We must not write into the Constitution of the world society a license to universal intervention. For if we license it, we shall invite it. If we invite it, we shall get it. - Walter Lippmann, U.S. War Aims, 1944
Source: Ronald Steele, Walter Lippman and the American Century (New York: Vintage Books, 1980), Chapter 32, pp. 404-417
THIS was to be, most people assumed, the second chance to make the world safe for democracy. Wilson's vision of an international community resting on collective security and a League of Nations to punish transgressors had become the dictum of the day. Wendell Willkie, on his return from a tour of Russia and China in late 1942, found a "reservoir of good will" that could, as he described it in One World, "unify the peoples of the earth in the human quest for freedom and justice." Americans responded to this inspiring vision by buying a million copies of his hook--making it a phenomenon in publishing history, if not in political thought. Sumner Welles, Hull's deputy and FDR's trigger man at the State Department, declared that the principles of the Atlantic Charter "must be guaranteed to the world as a whole in all the oceans and all the continents." By whom and how he did not say. Many believed, as Henry Luce explained, that the United States would "assume the leadership of the world" and inaugurate what he modestly labeled "the American Century." No less expansively, and even more vaguely, Vice-President Henry Wallace foresaw a "people's revolution" culminating in the "century of the common man."
Lippmann, having shed his clinging Wilsonianism after Ethiopia and Munich, did not share the idealists' faith that the great powers would submit to the wishes of a numerical majority. Distressed by one-world euphoria and by FDR's refusal to draw the outlines of a settlement before the end of the war, he decided to write a small book. Cutting back his column from three days a week to two, and working at a furious pace, he put together his thoughts on what the postwar policy of the United States should be. In April 1943, barely four months after he had first discussed the idea with his editor, the first bound volumes of U.S. Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic began rolling off the press.
The prosaic title concealed some explosive ideas. Repudiating much of what he had earlier believed, Lippmann proposed a very un-Wilsonian view of the world. His conclusions, he confessed, had come "slowly over thirty years, and as a result of many false starts, mistaken judgments and serious disappointments. They represent what I now think I have learned, not at all what I always knew." Having completed the book, he wrote, in a rare admission, 'I am much better aware than I was before writing it how wide has been the gap between my own insight and my own hindsight."
Deliberately rejecting the idealists' belief in world law and international parliaments, Lippmann grounded his policy in national interest and alliances. "If there is to be peace in our time," he maintained, "it will have to be peace among sovereign national states." That being the case, nations must seek security by forming combinations with other states. The failure of the Europeans to unite against Hitler had nearly led to Nazi domination of the entire continent. The lesson was clear: the wartime Allies--America, Britain, Russia--must remain united after the defeat of Germany and Japan. "The failure to form an alliance of the victors will mean the formation of alliances between the vanquished and some of the victors." This had happened after 1919; it could happen again. Only through alliance could the great powers assure their security. Britain and America must remain linked by the Atlantic connection, while Russia must be brought into what he called the "nuclear alliance."
Without a common enemy the Russian-American alliance would inevitably be subject to strain. How could Russia be prevented from expanding its power westward in a way that would threaten the security of the Atlantic community? The answer, he maintained, lay in a political accord between Russia and the West that did not require an American military intervention to sustain it. Lippmann's analysis rested, not on goodwill or sentimentality, but on self-interest: both Russian and Western security needs would have to be taken into account. It was "inconceivable" that the Red Army would ever again tolerate anti-Russian regimes on the Soviet border. This meant that the West must not try to rebuild the prewar cordon sanitaire of anti-Soviet states in Eastern Europe. There simply was no way to carry out such a policy. Eastern Europe would have to be neutral. A viable settlement depended on "whether the border states will adopt a policy of neutralization, and whether Russia will respect and support it."
