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Promises Promises

Justin Logan notes that some of the subjects of America's Central Asian buddies seem to be making the mistake of taking the president's firey rhetoric to heart, which will doubtless land us in a sticky situation. I seem to recall having been taught in my eleventh grade U.S. history class that the Eisenhower administration had similarly given rhetorical hints to the people of Eastern Europe that we would support them if they tried to overthrow their Communist masters only to wind up (sensibly, in light of the USSR's nuclear arsenal) abandoning the Hungarians when they actually gave it a shot. Is that true or have I been misinformed?

January 31, 2005 | Permalink


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Thanks for the Wright NYT's link on TAPPED. It really was very good.

Well well well, 11,000 hits a day for an average. I hope it brings lots of blog ads money. Lord knows a journalist needs it in this country.

Posted by: paradox | Jan 31, 2005 10:40:18 AM

Do you mean in 1956 or 1989? Because the Hungarians had quite different experiences in those two instances.

Posted by: Al | Jan 31, 2005 10:48:54 AM

You are right. I believe the time was 1954 and the country involved was Hungary. Based on an assumed US intervention, there were incidents in Hungary, following which the US did nothing - to the great discomfort of the Hungarians, and the great embarrassment of the US. The Sec'y of Sate involved was John Foster Folles.
Congratulations on a great blog. Keep up the good work.

Posted by: JimSawyer | Jan 31, 2005 10:50:06 AM

Do you mean in 1956 or 1989?

Obviously, the "Eisenhower Administration" lasted a lot longer than I remembered.

Posted by: cmdicely | Jan 31, 2005 10:50:24 AM

Well, since Eisenhower was referenced, I assume that the 1956 Hungarian uprising, in which at least some of the rebels hoped for some form of tangible support from the US (as a result of the rhetoric from Sec. of State Dulles and others) before the Soviets sent in the tanks.

Posted by: Michael Rebain | Jan 31, 2005 10:52:24 AM


Posted by: praktike | Jan 31, 2005 10:53:03 AM

Eisenhower administration obviously means 1956. In 1989 the success of the Hungarians (and the other East Europeans) owed a lot more to Gorbachev's sensible restraint than to Reagan's or Bush Senior's rhetoric. The experience of the Shiites who rose against Saddam at the end of the Gulf War shows how much that rhetoric was worth.

Posted by: S. Anderson | Jan 31, 2005 10:54:41 AM

There is another interesting parallel between then and now: at the time, we thought the Soviet Union's nuclear capability was far greater than it actually was. I don't know whether the CIA director ever used the words "slam dunk" in describing its weapons systems, although probably not, because basketball wasn't so popular back then.

Posted by: ostap | Jan 31, 2005 10:59:31 AM

I don't know that much about rhetorical hints to Eastern Europeans at the time, but I do know that there was a lot of Republican bluster (certainly in the '52 campaign) about replacing "containment" with "rollback." Nixon even had an absurd phrase about "Dean Acheson's Cowardly College of Communist Containment" or something close to that. Anyone listening to that in Eastern Europe might have gotten a somewhat, er, mixed message.

Posted by: Haggai | Jan 31, 2005 11:15:33 AM

Another point about the '56 Hungarian uprising is that it happened almost (or maybe exactly) simultaneously with the Suez crisis/war involving Britain, France, Israel, and Egypt. I'm not sure how directly they were related in terms of cause and effect, but it was certainly an important consideration for everyone at the time.

Posted by: Haggai | Jan 31, 2005 11:17:40 AM

I think the main part of the US govt. calling for an uprising in 1956 were the Hungarian emigres we had staffing Radio Free Europe/Voice of America. I think Eisenhower himself was fairly circumspect even before the uprising, but you can certainly see how the Hungarians would have gotten the idea we'd be a lot stronger in our support.

Posted by: rd | Jan 31, 2005 11:28:56 AM

Silly them....actually BELIEVING George Bush's words.

Posted by: Deborah White | Jan 31, 2005 11:32:14 AM

As I recall, the Suez crisis kept the US from doing anything in Hungary, even though Eisenhower wanted to.

Posted by: vincible | Jan 31, 2005 11:34:20 AM

Actually, reading the article linked to, it seems pretty clear that in the countries discussed the opposition isn't pouring into the streets on the expectation that Bush will save them because of his inaugural. Rather, they're longstanding movements, inspired by a belief in democratic change and the recent examples in Georgia and the Ukraine. They're going to out there no matter what, and it seems likely the Bush inaugural address could be more useful than not in laying down a standard more likely to goad the US to help them.

