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Negotiating with Iran Is Nothing Like Yalta

Bret Stephens doesn’t [1] resort to lazy Munich references in his new column. He builds his entire column around a lazy Yalta comparison instead:

A deal with Iran, arranged via a first-of-its kind meeting with Mr. Rouhani, is a personal and ideological temptation Mr. Obama is incapable of resisting.

Should it happen (I’m betting it will), Mr. Obama will be hailed as a master diplomat and a triumphant peacemaker. As with Yalta, it won’t take long to learn who is betrayed, and what is lost, in the service of an illusion.

If we took the Yalta comparison seriously, that would mean that the U.S. was on the verge of striking a deal with an ally of convenience in the aftermath of a major conflict against a common enemy. Obviously, the U.S. and Iran have been anything but allies, and they are hardly divvying up the spoils of their joint war effort. More to the point, a “deal with Iran” on the nuclear issue wouldn’t involve a single concession to Iran concerning the political independence or territorial integrity of any other country. There is nothing remotely Yalta-like in any agreement that the U.S. could reach with Iran. It would likely require that the U.S. pledge not to attack Iran, but that is not much of a concession when Iran is the significantly weaker party. If there is a deal, Iran will be the one to make most of the “tangible” and immediate concessions, and it will be the U.S. offering long-term promises that Iran has little reason to trust.

It’s true that no one should underestimate “the importance of ideology” in creating and maintaining international differences. Stephens is one of the most committed to promoting needless hostility toward other nations in service to his. We should expect to see Iran hawks driven by their ideology desperately working to derail diplomacy with Iran in the months and years to come, and we should reject their attempts to misrepresent that diplomacy with the ridicule they deserve.

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16 Comments To "Negotiating with Iran Is Nothing Like Yalta"

#1 Comment By Richard W. Bray On September 24, 2013 @ 3:53 am

Yalta, Munich, Hitler, Appeasement…

“One of the great American tragedies is to have participated in a just war. It’s been possible for politicians and movie-makers to encourage us we’re always good guys. The Second World War absolutely had to be fought. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. But we never talk about the people we kill. This is never spoken of. ”
–Kurt Vonnegut

#2 Comment By Puller58 On September 24, 2013 @ 7:37 am

Using hokey historical comparisons is the mark of desperation. But then the Zionists are just that.

#3 Comment By balconesfault On September 24, 2013 @ 9:39 am

I remember often hearing the criticism of the UN, particularly in the pre-Iraq invasion days, that all that went on there was talking, and it delayed real action.

Clearly for some of us, talking and delaying military aggression is a feature. For neocon hawks, it’s a flaw.

#4 Comment By icarusr On September 24, 2013 @ 11:11 am

Reminds me of that Republican oik who was throwing about “appeasement” without knowing what it was all about.


With Stephens – indeed with all of the WSJ editorial board – “The Princess Bride” has the answer:

“Munich”, “Yalta”, blah blah, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

#5 Comment By philadelphialawyer On September 24, 2013 @ 11:24 am


“I remember often hearing the criticism of the UN, particularly in the pre-Iraq invasion days, that all that went on there was talking, and it delayed real action.

“Clearly for some of us, talking and delaying military aggression is a feature. For neocon hawks, it’s a flaw.”

Yes, they do get rather petulant and cranky when denied their war du jour.

As for Yalta, rather than Munich, I think that shows their desperation. There is more or less a consensus, warranted or not, that at Munich the deal was a bad one, and the war was preferable to an appeaser’s peace.

With Yalta, on the other hand, there is considerable controversy over the claim that FDR could have done significantly better in his dealings with Stalin. We still needed the USSR to fight Germany; we thought we might need them against Japan too. We did not have the atomic bomb yet. The notion that the USSR was going to roll into Germany, through Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania but, for some reason, “give” them all back to the West, is pretty ridiculous. As it was, the Russians honored the agreements re occupation of Germany and Austria. They eventually pulled out of Austria entirely. They pulled out of Finland. They agreed to let the USA and Britain keep Greece, and left their communist guerillas there to die on the vine. And were actually willing to do the same thing in Yugoslavia too, but Tito refused to abide by their betrayal and was strong enough on his own to make it stick.

Yalta as a symbol of betrayal and appeasement does not have nearly the universal appeal of Munich. All parts of the US political spectrum and great swaths of public and leadership overseas agree with that characterization of it. Yalta, on the other hand, is only seen as such by part of the right wing here in the USA and, perhaps, by some Eastern Europeans who had unrealistic expectations.

Perhaps they feel that Munich has been done to death, and just need a change. Or, perhaps, they feel the need to push a specifically right wing button. Or, just maybe, they are starting to realize that invoking Hitler and Munich for every small time dictator facing an internal crises is turning people off, rather than getting them onboard because they know the difference. Maybe Stalin and Yalta, being slightly lesser known, are good candidates in that more folks don’t realize how absurd the comparisons are.

