In recent years, the statesmanship of FDR (who I rank behind Washington and Lincoln), in his handling of Soviet affairs, has come under attack in historical studies. As we know, FDR’s performance at Yalta is the topic of much historical writing. Those who perhaps hyperbolically argue that FDR “gave away Eastern Europe” fault him for his supreme confidence in his own powers of persuasion, his profound ignorance of the Bolshevik dictatorship, his projection of humane motives onto his Soviet counterpart, his determined resistance to contradictory evidence and advice, and his wishful thinking based on geopolitical designs. Together these elements shaped a false view of US-Soviet relations and fostered a policy loosely connected with reality. As an illustration, they induced the President to walk into a surveillance trap, not once, but twice.
Normally, US presidents stay in their own country’s embassies or other diplomatic buildings, swept by instruments able to discover listening devices. When FDR went abroad to meet Stalin, he wanted to gratify him, seeing him as a key figure in the postwar division of powers, and so did not insist on such accommodations. As a result, at the conference in Teheran (November 1943) and again at Yalta (February 1945), he stayed in Soviet quarters and was bugged like no other American president in history.
In his assessment of Soviet politics, FDR was much closer to Joseph E. Davies, America’s second Ambassador to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, than to his first, William C. Bullitt. Ambassador Bullitt never missed an chance to warn FDR of Stalin’s deceitfulness. In a famous exchange, FDR stated:
“Bill, I don't dispute your facts; they are accurate. I don't dispute the logic of your reasoning. I just have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of man. Harry [Hopkins] says he's not and that he doesn't want anything but security for his country, and I think if I give him everything I possibly can and ask for nothing in return, noblesse oblige, he won't try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace.” (William C. Bullitt, “How We Won the War and Lost the Peace,” Life, 30 August 1948, p. 94.
FDR’s projection of humane motives onto his Soviet counterpart, Harry Hopkins’ rosy reports on Stalin, and Ambassador Davies’ boundless trust in the Soviet regime were the President’s counter arguments to Bullit’s admitted facts about Hitler’s one-time ally, “Uncle Joe” (as FDR called him) Stalin, history’s greatest mass-murderer, and the sole ruler of a party and state dedicated to worldwide communism.