Last week, President Bush gave a terrific speech in Latvia about the rise of freedom and democracy in the world, hailing the Baltic nations for keeping their love of liberty and independence alive during a long period of Soviet occupation.
Then he went further, decrying the agreement at Yalta that consigned Eastern Europe to Soviet domination:
"The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable. Yet, this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable. The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history."
You knew, you just knew, that the American media would object.
Predictably, ABC "News" disagreed with Bush’s decision to offend Vladimir Putin and Russian spin artists who would suggest something other than the truth about Soviet occupation. On the night before the speech, reporter Terry Moran calmly recited the factual record of Soviet occupation of the Baltic nations, but then, remarkably, suggested it was rude to remind people of that truth because Russian leaders "insist that Soviet troops liberated these countries from Nazism and they reject the accusation they were occupiers." So when Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga bluntly declared to Moran that the Russians were "lying . . . through their teeth," Moran exclaimed, "That’s an extraordinary thing for the head of state to say about another government," to which Vike-Freiberga replied, "Well, these are facts."
What kind of exchange is this? Is ABC interested in reporting facts, or isn’t it? How typical to decry undiplomatic language — when it comes from a pro-American president. Truth be told, it’s not really "extraordinary" at all for one head of state to say to another that they are an evil oppressor. Communist dictators said it to America’s presidents for decades (for starters, think media darling Castro), and I can’t recall ABC ever finding those anti-U.S. broadsides "extraordinary" and coarsely undiplomatic. And isn’t it strange for ABC, which has spent two years coarsely and undiplomatically decrying Bush’s "occupation" of Iraq, to advise that the right diplomatic move is silence when Russia’s Soviet past is in the picture?
But wait, there’s more. On the night following the speech, Moran was back again to suggest President Bush was making a diplomatic mess. "History" was "causing problems for President Bush." Once again, ABC aired clips of Moran hassling the Latvian president: "Why does all this history matter today?" He reported that Bush, concerned about Putin’s turn away from democracy, would take "his view of history" to Moscow.
Then, ABC anchorman Bob Woodruff turned to leftist professor Stephen Cohen and noted that Bush "appears to have come down pretty squarely against the Russian view of history. Is he right?" Cohen found a little truth on both sides — that the Soviets were occupiers, but the Baltic nations collaborated with the Germans: "So who can say whose truth is truer? That’s what President Bush is trying to do." As for wacky views of history, let’s remember what Professor Cohen predicted to Pat Buchanan when Boris Yeltsin cashiered the communist coup plotters in 1991: "You will see a bloodbath in Russia like you have never seen before."
ABC wasn’t the only group of "news" manufacturers to lament Bush’s speech in Latvia. Jon Meacham, the managing editor of Newsweek, appeared on MSNBC’s "Imus in the Morning," suggesting that Bush was trashing Franklin Roosevelt on Yalta: "It’s like he stuck a broomstick in his wheelchair wheels." Meacham declared it’s a "misreading of the record" to say Roosevelt and Churchill were responsible "for letting Stalin have his way" over half of Europe. Bush "decided to take a very conservative interpretation of what happened at Yalta."
Can’t Meacham look at the facts? Roosevelt signed Yalta. Stalin took over Eastern Europe. It’s fact, truth, history. Would good intentions cancel out a half-century of subsequent oppression? Why is it considered a supreme example of personal meanness — dumping FDR out of his wheelchair — to declare that Yalta was a grave mistake for Eastern Europe?
On June 3, 1990, ABC’s Ted Koppel weirdly predicted to John McLaughlin after the Berlin Wall fell: "We may find ourselves looking back wistfully five or ten years from now at Eastern Europe and saying ‘Boy, I remember when Eastern Europe used to be nice and quiet.’" Koppel turned out to be wrong. Eastern Europe’s getting more democratic and peaceful all the time. President Bush alluded to that in his Latvia speech as well: "We have learned that the skeptics and pessimists are often wrong, because men and women in every culture, when given the chance, will choose liberty."