The president is accused of acting lethargically over the crisis in Eastern Europe, advised by an overly cautious secretary of state regarding a part of the world that few Americans understand.
This was the situation in 1849 when 200,000 Russian troops crushed the democratic revolution in Hungary. The secretary of state became the future president, whose administration was often dubbed the “worst in American history.” This man was the Democratic President Buchanan.
In the 20th century, another Democratic president would be pulled into the Eastern European vortex of unrealistic expectations on the one hand and perceived false promises on the other. That president, Woodrow Wilson, was desperate for reasons to justify American military intervention against the new Soviet regime.
Meanwhile, our British and French allies were urging more aggressive action. Wilson led a rallying cry to save the “lost” Czech Legion who had sided with allies during World War I. In part, American troops intervening in Russia would ensure that the Czech allies made it safely home.
This half-hearted attempt to, as Winston Churchill stated, “strangle Bolshevism in its cradle” failed miserably.
A third Democratic administration made a fatal mistake. During the waning days of World War II, American troops made it to the outskirts of Prague but were forbidden from liberating the country due to the Yalta Agreement with the USSR.
The Yalta Agreement, ironically in Crimea, was governed by FDR’s appeasement to a Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. This is a decision that reverberates to this day. FDR’s unwillingness to stand against Russian/Soviet foreign policy aims constructed the snare that the United States still faces today.
Yalta ceded de facto control of Eastern Europe to Soviet aims, leading to their ultimate control by Moscow until 1990. This meant that the Soviet Union had achieved what Russian foreign policy for centuries could not, a western buffer zone against the west that included Ukraine, Poland, eastern Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and the Baltic States.
It cemented in the Russian/Soviet mindsets their right to control the destiny of this region. This grand mistake, resting on the more minor errors made by Buchanan and Wilson, is the specter that has haunted American foreign policy for generations.
In essence, it doomed multiple generations of eastern Europeans to tyranny and abuse.
The last gasp of American foreign policy came under the new Republican administration of Dwight Eisenhower. Along with the Dulles brothers, one as secretary of state and the other as director of CIA, Eisenhower came into office preaching a policy of “liberation and rollback” to counter Harry Truman’s containment.
The problem was that Truman’s policy was equally based on liberation as it was on containment, and Eisenhower was never willing to transform rhetoric into reality.
The year 1953 saw anti-communist (and anti-Russian) uprisings in East Germany that were quickly squashed. In 1956, Hungary went into an open and successful revolution, breaking free of communist and Soviet control and declaring independence.
The idea of freeing Eastern Europe, including Ukraine and the Baltic, went beyond rhetoric. In 1947 the CIA’s Office of Policy Coordination began planning and training émigré units to be inserted into Eastern Europe with the ultimate goal of liberating them from communist control.
The first significant attempt to do this was Operation Valuable in Albania in 1949, which turned into a fiasco due to Soviet penetration of British intelligence. By 1950, The Ukrainian Resistance Army numbered 40,000 and was seen as an avenue for CIA assistance. Unfortunately, this also did not materialize into a success.
Nevertheless, the CIA continued to expand the program, eventually creating the Volunteer Freedom Corps (VFC), with aspirational strength of 250,000 Eastern European soldiers under American leadership. The VFC plan was given a considerable boost by events in East Germany in 1953. Thus, Operation Red Sox/Red Cap was born.
The CIA would use the VFC forces to create an insurgency and ultimately liberate Eastern Europe. The test occurred when Hungary successfully overthrew its communist government and temporarily pushed the Soviets out.
However, in the 11th hour, the Eisenhower administration decided that a total commitment to Red Sox/Red Cap could mean an all-out war, possibly nuclear in nature, against the Soviet Union. Consequently, Hungary was reconquered by the Soviets, and aside from the brief attempt by the Czechs in 1968, the region was doomed to Soviet control until 1990.
Thus, the checkered past of U.S foreign policy, especially the Yalta Accords, has placed the United States on a defensive posture that we are haunted by today. Americans should keep this in mind as we attempt to make decisions now that will create the conditions for the 21st century.
Only through robust and dynamic American primacy can American foreign policy be successful.