Commentary Magazine


Talbottism

To the Editor:

One can have thought the USSR an evil empire and Strobe Talbott naive concerning it and still not consider the current announcement of future NATO membership for Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic part of an optimum policy for East European security. In military matters it is better to say less and do more. President Clinton has said little and will do less. George Weigel’s error, in “Creeping Talbottism” [March], is in thinking that by saying more about NATO now the West will be constrained to do more both now and later. Instead, the West should say less about NATO and more about the European Union (EU). Meaningful NATO/East European military preparation is more important than any announcement, but less likely to occur. A Western announcement of East European membership in the EU, not in NATO, will more likely lead to such preparation. If it does not, the West will at least have done itself less damage than empty talk about NATO.

When one fully articulates the balance-of-power analysis supporting Mr. Weigel’s proposal, its weaknesses become apparent. To the West’s great good fortune, the USSR accepted a unified Germany within NATO; the Soviet Union then disintegrated and left a turbulent but potentially democratic Russia in its wake, thereby drastically shifting the balance of power in favor of the West. In light of this, Mr. Weigel urges the West to draw a line in future sand, i.e., to announce future East European/ NATO membership dates, a proposal he supports with the following considerations:

  1. Russia is unlikely to be weaker in the foreseeable future than it is now; thus, it is less able to do anything about such line-drawing now than it will be later. (True.)
  2. Russia cannot “legitimately” complain about the line-drawing. (True and false. True from the West’s perspective, but even a nonimperialist Russian Defense Minister could be forgiven for believing that, in light of other post-1988 events, such line-drawing openly attempts to shift the balance of power too far.)
  3. Drawing the line now will constrain future Western leaders to observe it even if, as is quite likely, some of them are more Talbottic than Talbott. (False. Similar past leaders have demonstrated amazing talent for ignoring even brighter lines.)
  4. Refraining from line-drawing now because it may negatively affect Russian prospects for a non-imperial free-market democracy is appeasement. (True only if there isn’t a better way to improve East European security without openly slapping a nascently democratic Russia in the face.)

A better solution appears when one reflects on why there is no clamor for France to rejoin, and Sweden to join, NATO. France is a de-facto NATO member; Sweden, it has now been admitted, was a quasi-member all along, of greater military significance due to geography and preparation than official-member Belgium (and without complicating NATO’s decisionmaking). Besides, France already is, and Sweden may this year become, an EU member.

Thus, a better proposal: have NATO in fact coordinate militarily with Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic on a level somewhere between NATO’s coordination with France and Sweden, and require East European countries to qualify politically and economically for EU membership in order to obtain openly acknowledged Western military protection. Russian Defense Ministers are more impressed by actual military preparation but more affronted by premature, particularly if empty, NATO membership announcements. EU membership has a primarily nonmilitary rationale, but in Eastern Europe it has strong military implications as well. Moreover, given the low political and economic demands NATO has historically made on its members and the higher ones the EU now makes, East European countries should be required to qualify for the EU to obtain an openly acknowledged Western military shield. The goal of EU membership may do more to inhibit, say, a demagogic Hungarian Prime Minister from pursuing a “vive Transylvania libre” policy than NATO membership did to inhibit the Greek colonels from adventures in Cyprus.

I do not dare hope that Clinton and Talbott thought through the above in opting for their Partnership-for-Peace solution, though recent EU announcements concerning East European membership indicate the EU might have. I am thankful, however, that Clinton did . . . not add the insult to Russia Mr. Weigel proposes to the injury to the West he will commit by his almost certain neglect of the required NATO/East European military preparations.

Douglas Hoffman
Chicago, Illinois

_____________

 

To the Editor:

In “Creeping Talbottism,” George Weigel either didn’t get it or didn’t dare say it.