The message of U.S. Foreign Policy was phrased in a language that everyone could understand. The prose was simple, the analogies revealing, the argument direct. The book came out at a time when Americans were looking for a guidepost. The isolationist era was over. The path ahead was uncharted and murky. The thesis that peace rested on great-power cooperation, not on world parliaments and pacts to outlaw war, was straightforward. Lippmann's appeal for a policy of "realism" resting on a hard calculation of the "national interest" and not on an "abstract theory of our rights and duties" seemed direct and practical. And his dictum that a workable foreign policy "consists in bringing into balance, with a comfortable surplus of power in reserve, the nation's commitments and the nation's power" became a classic definition. The argument seemed irrefutable, although it failed to explain whether, if the two factors were out of balance, power should be increased to match the commitments, or commitments reduced to match available power. In essence it seemed to mean simply: don't bite off more than you can chew. Its corollary seemed equally simple: don't chew more than you can swallow.
An instant success, U.S. Foreign Policy quickly climbed to the top of best-seller lists and sold nearly half a million copies. The Reader's Digest printed a condensation and told its readers that "no more important hook has been written for Americans in a generation." The Ladies' Home Journal worked a wondrous transformation by reducing the book to seven pages of cartoon strips. The U.S. armed forces distributed a twenty-five-cent paperback edition to the troops. The book appeared around the world in a dozen languages. Lippmann's formula of great-power cooperation seemed a realistic alternative both to bankrupt isolationism and to wishful universalism.
Not everyone was pleased. State Department official Breckenridge Long sent his boss, Cordell Hull, a thirty-page memo challenging Lippmann's argument. Senator Robert Taft told the American Bar Association that "if world federalism was impractical, a postwar military alliance as advocated by Walter Lippmann and others was frightening." Any Anglo-American accord to police the world would create a "profession of militarists" and induce the United States to "occupy all the strategic points in the world and try to maintain a force so preponderant that none shall dare attack us. . . . Potential power over other nations, however benevolent its purpose," Taft warned, "leads inevitably to imperialism. "
Lippmann was not oblivious to that danger, but opposed Taft's appeal for a withdrawal to Fortress America. He also resisted Jacques Maritain's preference for the "heroic ideal" of world federalism. "Security against great aggression, and not the promotion of civilization, is the function of the great power alliance," Lippmann told the exiled French philosopher. "Such an alliance would be not only intolerable, but altogether unworkable if the allied great powers took upon themselves more than the specific and limited function . . of providing security against world conquerors." Only a diplomacy of self-interest would provide insurance against the "insidious temptation of imperialism," he insisted, while more transcendent goals would lead to a "new version of Kipling and the white man's burden."
While the Wilsonians wanted a new league based on collective security, Lippmann feared, as he wrote professor Quincy Wright, that any organization committed to suppress aggression, "directed against everybody in general and nobody in particular, would quickly develop a pro- and anti-Russian alignment," since the first area of contention would be the states along Russia's frontiers. "The great object of international organization in the next generation is to hold together the alliance and to hold it together at almost any cost," he underlined. "I want to find ways of binding together the Allies which are sure to bind them, and I do not believe they will be successfully bound together by any general covenant." His position, reiterated in scores of T&T columns, was classic: security is based on power, not on abstract principles. Alliances and spheres of influence, not majority votes in an international assembly, would govern nations' behavior.
This notion seemed unduly cynical to those brought up on Wilsonian idealism and a conviction that only Europeans had colonies, client states, and spheres of influence. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., grandson of the man who had led the fight against the league, spoke for many in proclaiming that America must lead the world because it alone harbored no imperial ambitions. Lippmann felt obliged to give the senator an elementary lesson in international politics. "You say that Britain has a very practical national aim, which is to maintain the Empire, but that we have no such practical aim," he wrote Lodge. "In fact, in this respect we have exactly the same definite practical aim as Britain: we too intend to maintain our pre-war position--in Alaska, Hawaii, the Philippines, in the Caribbean, and in South America. The British aim to hold what she had is so obviously our own aim too that it is universally taken for granted and outside the bounds of discussion."
