?

Posted by Leopold at January 26, 2004 12:43 PM

Leopold, are you saying that we had the ability to hold off Russia and invade China? Are you suggesting that U.S. voters had the appetite even if we had the ability? If you believe U.S. voters had the appetite, why do you think we used nukes in Japan?

Posted by: Stan on January 26, 2004 01:40 PM

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apologiae in advance to all save Leopold for the pedantic tone that follows.

Leopold, you are making the affirmative case that a sufficiently manly US foreign policy would have saved China from Communism. the affirmative always has the burden of proof. trying to weasel your way out of it is only slightly less cowardly rhetorically than putting words in my mouth and challenging me to defend them.

as you criticize past leaders for lacking balls, perhaps you might exhibit a few of your own and take up the affirmative burden.

Posted by: wcw on January 26, 2004 01:40 PM

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Leopold writes: Are you saying the Communist victroy in China was inevitable? That would be a first. It was an accident in Russia and forced by the Soviet troops elsewhere. What in your mind makes China so uniquely qualified for the Communism?

The corruption and incompetence of the Kuomintang.
For a government and social system to be overthrown is really quite rare, and requires monumental stupidity and bad judgement on the part of the rulers.

Posted by: Steven Rogers on January 26, 2004 02:11 PM

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Brian wrote, "FDR- He let Stalin have Eastern Europe".

What a total crock. Stalin won Eastern Europe, or most of Eastern Europe, the hard way---by killing German soldiers.

A few months ago I finally decided to do the computation I'd thought about for a long time: the ratio of German casualties inflicted by the Soviets versus the Western allies. The ratio ran from about 6:1 to 8:1, depending on the figures one uses. WWII was mostly won by Soviet, not Western, blood. (Yes, I realize that a lot of *Soviet* casualties were inflicted by the NKVD-or-whatever-it-was-called-then on the Soviet troops. But I'm looking at *German* casualties.)

Sure, it's lamentable that Stalin wound up with control of Eastern Europe, but pretending that it was FDR's to "give away" is just idiotic.

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on January 26, 2004 04:46 PM

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Brian wrote, "Truman- Sure he dropped the bomb but he then dropped the ball in building the military resulting in the Korean failure giving psychological aid to the enemy and we're still paying the price."

Huh? The Korean "failure" was largely due to the US pushing too far towards the Chinese border, getting China involved in the war.

"LBJ- He committed to a war he felt he could not win all for electoral politics again giving psychological aid to the enemy."

Bizarre. The roots of US involvement in Vietnam go back to Eisenhower giving the French military aid in the French-Indochinese War (though perhaps our involvement there predated even Eisenhower).

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on January 26, 2004 04:50 PM

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Stan wrote, "Stephen, I believe Brad can't bring himself to list Kissinger so he lists Ford. Whatever else Kissinger did I believe detente was the root of what little internal leverage the West enjoyed. We can argue about the names on the list, but it is a reasonable start from a U.S. view."

You might be right about detente and leverage, from the little I know about these things (like Helsinki). But then one should show that Kissinger and not others is primarily responsible.

"In fact though, the Cold War ended because the Soviet reformers chose to let it end."

True.

"I believe those arguing an end was due under any course are greatly underselling the incredible nature of Gorbachev's (and his followers) decisions."

Yes, Gorbachev was clearly important.

"The internal contradictions did not have to lead to the end that occurred. People have gripped power despite much more appalling costs than economic stagnation. Throughout history, they normally do so when democratic traditions are not already in place."

True.

"Gorbachev's actions are no less remarkable than General Washington's in that respect."

True...

But that would largely be making the case that the credit for ending the Cold War belongs to Gorby, not the Americans on the list. :-)

But in a way, it really *is* the result of internal contradictions. Gorby and his ilk (I don't mean "ilk" perjoratively) were educated in a different USSR, post-Stalinist, and so forth. Enough to value what *we'd* consider real human welfare, and so forth; and far enough removed from Stalin and WWII...that they *didn't* "...grip[] power despite [the] appalling costs..." Though I'd certainly agree with your point about agency (this thread?)---the notion that individuals play no role in history is clearly wrong, at least on the timescales we're talking about (versus 10^2 or 10^3 years, where perhaps individuals don't matter much).

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on January 26, 2004 05:00 PM

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"Stalin won Eastern Europe, or most of Eastern Europe, the hard way---by killing German soldiers."

Just remember he got his first part of Eastern Europe the easy way -- by divvying it up with German soldiers whom he was happy to ally with and supply. And he'd have happily kept doing so if the Germans hadn't turned on him, to his shock and horror.