#6 Comment By Andrew On September 24, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

Bret Stephens does not know the history of WW II, plain and simple. And I mean he does not know as in not having a clue other than mass-pop cliches on the middle-school level. While self-righteous decrying and bemoaning of Yalta started immediately after…Yalta, very few really took a hard look at how the costs and contributions have been distributed–and that was the MAIN driving force (as it is always) in, however debatable for many, Yalta arrangements. Not that Sir Winston didn’t write all kinds of paper notes with percentages on them.

#7 Comment By Kurt Gayle On September 24, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

Of some interest: Bret Stephens won the Eric Breindel Journalism Award the year after Max Boot won it and the year before Charles Krauthammer won it. As the Jerusalem Post’s youngest-ever Editor-In-Chief Bret Stephens was a staunch advocate for a U.S. invasion of Iraq. In 2003 it was Stephens’ decision as Editor to name U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz the Jerusalem Post’s Man of the Year. Notwithstanding my preference for a noun, or at least a definite pronoun antecedent, Daniel Larison sums up Stephens’ goal rather well: “Stephens is one of the most committed to promoting needless hostility toward other nations in service to his.”

#8 Comment By Andrew On September 24, 2013 @ 1:00 pm

With Yalta, on the other hand, there is considerable controversy over the claim that FDR could have done significantly better in his dealings with Stalin. We still needed the USSR to fight Germany; we thought we might need them against Japan too.

At Yalta’s time the fate of Nazi Germany was sealed. The fate was sealed, actually, much earlier than Yalta–in Teheran. And the reason why Teheran sealed the fate of Nazi Germany? Battle of Kursk. It was dynamics on the Eastern Front which dominated (Western) Allied strategic deliberations leading to Overlord. Kursk, not Stalingrad, was a direct indicator for Allies that the outcome of the war in Europe was pretty much determined. It did not “help” that operation Bagration basically annihilated the Army Group Center in 1944. It was just the matter of the post-war arrangements. Does using of those purely military factors by Stalin make him a bad man? If one filters out traditional (and obligatory in the “West”) pop-history references to Stalin being murderer and henchman, it becomes very easy to draw the conclusions that ANY statesman (as it was at Versailles) would be forced not only to point out to contributions and costs, but that it is the only criteria to approach any post-war settlements. And, yes, there still was Japan on the horizon and we all know that it would have cost United States a massive casualties (possibly on the order higher than in Europe) in the case of assault on Japan.

The whole notion that somehow tens of millions of lost lives, total destruction of the most of the country and annihilation of more than three quarters of Nazi war machine does not matter, is preposterous. But this is precisely the premise on which many in the United States were building their anti-Yalta case. Of course, they were building it on the pure “moral”, more precisely-moralistic mentoring, grounds, which ignore completely operational and strategic reality on the ground prior to Yalta. Sure, should Stalin be Thomas Jefferson reborn the outcome could have been different at Yalta, but this is not how history works.

#9 Comment By Hetzer On September 24, 2013 @ 1:05 pm

I don’t think the general US population is Stephen’s target audience, but I would wager Yalta is a lot dimmer in the average American’s mind than Munich. We all know the Nazis are bad, and Munich was bad because… uh Nazis or something. From what I remember of high school history class, Yalta is barely covered and vaguely positive – after all, if Uncle Joe was on our team, a conference with all the “good guys” has to be good, right?

#10 Comment By James Canning On September 24, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

More astonishing rubbish from Brett Setphens of the WSJ! A “Yalta” moment? Preposterous.

Iran is not the Soviet Union.

#11 Comment By Michael N Moore On September 24, 2013 @ 2:33 pm

I am reading “Israel in the Second Iraq War” by former CIA analyst Stephen C. Pelletiere. The book’s subtitle is “The Influence of Likud”.

The author shows how, more than anything else, the Iraq war was a product of the ideology of the Likud Party in Israel. Likud appears to have recycled hundred-year old British imperialist attitudes towards the Arabs (e.g. Born to be herded about by imperial powers like Israel/US). Pelletiere refers to the NeoCons more accurately as “Likudniks”.

In the argument over whether Halliburton and the Saudi’s or AIPAC kicked off the war Pelletiere provides a sophisticated analysis of the Likud-revived ideology of imperialism that germinated into the Iraq war and the proposed Syria/Iran war.

#12 Comment By philadelphialawyer On September 24, 2013 @ 3:51 pm


I think we are pretty much in total agreement. As I said, the idea that the Soviets were simply going to abandon all their gains in E Europe after the horrendous costs of fighting off the Nazis, fighting across E Europe, and into Germany was absurd. Stalin actually made a comment to the effect that “the way it is done nowadays is you impose your social/economic/political systems” on conquered territory, satellite states and so on. And he made no real fuss when the US and Brits followed through on that, as they cooked the books and did everything else in their power to see that the Communists were kept out of office in post war Italy, France, Belgium and other places where they were strong politically and had street cred for being at the front of, or, at least, a big part of, the Resistance movements.