While most critics saw U.S. Foreign Policy as an attack on One Worldism, the book was also a warning against missionary interventionism to set the world right. "I am more and more convinced that it is just as important to define the limit beyond which we will not intervene as it is to convince our people that we cannot find security in an isolationist party," Lippmann wrote Hugh Wilson, former ambassador to Germany, then on duty with the Office of Strategic Services. The "primary aim" of American responsibility was the basin of the Atlantic on both sides, and the Pacific islands--in other words, the Atlantic community plus a "blue-water" strategy of naval bases and roaming fleets. Outside these regions there should be no permanent military or political comrnitments.
U.S. Foreign Policy posited two main conditions for the postwar world: great-power cooperation in a "nuclear" alliance, and neutrality for Eastern Europe between the Soviet Union and the West. Little noticed at the time was Lippmann's introduction of the still-embryonic concept of "national security." For him it meant simply the protection of the United States and the preservation of its democratic institutions. Later, in the hands of James Forrestal and his successors at the Pentagon and the State Department, it was to become the basis for a doctrine of globalism that Lippmann spent the last years of his life decrying.
By the time U.S. Foreign Policy appeared in the spring of 1943, serious tension had developed between Russia on the one hand, and Britain and America on the other. The Allies were at odds over the continued delay of the promised second front - which left the Soviets carrying the brunt of the land war against Germany. They also disagreed over the question of cooperation with the Vichyites in North Africa, over FDR's insistence on including China among the Big Four, and above all over the future of Germany and Eastern Europe. The second-front problem was settled at Tehran in November 1943 when FDR promised that the cross-Channel invasion would take place no later than the spring of 1944. The Vichy problem was resolved when De Gaulle outflanked the hapless Giraud and assumed full control over France's armed forces.
The problem of Eastern Europe, however, moved to center stage. At Tehran Stalin had made it clear that he intended to incorporate the Baltic states into the Soviet Union and ensure that Poland would never again fall into anti-Soviet hands. He wanted, in other words, a Russian sphere of influence. The Americans professed to be shocked by such a cynical notion, conveniently ignoring their own privileged zone in Latin America and the Pacific. But to Lippmann it seemed clear that the Soviets could not be denied dominant influence in an area they deemed vital to their security. The United States might be very powerful, but it simply could not set up governments everywhere in the world corresponding to its notions of propriety.
"We must not make the error of thinking that the alternative to 'isolation' is universal 'intervention,' " he wrote shortly after FDR's return from Tehran. "A diplomacy which pretended that we were interested in every disputed region everywhere would easily disrupt the alliance." In answer to those who saw the proposed United Nations as an instrument for containing Russia, he insisted that peace had to rest on great-power cooperation and respect for spheres of influence. It was "not only unavoidable but eminently proper that each great power does have a sphere in which its influence and responsibility are primary." To deny that reality would be simply to indulge in "the pretense, wholly illusory and dangerously confusing, that every state has an identical influence, interest, power and responsibility everywhere. " Events were pushing Lippmann beyond the thesis of U.S. Foreign Policy, where he had argued that Eastern Europe should be neutralized. Now he realized that, like it or not, the region would fall under control of the dominant power--and that meant the Soviet Union.
To spur American thinking about the postwar settlement, he decided he must write a sequel to his earlier book. U.S. War Aims, as he called the new book, came off the presses in the summer of 1944, as British and American armies were at last on the beaches of France, and the Western assault on the Reich had begun. In U.S. War Aims he now accepted a Soviet sphere in Eastern Europe--thus reversing the neutrality he had urged in U.S. Foreign Policy--and proposed a series of orbits to prevent Japan and Germany from instigating a new war: an Atlantic orbit, a Soviet orbit, and an eventual Chinese orbit. Together, the great powers could keep the peace; divided, they would be drawn into a third world war. Downgrading ideology, Lippmann maintained that although America and Russia could not have harmonious relations so long as they remained pledged to different value systems, they could at least achieve a modus vivendi based on compromise.