Posted by: Jim Glass on January 26, 2004 05:13 PM

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Jim Glass wrote, "Just remember he got his first part of Eastern Europe the easy way -- by divvying it up with German soldiers whom he was happy to ally with and supply."

Relevance?

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on January 26, 2004 07:11 PM

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>>I believe Brad can't bring himself to list Kissinger so he lists Ford.<<

I've been told that Kissinger thought that the "rights" basket at Helsinki was pointless garbage--that it was Ford who insisted on pushing for it.

Posted by: Brad DeLong on January 26, 2004 08:40 PM

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Stephen J Fromm
"WWII was mostly won by Soviet, not Western, blood."

Pithy and partly true, but really not at all how the war (or any war) is won.

WWII was won by the Allies (mostly the US) out-producing material goods. A goodly portion of which were shipped to the USSR. Spilling blood will win battles. Logistics will win the war.

I'm NOT saying the USSR didn't do it's share, or that the casualty rate on the Eastern front wasn't appalling. But absent logistic support from the West, the USSR might still be camped out East of the Urals. They could not have taken Eastern Europe.

Posted by: Brian on January 26, 2004 09:47 PM

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Stan writes: Leopold, are you saying that we had the ability to hold off Russia and invade China?

I am saying that an assumption that the Communist victory in China was inevitable is completely crazy. And that given the significance of China the amount of effort US spent on supporting Nationalists was insufficient. Like McCarthy said 'another case of following the Lattimore advice of "let them fall but don't let it appear that we pushed them."' Of course, now we know that Lattimore was a traitor.

Posted by: Leopold on January 26, 2004 09:56 PM

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Mr. Fromm-"The Korean "failure" was largely due to the US pushing too far towards the Chinese border, getting China involved in the war."

Truman let the military go to crap post-WWII then decided to make war. I call that immoral and reckless. He also failed.

You also absolve LBJ for Viet Nam-"The roots of US involvement in Vietnam go back to Eisenhower giving the French military aid in the French-Indochinese War (though perhaps our involvement there predated even Eisenhower)."

LBJ decided to escalate into full blown war in Viet Nam and he's on tape telling a fellow Dem he had to do it to show his toughness on communism although he knew he could not win. Again, immoral and he(amongst others) failed.

Do you have some better choices?

Posted by: Brian on January 26, 2004 11:16 PM

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Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher did as much as those ten Americans combined. America was important in the cold war for its high-tech weaponry and its industrial might. Neither of those was the creation of the above individuals. The Cold War was won in spite of America's blundering and incompetent statescraft, not because of it.

Posted by: Brit troll on January 27, 2004 02:27 AM

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Stephen, I didn't mean to make it seem like that second paragraph was directed at you. My apologies.

Posted by: Stan on January 27, 2004 09:57 AM

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Brian wrote, "Truman let the military go to crap post-WWII then decided to make war. I call that immoral and reckless. He also failed."

I disagree. Our military did fine until China got into the war. If we hadn't pushed as far north as we did, we probably would have kept most of the peninsula.

"You also absolve LBJ for Viet Nam...LBJ decided to escalate into full blown war in Viet Nam and he's on tape telling a fellow Dem he had to do it to show his toughness on communism although he knew he could not win. Again, immoral and he(amongst others) failed."

I'm hardly absolving LBJ of the war. I'm claiming that the roots of the war predate LBJ. It's possible that a Republican administration would not have gotten as involved. There's little justification for the claim that JFK wouldn't have gotten more involved.

LBJ failed? Depends on how you measure failure. Absent atom-bombing, there really wasn't any way to "take" Vietnam, and it wasn't ours for the taking.

You seem to be conflating many issues in your posts:
(1) The more general policy of making decisions based on the domino effect;
(2) Deciding whether to intervene in a given region;
(3) Deciding the level of commitment to a given conflict.

You're also omitting other US actions. Let me pick three:
* Suharto's takeover in Indonesia (1965, IIRC), which involved the murder of 200,000 - 1 million mostly unarmed people, some Communists, some Chinese---which Washington and the "West" applauded;
* The overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala;
* The overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran.

What do you think of the moral and strategic implications of *those* actions, and perhaps more importantly (in the case of the last two) their repercussions?

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on January 27, 2004 10:07 AM

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I am saying that an assumption that the Communist victory in China was inevitable is completely crazy. And that given the significance of China the amount of effort US spent on supporting Nationalists was insufficient. Like McCarthy said 'another case of following the Lattimore advice of "let them fall but don't let it appear that we pushed them."' Of course, now we know that Lattimore was a traitor.

Posted by Leopold at January 26, 2004 09:56 PM

Leopold, wcw is right. You need to show why additional resources would have helped the Kuomintang. As Steven points out, the narrowness of the Kuomintang's support base means that you have an uphill climb.

