Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full 10

For my blog post today about Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, I'll use as my starting-point something that Black says on pages 344-345.  The context is Hungary's 1956 revolt against the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union's brutal suppression of that revolt.  There are right-wingers who have criticized President Dwight Eisenhower for not doing anything to save Hungary from Communist repression, even though Hungarians were desperately pleading for help.  What I have wondered is what exactly Eisenhower could have done.  Send in tanks?  Would that have provoked a war between the United States and the Soviet Union?  On pages 344-345, Black offers his ideas about what Eisenhower should have done:

"As for Hungary, the desire of the United States to avoid war with the U.S.S.R. is commendable, but there was an opportunity for a useful initiative.  At the least, Eisenhower could have proposed a neutral status for Hungary, like that of Austria, or what came to be called 'Finlandization,' and offered in exchange to the U.S.S.R. some corresponding NATO withdrawal, even if only some force reductions, or the removal of some secondary bases, such as from Greece or Spain.  More interesting would have been to supplement this offer with the air landing, by invitation from Nagy [who was leading Hungary after it declared its independence], of some airborn forces in western Hungary.  In exchange for extracting the Anglo-French from their self-authored debacle at Suez, the United States could have got some of their forces to join them in Hungary, not with a view to war or occupation, but to destabilize the Russian empire and turn up the pressure for compromise.  Nagy did eventually ask for the help of the 'international community.'  Sending forces might have been a bold move, but might have been justifiable, if only to redeem the Churchill-Stalin accord of October 1944, which promised the Western Allies a 25 percent sphere of influence in Hungary, to the U.S.S.R.'s 75 percent."

I have to respect Black for taking a retrospective stab at this problem.  This is one reason that I am enjoying Black's book: his analysis of politics and policy.  Black's book is lengthy, but it does not spend a whole lot of pages on certain events in Richard Nixon's life, such as the time that President Eisenhower had a heart attack and Nixon needed to handle the Presidency.  Black only spent a page on that event, if even that.  But I'm actually happy that Black doesn't spend lots of pages on certain events.  When I came to Black's discussion of Vice-President Nixon's visit to Caracas, I thought, "Oh man, this again.  I've already read about this who knows how many times."  But Black's narration of that was not long, and it was rather painless for me as a reader.  Black just says what happened, offers some analysis, and moves on.  Some of you may not be looking for that in a book.  And, to be honest, if I started my Year (or More) of Nixon with Black's book, I myself would probably be dissatisfied.  But, after reading Ambrose, Six Crises, Nixon's memoirs, and the list goes on, I'm not necessarily interested in reading another extensive regurgitation of certain events in Nixon's life.  I'm more interested in reading some analysis, or an author's take on certain characters in the drama.  I'm finding that in Conrad Black's book.

As far as the substance of what Black says about Hungary is concerned, I'm probably inadequate in terms of evaluating it, but I will say that I can see some logic in what Black is proposing.  The Soviets may have been holding on to Hungary, in part, because they felt that maintaining control of Eastern Europe was a way to protect the U.S.S.R. from the West: Eastern Europe is like a buffer.  If that is the case, then the U.S. offering to withdraw some NATO forces or bases in exchange for Hungarian independence makes a degree of sense, in that it could make the U.S.S.R. feel more secure.  The thing is, was the U.S.S.R. just interested in holding on to Eastern Europe for the sake of self-protection, or did it have imperial or aggressive aims as well?  If that is the case, then the U.S. arguably would not have been wise to reduce NATO forces.

Black may be saying that the U.S. would have had to pressure the U.S.S.R. to compromise, since the U.S.S.R. would be very reluctant to do so.  Giving up Hungary would arguably be a big deal!  If the U.S.S.R. gave up Hungary, would that encourage other Eastern European countries to revolt?  Even if Hungary were officially neutral, could the U.S.S.R. be assured that it was actually neutral?  That could be why Black says that the U.S. should have brought in the British and the French for extra leverage.

What Black says about the 1944 Churchill-Stalin accord is interesting to me, in light of what Black has said in his book about Yalta.  Against right-wingers who allege that the Yalta conference sold out Eastern Europe to the Soviets, Black argues that Yalta actually supported Eastern Europe's freedom, but that the U.S. and others failed to act on that.  Whether that helps me to understand the Churchill-Stalin accord, I do not know.  It seems that the Churchill-Stalin accord still gave the Soviets most of the influence in Hungary.  Maybe it would have been better had the Western allies had 25 percent of the influence in Hungary rather than none at all, as the Churchill-Stalin accord stipulated, but Black's statement that sending American, British, and French forces to redeem the accord between Churchill and Stalin makes me ask questions.  For example, Black says that the U.S. should have pushed for Hungary to be neutral.  But would it have been truly neutral, had the Soviets had 75 percent of the influence there, as the Churchill-Stalin accord stipulated?

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