Again he stressed that peace lay in great-power cooperation, not in resolutions from international assemblies. "We cannot repeat the error of counting upon a world organization to establish peace," he warned. "The responsibility for order rests upon the victorious governments. They cannot delegate this responsibility to a world society which does not yet exist or has just barely been organized." Peace could be guarded only by those with the power to maintain it. Wilson had got his priorities backward. Dismembering existing states to promote self-determination had led to anarchy and war. The idea that nations should be forbidden to protect their interests and preserve their integrity was a prejudice "formed in the Age of Innocence, in the century of American isolation." Now he saw self-determination as a reactionary doctrine that denied the ideal that diverse peoples could live together in equality, and that "can be and has been used to promote the dismemberment of practically every organized state." The United States could no longer take its safety and its internal order for granted, he underlined. "We have come to the end of our effortless security and of our limitless opportunities.
Having backed and filled on Wilsonianism for a quarter century--rejecting it after Versailles, embracing it in favor of disarmament during the 1920s and most of the 1930s--Lippmann at last found a policy that fit his goals. Instead of responding to events with no guiding principle other than a pragmatic sense of what seemed feasible in each situation, he now had worked out a consistent diplomacy based on military power, alliances, spheres of influence, and a "cold calculation" of national interests. Combining Admiral Mahan's views of sea power with Nicholas Spykman's geopolitics and Clausewitz's conception of war as the military conduct of diplomacy, he became the apostle of a hardheaded realpolitik.
Now rejecting Wilsonian universalism as delusory and dangerous, he eschewed the globalism central to it. The virtue of spheres of influence was that they would give the great powers a sense of security and prevent a scramble for control of fringe areas. The danger of the universalism preached by the One Worlders was that it invited intervention in the name of self-determination. The results of such meddling, however well-intentioned, could be disastrous. "The constitution of the world society should not be based on the assumption that everything is everybody's business," he counseled. "We must not write into the constitution of the world society a license to universal intervention. For if we license it, we shall invite it. If we invite it, we shall get it."
Few listened to the warning. U.S. War Aims appeared at a time when Americans wanted to believe that power politics would be no more and that an Assembly of Man would keep the peace. They did not at all like the idea of spheres of influence. Henry Luce, who had greatly admired Lippmann's earlier book, thought he might serialize U.S. War Aims in Life. When Luce read the pages describing the Soviet Union as a totalitarian state, he decided against the idea. "It's too anti-Russian," he told Lippmann. At the time Luce, like many conservatives, was in a Mother Russia euphoria stage. He had put a flattering portrait of Stalin on the cover of Time, and run a special issue of Life extolling the Russians as "one hell of a people" who "look like Americans, dress like Americans, and think like Americans." In the same moonstruck vein his writers described the Gestapo-like NKVD as "a national police similar to the FBI," whose job was "tracking down traitors." A few years later he was calling for a holy war on atheistic communism.
The public responded tepidly to U.S. War Aims. Although it appeared briefly on the best-seller lists and was condensed in the Reader's Digest, it was far less successful than U.S. Foreign Policy. Most preferred the inspirational internationalism of Sumner Welles, whose Time for Decision heralded a new League of Nations to keep the peace. Critics named Welles's one of the ten outstanding books of the year, while ignoring Lippmann's. In the prevailing enthusiasm for a revived Wilsonianism, Lippmann's plea for alliances and spheres of influence seemed dangerously out-of-date.
"I can't help feeling that Welles' book did enormous damage in diverting the American people from an understanding of the historic realities," he complained to a colleague. "It was, in a sense, bad luck that I published a book at the same moment, for that stopped me from saying what I thought of Welles' book, and I might have accomplished more by a running criticism of him than I did by my own book." The public was being encouraged to have expectations that could never be satisfied, thus making a realistic policy more difficult to achieve. The struggle within the government "to shape the Wilsonian ideology into something that fits the realities" could be won, he said, "if the public, and particularly the idealistic public, were not so stubbornly naive."
