Thursday, August 27, 2015

Book Review - Caught between Roosevelt and Stalin: America's Ambassadors to Moscow by Dennis Dunn

Dennis Dunn's book provides an excellent account of the five ambassadors to Moscow appointed by FDR. The consistent theme is that these individual went to Moscow with enthusiasm for the Soviet "experiment" and returned disillusioned with the exception of Joseph E. Davies who returned with a looted art collection. Dunn points out that, "If a whole succession of representatives and experts are nearly unanimous in their view of a policy or issue, the president should have absolutely no qualms about implementing their recommendations." Roosevelt did not question why these enthusiasts became critics.

There are several explanations for FDR's proSoviet policies. One explanations is that FDR was a foreign policy naif. Dunn quotes George Kennan's remark, "The truth is that Franklin Roosevelt, for all his charm and for all his skill as a political leader, was, when it came to foreign policy, a very superficial man, ignorant, dilettantish, with a severely limited intellectual horizon." (p. 272). Others attributed it to his illness in the latter part of his administration. It has also been suggested that he was not receiving good advice. However, Dunn points out that, "the concessionary policy was consistent from the very beginning of FDR's relationship with Stalin."

Proof of Roosevelt's enthusiasm for the Soviets began shortly after his inauguration. He recognized the Soviet Union during its government engineered Ukrainian famine. His enthusiasm did not wane during the purge trials, the Nazi-Soviet pact, the Soviet attack on Finland and the Baltic States, the Katyn Forest massacre, the stalled assistance for the Warsaw uprising and numerous other indications that the Soviet were not great humanitarians.

Dunn repeats the myth, reported by FDR's son, that FDR came up with the concept unconditional surrender during the Casablanca Conference after he recalled U.S. Grant's moniker during the American Civil War. Diana West points out in her American Betrayal that this decision was made in 1942 by a committee that included several Soviet agents, among them Harry Dexter White.

The most significant revelation in Dunn's book is his account of Soviet efforts to involve the U.S. in a war with Japan. One of the first subjects Stalin brought up in his initial meeting with Ambassador Bullitt was his concern about Japan. When Ambassador Joseph Davis met with Commissar Litvinov the first subject brought up was relations with Japan. In 1935 Bullitt informed Secretary of State Hull, "Moscow hoped for a war between the United States and Japan, and then it would move in a take Manchuria and spread Communism into China at the war's end." These efforts give more credibility to John Koster's book, Operation Snow, and his account of Harry Dexter White's role in provoking war between the U.S. and Japan.

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