On Sunday, December 7th, Michael O’Hanlon and Jeremy Shapiro published, in the Washington Post, a column calling for the appeasement of Russia and its leader, Vladamir Putin. Its title “Crafting a win-win-win for Russia, Ukraine and the West” brings to mind nothing so much as the phrase “Peace in Our Time.” Paul Roderick Gregory has an excellent point-by-point rebuttal to the authors’ call to compromise here. In short, O’Hanlon and Shapiro advocate that the United States comprise its leadership, moral authority and credibility on a wing and a prayer that Putin will reciprocate US compromise with concessions of his own. History and evidence, apparently, be damned.
Speaking of history, what struck me, immediately, upon reading the O’Hanlon/Shapiro piece was how similar its proposals were, in their tenor and assumptions, to another US-Russian (Soviet) agreement, struck nearly 70 years ago, where the United States accepted words on paper from Russia. We paid up-front with concrete concessions and we were stiffed on the back-end of the transaction with Russia simply declining to adhere to its commitments (actually, it actively subverted them). The results were tragic, for the people of Poland and for U.S. credibility. We looked like fools.
O’Hanlon & Shapiro, taking a page from Marx, would repeat history, with the attendant tragedy, asking for future commitments while providing Russia with immediate benefits under the belief that doing so will bring peace.
Russia can make its historically based claim on Crimea but would have to accept a binding referendum under outside monitoring that would determine the region’s future, with independence as one option.
Now let’s look at the text of Yalta:
A new situation has been created in Poland as a result of her complete liberation by the Red Army. This calls for the establishment of a Polish Provisional Government which can be more broadly based than was possible before the recent liberation of the western part of Poland. The Provisional Government which is now functioning in Poland should therefore be reorganized on a broader democratic basis with the inclusion of democratic leaders from Poland itself and from Poles abroad. This new Government should then be called the Polish Provisional Government of National Unity.
M. Molotov, Mr. Harriman and Sir A. Clark Kerr are authorized as a commission to consult in the first instance in Moscow with members of the present Provisional Government and with other Polish democratic leaders from within Poland and from abroad, with a view to the reorganization of the present Government along the above lines. This Polish Provisional Government of National Unity shall be pledged to the holding of free and unfettered elections as soon as possible on the basis of universal suffrage and secret ballot. In these elections all democratic and anti-Nazi parties shall have the right to take part and to put forward candidates. [emphasis added]
The three heads of Government consider that the eastern frontier of Poland should follow the Curzon Line with digressions from it in some regions of five to eight kilometers in favor of Poland. They recognize that Poland must receive substantial accessions in territory in the north and west. They feel that the opinion of the new Polish Provisional Government of National Unity should be sought in due course of the extent of these accessions and that the final delimitation of the western frontier of Poland should thereafter await the peace conference.
And now let’s look at what actually happened:
First, the allies gave the USSR nearly half of Poland. Since the USSR was already there, it would have been hard to remove them, but the allies went a step further and legitimized the annexation. In return, they asked for a representative government in Poland. However, they agreed to let the provisional government’s contours be dictated by Stalin, ensuring a communist-dominated regime that was allied with Moscow. The communists then rigged elections throughout the country and took complete control.
The result of Yalta was that Poland became a puppet regime of the Soviet empire. Would it have happened anyway with Soviet armies positioned as they were? Probably. But the West legitimized the action and gave it cover by agreeing, in return for a few promises that it was clear Stalin would never honor, to allow the Soviets to dominate the country. It is striking just how similar in tone and content the first element of the O’Hanlon/Shapiro proposal is to what was agreed upon at Yalta.
I don’t know what would make O’Hanlon & Shapiro believe, based upon the last fifteen years, that Putin will honor his commitments or mollify his behavior in response to U.S. acquiescence on the Ukraine. He is a thug sitting atop a corrupt and brutal regime that assassinates reporters and represses its own people as a matter of course. I can only conclude that they are hopelessly naïve, as were so many scholars during the Soviet era. When Roosevelt brokered the Yalta agreement, he returned to inform Congress “I come from the Crimean Conference with a firm belief that we have made a good start on the road to a world of peace.” He was wrong, and so are O’Hanlon and Shapiro.