Idealists found their hopes at last turned into reality in September 1944 when the Big Three foreign ministers, joined by China as an honorary member, met at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington to draft a blueprint for the United Nations. They soon reached agreement on the structure of the organization--a general assembly, an economic and social council, and a security council with five permanent members--but bogged down over voting procedure. The Russians, fearing they would be outvoted, wanted a veto in the Security Council--as did the Americans. But they also wanted sixteen votes--one for each constituent Soviet republic--in the General Assembly. This, they calculated, would help offset the U.S.-controlled Latin American bloc and the British Commonwealth. London and Washington were adamantly opposed. Lippmann, who had broken short his summer sojourn in Maine to observe the conference, scored the British and the Americans for making an issue out of voting procedure. None of the great powers would submit to a majority vote if it felt a vital issue were at stake. If the great powers could not agree among themselves, then no organization could preserve the peace: "Any attempt to enforce peace against one of them would simply be a polite introduction to another world war."
When Grenville Clark, an ardent world federalist, told him that Dumbarton Oaks showed that the world was now ready for the "more perfect union" the Americans had achieved in 1789, Lippmann demurred. "We must not substitute for the world as it is an imaginary world such as eighteenth century America,' he replied. "We must begin with this world, making as just an estimate as we can of the actual and potential connections and conflicts among nations, and then seek the principles of order which apply to it.,, There had been no voting accord at Dumbarton Oaks, he explained, because the British and the Americans failed to grasp that "pacification must precede the establishment of a reign of law." The quarrel with the Russians over voting stemmed from the "false major premise that the Dumbarton Oaks organization can and should be a universal society to pacify the world. The truth is that only in a reasonably pacified world can there be a universal society."
Despite Lippmann's misgivings, the principle of an international organization to keep the peace had become so sacrosanct that it was not even an issue in the 1944 presidential election campaign. The Republican candidate, Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, like his foreign-policy adviser, John Foster Dulles, was an ardent internationalist. Although Lippmann had no enthusiasm for Dewey, he was reluctant to support a weak and exhausted FDR for a fourth term. Like all who had seen the shocking deterioration in the President's health, he was particularly concerned over the choice of vice-president.
Incumbent Henry Wallace had many admirers, but not among party conservatives, who considered him a maverick and a radical. Even some of his admirers wondered whether he was the right man to take over in case, as seemed quite possible, FDR died in office. Lippmann was among the doubters. To nominate a man "who divides the people so deeply and sharply would produce a profound, perhaps an unreasonable, sense of anxiety, and a loss of confidence in the conduct of government," Lippmann wrote on the eve of the convention vote. For all Wallace's abilities and integrity it was clear that his "goodness is unworldly, that his heart is so detached from the realities that he has never learned to measure, as a statesman must, the relation of good and of evil in current affairs.''
Lippmann never had any trouble separating his personal affection for a man from the man's qualifications for public office. He was quite ready to admit that sometimes the better man was the lesser candidate--and to act accordingly. He had known Wallace for years and was good friends with his sister Mary, the wife of the Swiss ambassador, Charles Bruggemann. But he had doubts about Wallace's mental stability, and shortly before the convention told FDR's right-hand man, Harry Hopkins, that Wallace had to go. FDR was too weak and too preoccupied to make a fight over the issue, and the party regulars needed no convincing. When organized labor vetoed the most likely candidate, Senator James Byrnes of South Carolina, the party turned to the little-known former haberdasher from Missouri, Senator Harry Truman.