And, by the way, the Uzbek dictator's quoted surly comments about meddling Western ambassadors seems to indicate that we're doing a little more there than most Bush critics want to admit, along with a recent revocation of 20 million in aid that has generally gone reported. But since Uzbekistan is the favorite poster child of the "Bush is a shameless hypocriete" storyline, there's no need to let facts get in the way.

Posted by: rd | Jan 31, 2005 11:47:20 AM

Yeah, it was 1956. Eygpt (was it Nasser?) was in the Soviet Union's back pocket. The West became distracted with the Suez crisis (British + French botched the invasion). In the background for all of this was the new (at the time) CIA.

Posted by: deckko | Jan 31, 2005 11:53:15 AM

Yeah, must be 1956. Because in 1989, they would have been listening to the "rhetorical hints [given] to the people of Eastern Europe" by the Reagan Administration.

Funny how those two instances worked out differently, eh?

Posted by: Al | Jan 31, 2005 12:05:01 PM

Funny how those two instances worked out differently, eh?

Again, the difference between 1956 and 1989 had a lot to do with the difference in Kremlin leadership -- Gorbachev saw how weak the Soviet Union really was, and was honestly interested in making a change -- and very little to do with Western leadership and rhetoric.

Posted by: S. Anderson | Jan 31, 2005 12:17:40 PM

Al, if you truly believe that the biggest difference between Hungary 1956 and Hungary 1989 was the difference in rhetoric between the Eisenhower and Reagan Administrations, then you truly are the world's dumbest human. But we knew that already. Now go back to telling everyone how much more you know about the Middle East than Juan Cole.

Posted by: Hank Scorpio | Jan 31, 2005 12:36:09 PM

. . . very little to do with Western leadership and rhetoric.

Let me qualify that statement. The fall of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe in 1989 did owe something to Western leadership. One thing Western leadership contributed was the success of the containment policy that had been pursued consistently for 45 years through both Republican and Democratic administrations, the same containment policy that right-wing demagogues throughout the 50s and 50s denounced as weakness and a sellout. Reagan and Bush Senior were the lucky beneficiaries who happened to be around when that slow, patient policy finally paid off, and the Soviet Union quietly dropped of its own dead weight.

The second way in which Western leadership helped was when Reagan had the good sense to ignore the hawks in his administration, and gave Gorbachev the breathing room he needed to make the changes that finally lead to breakup of the Soviet empire. Reagan was right, and his administration hawks were wrong. Unfortunately, Reagan is gone, but many of those hawks are still around, wreaking havoc in the Bush Junior administration.

Reagan's rhetoric may have sounded very stirring to Americans, but contributed practically nothing to the successful breakdown of the Soviet empire. But the right wing does love such rhetoric as it takes a mindless victory lap, pumping their fists and shouting "USA! USA!"

Americans tend to give themselves and their rhetoric far too much credit for things that happen in other countries.

Posted by: S. Anderson | Jan 31, 2005 12:39:29 PM

Reagan's rhetoric may have sounded very stirring to Americans, but contributed practically nothing to the successful breakdown of the Soviet empire.

That's probably not really true; Reagan's strong rhetoric was an important safety valve for the public, without which their would have been irresistable pressure for hawkish policies.

Posted by: cmdicely | Jan 31, 2005 12:50:14 PM

Another, more recent, example would be the Shiites and Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq who rose up against Saddam after the Gulf War 1.0, with the explicit encouragement of Bush41. The US forces, half-a-million strong in Kuwait, sat and watched while Saddam had a free hand to crush the revolt.

Posted by: FMguru | Jan 31, 2005 1:23:15 PM

Yeah, 1991. I wept as that slaughter unfolded and our troops sat on their hands nearby, helicopters on airstrips. Literally wept.

Posted by: John Isbell | Jan 31, 2005 2:18:17 PM

"the mistake of taking the president's fiery rhetoric to heart, which will doubtless land us in a sticky situation."
Clever references to people in pots, no?

Posted by: John Isbell | Jan 31, 2005 2:35:08 PM

Argus, via a trackback to Logan's site, believes that the Bush Doctrine takes the Field Of Dreams approach: "If you build it, we will come." The true test will be if and when Bush really does come, or if he'll sit on our hands like Ike did.

Posted by: D. | Jan 31, 2005 4:44:08 PM

Something to keep in mind when looking at the claims about Reagan and the fall of communism that under Reagan the US military budget was smaller --as a share of GDP -- then under every other cold war president except Carter.

Posted by: spencer | Jan 31, 2005 5:13:46 PM

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