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Roosevelt’s relationship Stalin

LAURENCE REES: To what extent did Roosevelt really believe all the nice things he was saying about Stalin during and after the Tehran conference?

ROBERT DALLEK: He had a certain regard for Stalin as Churchill did too, and a regard for the Soviet fighting forces. They had fought so hard, so courageously, had sacrificed so greatly in the war that there was the feeling, and this was true in the United States as well, that because of all the positive propaganda about Russia during the war - it’s becoming like us, it’s becoming a democracy and accepting religion again instead of Communism. And it was the right-wing in America, Conservatives who were talking about this, but it was part of this whole mood of regard for them because they were the ones who were doing the principle fighting while, you know, we were preparing to cross the channel. So there was a certain genuine regard for the Soviets and for Stalin, but at the same time there was huge suspicion and doubt about what the post-war period would bring.

LAURENCE REES: So, essentially, the view was taken that the Soviets deserved something after they’d borne the brunt of the fighting?

ROBERT DALLEK:  Oh, without question. Roosevelt’s conclusion, I think, about Eastern Europe, was that if the Soviets can be convinced that these Eastern European countries will be pro-Soviet in their foreign policy, and give them certain assurances that they’re not going to be threatened with another German invasion, which had happened twice in a generation, that then the Soviets will relax their hold on the domestic life of these countries. They won’t compel them to bend the knee to what the Soviets want. They won’t make them into satellites. Roosevelt saw that this was the prospect and his hope was - it was proved to be false, naïve - but his hope was that somehow the Soviets can be convinced that if there’s a pro-Soviet foreign policy in Eastern European countries that then they will not be so inclined to try and impose a kind of imperium on these nations.

LAURENCE REES: But the Roosevelt you describe is one of the least naïve people that’s ever lived, so, in reality, he must have not minded too much if Stalin did impose his will on these countries?

ROBERT DALLEK: Well, there was an element of that, that he didn’t care, but by the same token I think what, what he understood was that America had limited power; how much could we influence things? And this was a hope, maybe a dream. You know, you’ve got to have certain dreams, certain hopes, and that’s what he invests in with the United Nations too, because he doesn’t believe the United Nations can really preserve the peace after the war, what you’ve got to have are the 'four policemen' and regional power. And he hopes, naively there, that China can do the job, but, again, he and Stalin are both naïve about China in that they are hoping they can establish a nationalist and communist coalition. They can’t control events in China, and yet this is the agreement they reach in essence; that they will try and create a coalition, that China will then be stabilised and can play a role in South East Asia, for example, and remain friendly with the United States.

LAURENCE REES: The Roosevelt you describe is always going to trade-off Stalin getting into Eastern Europe, against the balance of American public opinion and less American casualties.

ROBERT DALLEK: Yes. He’s held fast by the importance of American opinion. This is priority number one, to control the way in which the public thinks and moves in a particular political direction. Because what people lost sight of is how powerful the isolationist impulse was in this country, and this was a monumental achievement for him to bring this country through the war abandoning isolationism. Now, there was a kind of reality to it, could we possibly have gone back to isolationism? I would doubt it. But, nevertheless, at that time it had such a powerful hold on the country’s imagination and they were so embittered by the experience of World War One, they were so reluctant to get into yet other wars, and so this is his number one priority, changing the public mood in this country.