Although Lippmann yearned to vote Republican, Dewey gave him little reason to do so. A few weeks before the election he was, as in 1940, squarely astride the fence. The owners of the Herald Tribune thought such neutrality bad for business. One afternoon the demure but iron-willed Helen Reid came into his office and said, "Walter, I don't know exactly how you feel, but I do hope you will take a stand in this election." "Well," he replied, discomforted at being backed into a corner, "if I do it will probably be against you." "That will be quite all right," she sighed with mixed disappointment and relief, "just so long as you take a stand."
Finally, just two weeks before the election he did--against Dewey. The reason was not merely Dewey's intellectual flabbiness, but his injection of the touchy Polish issue into the campaign by his pledge to help the exiled anticommunist Poles gain power in Warsaw. On the surface this seemed little more than a bid for the Polish-American vote. But at that moment delicate negotiations were taking place between the Russians and the centrist Polish leader, Stanislaus Mikolajczyk. Elements in the State Department were pushing the claims of an avowedly anti-Soviet right-wing faction, thus imperiling Mikolajczyk's efforts to work out a compromise and raising Soviet suspicions. In Dewey's bid to the right-wing Poles, Lippmann saw something more sinister than mere campaign hyperbole. "The implied pledge of American support is tremendous backing to those reactionary Poles in refusing to accept the compromise which the moderate and democratic prime minister has been negotiating," he wrote in his column. Such a pledge seemed to him deliberately "pin-pointed at the current negotiations by someone who does not want a compromise to succeed."
John Foster Dulles, Dewey's likely choice for secretary of state, felt--with some reason--that the accusation was directed against him. Defending the pledge to the rightist Poles, he proceeded to give Lippmann one of his famous lectures on morality. "The basic issue between you and the governor," he wrote Lippmann, "is that you do not believe that the United States should have any policies at all except in relation to areas where we can make those policies good through material force. The governor, on the other hand, believes in moral force."
Lippmann did not appreciate being lectured on morality, least of all by one who had been, to put it gently, insensitive to Nazism throughout the thirties, and who, even after the fall of France, favored the appeasement of Hitler. Rejecting Dulles's explanation, Lippmann suggested it would not be profitable "to argue about who is more aware of the moral issues involved in this war, for that would involve examination of the record, whereas I for one prefer to let bygones be bygones." Four months later, when it became clear that the chance for a true coalition government in Poland had been lost, Lippmann argued that the Republicans were much to blame. During the election campaign, he charged, "votes were sought by statements which encouraged the irreconcilable Poles in London to think that they could afford to reject the compromise which Mikolajczyk was offered."
As it turned out, Dewey's milking of the Polish issue did him little good among the voters. His campaign was so listless that even the New York Times, which had come out against FDR in 1940, now supported the President, albeit with "deep reluctance and strong misgivings." That, too, was the best Lippmann could muster. As much as he favored a change, he felt he had no choice but to go along with Roosevelt. "I cannot feel that Governor Dewey can be trusted with responsibility in foreign affairs," he told his readers. "He has so much to learn, and there would be no time to learn it, that the risk and cost of a change during this momentous year seems to me too great."
The voters thought so too. They reelected FDR by a 3.5-million-vote margin and sent the isolationists back to their law offices, including such prominent America Firsters as Hamilton Fish and Gerald P. Nye. A new crop of internationalists entered the Senate, led by Wayne Morse of Oregon and J. William Fulbright of Arkansas.
Lippmann was not even around for the tally. On November 1, a few days before the election, he had put on the uniform of a war correspondent and sailed for England on the converted Queen Mary, along with fourteen thousand GIs. After meeting with Churchill and Anthony Eden, he boarded an air force plane, flew across northern France at tree-top level to avoid enemy fire, and spent several days at the front with the American First and Ninth armies.