I personally think additional help would have been self-defeating. Much of the support for the Chinese Communists was nationalistic. I believe it is reasonable to assume that an increase in our presence or assistance would have likely made it harder for the Kuomintang to mobilize men to fight, while greatly energizing the nationalism undergirding Mao's support base. I don't believe U.S. voters would have allowed us the leeway for U.S. troop involvement in any case.

Posted by: Stan on January 27, 2004 10:39 AM

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Could someone please e-mail me a link to an article which goes about explaining the Helsinki Accords like this? I wasn't yet born, and I haven't heard hooey about this amidst the rampant Reagan-fawning.

Posted by: Josh Narins on January 27, 2004 11:50 AM

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I would definitely put Nixon on the list. The China visit was major. The relationship between
Beijing and Moscow had badly deteriorated and Nixon used that moment to break thru. He inserted the US into the middle and widened the gulf between China and Russia. Carter's recognizing
China was also major but Nixon had already laid the groundwork.

Reagan. I'll grant you the rhetoric changed but
it was still the policy of containment. It was also blatantly obvious that Gorbachev was making overtures. Reagan was quite slow to take them.

Yeltsin could have been on that list if sobriety had not eluded him so much.

In Monica Crowley's book "Nixon Off The Record" The guy Nixon credits with winning the Cold War?
Truman. Go figure.

Posted by: Daryl on January 27, 2004 11:53 AM

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>>I would definitely put Nixon on the list. The China visit was major. The relationship between
Beijing and Moscow had badly deteriorated and Nixon used that moment to break thru. He inserted the US into the middle and widened the gulf between China and Russia.<<

But Nixon had spent the previous twenty years making it politically impossible for anybody else to try to split China from Russia. No! No! A thousand times no! Richard Nixon is evil! Evil!! EVIL!!!

Posted by: Brad DeLong on January 27, 2004 01:58 PM

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" Reagan. I'll grant you the rhetoric changed but
it was still the policy of containment."

Not according to the originator of the idea, George Kennan. He was highly critical of Reagan's policies. As were Nixon, Kissinger, Jimmy Carter, Helmudt Schmidt, and even Maggie Thatcher (over the aggressive stand toward the USSR and Poland in 1981). The cowboy rode into town alone and cleaned out the saloon. Just like John Wayne in the movies.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on January 27, 2004 04:48 PM

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"WWII was won by the Allies (mostly the US) out-producing material goods. A goodly portion of which were shipped to the USSR. Spilling blood will win battles. Logistics will win the war.

I'm NOT saying the USSR didn't do it's share, or that the casualty rate on the Eastern front wasn't appalling. But absent logistic support from the West, the USSR might still be camped out East of the Urals. They could not have taken Eastern Europe"

This kind of thinking about WWII is becoming more and more frequent. I like to label it the "Band of Brothers" version of WWII. Were basically the USA won WWII along with some help from some Allies. It over-estimates the contribution if the United States and under-estimates the contribution of the Allies - USSR and Commonwealth.
For a contrast in artistic visions of WWII see John Waynes The Longest Day, which goes out of its way to stress the international co-operation that made victory possible.

The reason this is relevant is that this Overestimated view of Americas contribution in WWII leads to an overestimation of what America can accomplish, alone today. The result is dangerous choices and rash use of American Forces by policy makers, to resolved foreign policy conflicts.

It is interesting that the United States has lost the military conflict in which it had few or no Allies, such as Vietnam. Conflicts were the US has nurtured Allies, WWI, WWII, Korea, were victories.

Go-alone pundits focus on the "weakness" of Presidents to explain foreign policy failures. My argument is that more basic strategic principles are always behind the success or failure of any military intervention and that rhetoric about "being tough" aren't good enough to secure victory.

PS - Only about 10% of USSR economic activity during WWII was through Allied aid. American GMC trucks were the most valuable component of that aid.

Posted by: Scott McArthur on January 28, 2004 09:19 AM

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Describing is not knowing.

Posted by: Sakano Jennifer Goldsborough on March 17, 2004 05:24 PM

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Truth is a kind and gentle lie.

Posted by: Weinberg Gregg on May 2, 2004 12:54 PM

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A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.

Posted by: Lachman Dave on May 3, 2004 12:27 AM

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Buildings burn. People die. But real love is forever.

Posted by: Combs Charles on May 20, 2004 02:16 AM

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Newness is relative.

Posted by: Brewton Molly on June 2, 2004 08:46 PM

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Underestimation is a two-way street.

Posted by: Rosenberg Julia on June 30, 2004 05:54 AM

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