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Journal of Cold War Studies 4.3 (2002) 132-134

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Book Review

Dueling Visions:
U.S Strategy toward Eastern Europe under Eisenhower

Ronald R. Krebs, Dueling Visions: U.S. Strategy toward Eastern Europe under Eisenhower. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2001. xvi 1 171 pp. $29.95.

This is an exceptionally frustrating book. Its potential, both in assessing U.S. policy toward Eastern Europe in perhaps the most turbulent period of the Cold War and in considering the complexity of ideology, decision making, and foreign policy implementation in the Eisenhower administration, is immense. Its timing, following books by Peter Grose, Gregory Mitrovich, and me, as well as many articles by other scholars, on U.S. efforts in the early Cold War to "liberate" Eastern Europe, is propitious.

The failure to fulfill this potential is a sobering reminder of the state of "diplomatic history" in the post-Cold War United States. Ronald Krebs, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, forgoes the target of liberation, forgoes a nuanced study of decision making in the Eisenhower administration from the National Security Council through working levels of relevant agencies and their private allies, and forgoes consideration of ideology, economics, and "national security." Instead he offers an exculpation of John Foster Dulles as a supreme pragmatist and praise for the "intelligent men who thought in a highly sophisticated fashion" even as they aspired to break up the Soviet bloc by any means short of overt military action.

Why this curious approach? It does not reflect a shortcoming of analytic skill—some of Krebs's specific points, for example on the connection between the development of psychological and political warfare in mid-1948 and Yugoslavia's break with the Soviet Union, are crisply made. Nor is it merely the result of inadequate use of primary documents, though the only ones he consults are those published in the Foreign Relations of the United States series. (One struggles to find any engagement with Grose, Mitrovich, and other secondary works that draw on archival materials.) Rather, the chief drawback is the "cult of personality" that entices all too many historians of the Eisenhower period. Now that the mastery allegedly displayed by Dwight Eisenhower himself has been accepted and reaffirmed by those following Stephen Ambrose's path, it is the turn of John Foster Dulles, formerly depicted as a charmless, [Begin Page 132] miscalculating ideologue, to undergo rehabilitation. Michael Guhin's John Foster Dulles: A Statesman and His Times (Columbia University Press, 1972), which for many years seemed anachronistic, now appears a precursor of later essays—for example, the collection edited by Richard H. Immerman, John Foster Dulles and the Diplomacy of the Cold War (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), which presents Dulles as a shrewder and wiser man than previously suspected, even if not quite as wise or magnificent as the president was.

To make his case, Krebs is extraordinarily selective in his use of evidence. Apparently, all rhetoric about the "rollback" of Soviet power in Eastern Europe aside, the State Department had a "vision for the region [that] mirrored the example of Finland, a country with a democratic form of governance that fell within the Soviet sphere of influence." With a flourish, Krebs writes: "Surprisingly, the chief proponent of this status for Eastern Europe was none other than John Foster Dulles" (p. xiii).

Surprising, yes, because Krebs's case consists of one memorandum from Dulles to Eisenhower in September 1953, three statements by Dulles to foreign leaders over the next three years, and a questionable interpretation of a Dulles speech during the Hungarian revolution. This evidence is treated in splendid isolation from debates within the State Department over liberation (one does not know, for example, whether Dulles's scattered references to "Finlandization" reflected his preferred strategy or were mere presentations of State Department position papers); numerous other deliberations within the executive branch (the September 1953 memorandum is not linked with the protracted discussion of the "New Look" over the next three months); other significant figures in the White House, such as...