In Paris Lippmann dined with De Gaulle and his family. The general had made a triumphant entry into the city in August, although Washington grudgingly withheld official recognition of his authority until October. The general complained to his guest that the recently reopened American embassy had been staffed with the same people who had followed Petain to Vichy in 1940, career diplomats who had no sympathy with the Gaullist movement or its efforts to purge France of defeatism and collaboration. Lippmann listened sympathetically, and when he got back to Washington wrote a sharp column declaring it to be a "capital error not to staff the embassy with men who have no prejudices from the bad past," and against whom Frenchmen held no prejudices. It was a good try, but had little effect.
Washington's quarrel with De Gaulle was matched, on a lesser level, by a dispute with Britain over spheres of influence. Just a month earlier, in October 1944, Churchill had gone to Moscow and worked out a deal with Stalin to divvy up Eastern Europe. Russia could control Rumania and Bulgaria, Britain would get Greece, and the two would divide Hungary and Yugoslavia fifty-fifty. It was a quixotic arrangement, and did not even mention Poland, in which both sides had claims. But it was Churchill's attempt to gain what he could while his cards were still strong.
One Worlders--both idealists and those who thought the United States should run the postwar world--were indignant. They charged that the concept of spheres of influence was a betrayal of what America had presumably fought for. Lippmann, fearing that such an attitude would spoil postwar cooperation among the Allies, wrote an angry column in December 1944 deriding those who seemed to believe that American servicemen had died "to have a plebiscite in eastern Galicia or to return Hong Kong to Chiang Kai-shek. . . . I have seen men brought in from the battlefield who were dying and men who were mutilated," he wrote in a slashing attack on those who moaned that the war had been in vain because the Russians demanded a friendly regime in Poland and the British the same thing in Greece. "I must say that it is hard to bear talk here at home which presumes to measure the meaning of their deeds and the value of their sacrifice by whether some commentator . . . thinks that the solution proposed conforms with some abstract principle from the Atlantic Chatter." The country would revert to isolationism, he charged, if America's true interests were obscured by a "collection of generalized rules" about how nations ought to behave.
If the public was confused, it had reason to be. Roosevelt, who resisted outlining any settlement until after the war, had his vision: a revived league of Nations that the United States, by virtue of its preponderant economic and military power, would dominate. Others had different ideas. Churchill was determined to retain the empire, restore the monarchies of Italy, Greece and Belgium, and maintain a sphere of influence in southern and eastern Europe, particularly Poland. Stalin sought, at the minimum, dominance over Poland, and reparations to rebuild the devastated Soviet economy and ensure that Germany would never again be able to invade Russia.
Lippmann, despite his admiration for Churchill as a wartime leader, thought the prime minister's plan for a pro-British government in Warsaw entirely fanciful. An independent Poland could survive "only if it is allied with Russia," he wrote as early as January 1944. If the Poles annexed territory that was German, they would need outside help to hold on to that territory. Only Russia could provide that. Therefore, he underlined, Poland had to come to terms with Russia, "to terms which make Russia the principal guarantor of the western boundary." Stalin knew this, the Germans knew it, and so did the moderate Poles. But right-wing Poles, encouraged by sympathizers in London and Washington, thought the Russians could be excluded. To Lippmann this was a fantasy. There could be "no future for a Poland governed, or even influenced, by those Poles who, even before they are liberated from the Nazis, conceive themselves as the spearpoint of a hostile coalition against the Soviet Union."
These conflicting views over the future of Eastern Europe could not much longer remain unresolved. In February 1945, with the defeat of Nazi Germany now imminent, the Big Three met at Yalta on the Black Sea to iron out their differences. Stalin promised that he would declare war on Japan within three months after the end of the war in Europe. He accepted the American plan for a great-power veto in the UN Security Council, in return for the admission of two or three constituent Soviet republics, and agreed to Churchill's request for a French zone of occupation in Germany
On the critical issue of Poland, the Russians stood fast, demanding return of the areas seized from them at Brest Litovsk in 1918. The Poles would be compensated by German territory in the west. While insisting that the future government in Warsaw must be friendly to Moscow, Stalin agreed that the pro-Soviet provisional government would be "reorganized" to include some of the Poles from London and the underground movement, and that "free and unfettered" elections would be held. At Roosevelt's request he signed a vaguely worded "Declaration on Liberated Europe," which seemed designed mostly to satisfy public opinion in the United States.