Talbottism has its true roots in the maddening thirst for absolution by those who, either directly or indirectly, but in any case wittingly and calculatedly, supported Hanoi during the Vietnam war, and who now have to live with the fall of the meccas of Leninist-Stalinist Communism worldwide (except in Havana and Pyongyang) .

They bet on the wrong horse and lost, but now do not want to concede their loss. That is why they lobbied ardently for President Clinton—the archetype and quintessence of the pro-Hanoi crowd—to lift the embargo on Hanoi.

That is why they can be seen now engaged in a frenzied but futile revisionist attempt to rewrite history by proposing that the defunct Soviet Union did not pose a real threat to the West. Instead of coming to terms with their sorry past and admitting . . . that America was right in containing Soviet expansionism worldwide, including in Vietnam, they vainly dive into a sea of denial and self-delusion.

It must be tough to face the fact of having contributed directly to the suffering and even torture and death of millions of victims of Communism worldwide. Those with a figment of decency must have a hard time in front of the mirror every morning. . . . And even worse, what will they say when asked by their children . . . why they didn’t support America’s effort to challenge the Soviets in Vietnam?

Escapism seems to be the choice of those attempting a way out, and Talbottism—practiced from the vantage point of most impact, the State Department—provides the best escapism the Clinton crowd could have ever self-servingly devised.

But the problem with this self-prescribed and self-applied therapy is the damage Talbottism causes to others. . . . On one side, its false version of history leads the uninformed in America and elsewhere to the wrong conclusions. And on the other side, highly critical American foreign policy is being molded in light of the fallacies in Talbottism. Therefore, as if Clintonism weren’t bad enough, the damage that Talbottism will cause to America and to the rest of the world—as a consequence of being applied in these crucial times when genuine democracy should be cemented in the countries of the former Soviet bloc—will be disastrous.

In the same way that Germans have to be reminded of the wrongs of Nazism, Italians of Fascism, and Japanese of militarism, the peoples of the former Soviet-bloc nations, and particularly those of the ex-Soviet Union itself, should be made aware and reminded of the wrongs of the system that they supported, or at least tolerated.

However, with Talbottism—which unabashedly embraces the “moral-equivalence” sophism—what those peoples are being told is that the West, and America in particular, was as wrong as they were.

America will pay dearly for the historic mistake committed by 43 percent of the electorate in voting for Clinton; Talbottism, among other “isms” in the Clinton brotherhood, will guarantee it.

René F. Guerra
Sunnyvale, California

_____________

 

George Weigel writes:

Douglas Hoffman’s interesting “European Union First” proposal would be more persuasive had several key EU countries, notably France, taken a more positive stance toward the consolidation of free economies and democratic polities in East Central Europe by lowering their protectionist trade barriers, which have been stifling the new democracies’ exports. Would a France unwilling to confront its rambunctious and highly-subsidized farmers in order to put its own economic house in order be willing to do so to help the Poles? It seems rather unlikely.

This is not to disparage the possibility of EU membership for the East Central European democracies, which would probably be a very good thing (although one does have to wonder about the effects of the stultifying Euro-bureaucracy on the new democracies); it is simply to point out some of the difficulties inherent in the marriage. Moreover, the eagerness of countries like the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland to join NATO as soon as possible suggests that, in these countries’ minds at least, NATO is the truly consequential alliance of Western democratic states. On the assumption that these countries know their neighborhood and their interests a bit better than we do, perhaps we should take them more at their word in these matters.

One does have to wonder, however, what the last several months of Clintonian ineptitude in the Balkans have done to NATO. One thing seems certain: without American leadership, NATO is ineffectual, even feckless. And without American leadership, the question of enlarging the sphere of democratic stability in Europe by enlarging the membership of NATO will remain largely moot. One of the lessons of the unhappy 60′s that Bill Clinton and Strobe Talbott seem to have brought with them to high office is a diffidence, at times bordering on insouciance, about the American political-military role in the world. Its grave dangers are now on full display, from Pyongyang to Baghdad to Sarajevo.

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