But the notion that Stalin was going to let the gentlemen exiles from London come back and make Poland a Western ally again is off the charts preposterous. Frankly, I doubt Stalin could even understand how an American or a Brit could even propose such a thing for real in good faith. I think Stalin saw all the fuss making in that regard (the talks about elections and so forth) as window dressing not only for himself, but for the Western allies. After all, the Brits allegedly went to war over Poland, so it wouldn’t look good if they did not at least “insist” on restoring its “freedom” (ie its pro British government). Well, Stalin would give them their fig leaf (by agreeing to elections) with their and his full understanding that the elections in Poland would no more be allowed to produce a pro Western government than the elections in France, Belgium and Italy would be allowed to produce a Communist government.

There was no “giveaway” at Yalta. Just a reluctant rendezvous with reality. Sure, FDR and Churchill could have really demanded that Stalin allow free elections throughout E Europe, and return his troops to the 1939 borders if that’s what the E European countries’ new elected governments wanted, but, if (when) Stalin said no, then what? Lose his support in finishing off Germany? Lose his support against Japan (which, again, was still seen as important, as there were no atomic bombs yet and the invasion of Japan was not going to be a picnic)? Who knows, Stalin might maybe turn around and do another deal with the Germans? And/or the Japanese (they already had a non aggression pact)? At best, were the USA and the UK going to tell their war weary populations that, now that Germany and Japan were defeated, they were going to have to go to war again, against the Soviets, to liberate E Europe? And risk alienating the working classes in their own countries, their allies’ populations, and the whole world? The Red Star was never shining higher or brighter than it was in 1945. Even the West had played a role in making the USSR look not merely good, but “heroic.” The idea that nations are like billiard balls, that they can turn on a dime, and make today’s gallant ally tomorrow’s vile enemy, with no repercussions, is just plain stupid. The whole notion is ludicrous. FDR and Churchill got all they could conceivably get at Yalta.


I think Hetzer has it right. Many folks don’t know all that much about Yalta and Stalin, so maybe the neo cons figure they can bamboozle more of them they can with sticking to the Munich/Nazi playbook.

Like a half time adjustment in a football game…

#13 Comment By Andrew On September 24, 2013 @ 4:42 pm


Andrew:I think we are pretty much in total agreement

I agree. One detail, though:

Who knows, Stalin might maybe turn around and do another deal with the Germans?

By February 1942 War Department’s assessment, while not precluding a possibility of German-Russian deal, made it plainly clear (already then!) that, in the words of David Eisenhower, “it was hard to conceive that the millions of Russian casualties to date would not pose an insuperable barrier to negotiations”, Eisenhower At War 1943-1945, page 79. It is, indeed, remarkable that war professionals already knew the price and the immense scale (which would grow many fold by the war’s end) of the national wound. This was precisely the decisive factor which was thrown out of considerations after the war.

#14 Comment By philadelphialawyer On September 24, 2013 @ 5:35 pm

I agree.

But I would say that the nature of the Soviet government, its lack of public accountability, would have made a major shift easier for it to pull off than the Western governments. After all, changes in the Party “line” often came fast and furious, and were frequently of the 180 degree nature. And this was true of foreign policy too….going from calling the European left “social fascists,” to the Popular Front policy, to the non aggression pact with Hitler, to the all out war effort once Hitler invaded. And, of course, you have to consider the effect of the Western powers ganging up, hypocritically, on the USSR too (which was the basis of the hypothetical I was opining under). Obviously, that would have played up by Stalin, if he had done a double cross.

But, yeah, blood and suffering are huge factors, and act as barriers to “clever” side shifting, by any government or country. And you are right to point out the inconsistency in what I wrote, as well as to insist on that point.

#15 Comment By Ken Hoop On September 24, 2013 @ 6:23 pm

What would be the Yalta analogy to demanding that Israel declare and get rid of its WMDs
in a general effort in an across the board effort to ensure the entire Mideast is nuke-free for the long term?

#16 Comment By agorabum On September 24, 2013 @ 8:16 pm

This would be like Yalta if Iran was about to take on 500,000+ casualties fighting a mutual enemy.
Stalin didn’t live up to his word on Yalta on eastern governments, especially Poland, but it’s not like anything could have been done – the only alternative would have been to seize territory first – practically, only Prague could have been taken.
I think the dumbest thing about the entire analogy is that is shows no understanding of Yalta.
And if it is like Yalta, in that the territory Iran controls will be ruled by Iran, and the US and Iran (like the US and Russia) agree not to get into any direct fights – that’s ok! Good result.