Congress and the press were virtually unanimous in hailing Yalta as a great triumph of diplomacy. The great powers had agreed on the United Nations, Germany would be divided into occupation zones and its war potential forever destroyed, an acceptable compromise had been reached on Poland and Eastern Europe. "There has been no more impressive international conference in our time, none in which great power was so clearly hardened to the vital, rather than the secondary, interests of nations," Lippmann wrote in expressing the consensus. Even John Foster Dulles saluted Yalta as opening a "new era" in which the United States "abandoned a form of aloofness which it has been practicing for many years and the Soviet Union permitted joint action on matters that it had the power to settle for itself."
Although the accords soon broke down under the weight of mutual suspicion and distrust, they certified that the political equation in Europe had been forever changed. The British and the Americans could not compel the Russians to withdraw. In fact, they wanted them to keep advancing west against Hitler's armies. The Americans were not yet willing to accept spheres of influence, or "containment," as it was later to be called. "What we were faced with at Yalta was how to make good our principles in territories that Stalin held," Lippmann later wrote. "Stalin had the power to act: we had only the power to argue." The Yalta accords recognized a fait accompli: "the West paid the political price for having failed to deter Hitler in the 1930s, for having failed to unite and to rearm against him."
Although Roosevelt had negotiated tenaciously at Yalta, the conference and the long voyage home depleted his waning strength. Reports from Warm Springs, Georgia, where he had gone for a rest, were alarming. Fearing that the President might not live much longer, Lippmann, as a final gesture to the man toward whom he had had such conflicting feelings, decided to write a tribute to FDR--in effect an obituary--while the President was still able to read it. "His estimate of the vital interests of the United States has been accurate and far-sighted," he wrote. "He has served these interests with audacity and patience, shrewdly and with calculation, and he has led this country Out of the greatest peril in which it has ever been to the highest point of security, influence, and respect which it has ever attained." The column appeared on April 7, 1945. Five days later Roosevelt was dead of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Lippmann had, as he later said, an "in-and-out feeling" about Roosevelt and the New Deal: hailing the early initiatives to stem the panic, detesting the administrative legerdemain that culminated in the Court-packing plan, and admiring the compensated economy. He was not close to FDR, and although he often saw the President at White House briefings, was never invited there socially. During the war he changed his mind about FDR's qualities as President. The war changed Roosevelt just as it changed Lippmann. It brought out a new vigor and sense of direction in both men. As it allowed FDR to turn away from a stymied New Deal and a depression that would not go away, so it provided Lippmann with an escape from the sterile negativism of his anti-New Deal diatribes and allowed him to concentrate on the great issues of war and peace. If it took the war to make Roosevelt a truly great President, so the same war, and the cold war that followed, made Lippmann the nation's preeminent analyst of foreign affairs.
At Yalta FDR thought he had laid the groundwork for a durable peace. Stalin had agreed to enter the war against Japan, to allow free elections in Eastern Europe, and to accept the American formula for a United Nations resting on a great-power veto and spheres of influence. The United States would stand as mediator between the rival imperialisms of Britain and Russia. With its overwhelming economic strength, its predominance in Latin America, its undisputed naval power in the Pacific, its incomparable industrial and military machine, its control over the world's raw materials, the United States would have nothing to fear from a devastated and war-impoverished Russia. This great scheme would all be codified in May, Roosevelt thought, in San Francisco with the creation of the United Nations.
That, too, like the final victory over the aggressors, FDR did not live to see. And within a year his plan for great-power unity, the foundation on which everything else rested, would founder on the shoals of fear, distrust, and rival ambitions.
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