President Truman, an American Pericles

By

Vassilios Damiras, Ph.D.

International Relations Expert

 

President Truman ended the Second World War and immediately faced the communist menace. Stalin wanted to dominate Western Europe, and his first targets were Greece and Turkey. The Truman Doctrine arose from a speech delivered by President Truman before a joint session of Congress on March 12, 1947. The immediate cause for the speech was a recent announcement by the British Government that, as of March 31, it would no longer provide military and economic assistance to the Greek Government in its civil war against the Greek Communist Party. Truman asked Congress to support the Greek Government against the Communists. He also asked Congress to assist Turkey since that nation had previously depended on British aid.

At the time, the U.S. Government believed that the Soviet Union supported the Greek Communist war effort and worried that if the Communists prevailed in the Greek civil war, the Soviets would ultimately influence Greek policy. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had deliberately refrained from supporting the Greek Communists. He had forced Yugoslav President Josip Tito to follow suit, much to the detriment of Soviet-Yugoslav relations. However, several other foreign policy problems also influenced President Truman’s decision to actively aid Greece and Turkey. In 1946, four setbacks, in particular, had served to effectively torpedo any chance of achieving a durable post-war rapprochement with the Soviet Union: the Soviets’ failure to withdraw their troops from northern Iran in early 1946 (as per the terms of the Tehran Declaration 0f 1943); Soviet attempts to pressure the Iranian Government into granting them oil concessions while supposedly fomenting irredentism by Azerbaijani separatists in northern Iran; Soviet efforts to force the Turkish Government into giving them base and transit rights through the Turkish Straits; and, the Soviet Government’s rejection of the Baruch plan for international control over nuclear energy and weapons in June 1946. However, both Stalin and Tito eventually assisted the Greek communists in fighting the Greek national government.

In light of the deteriorating relationship with the Soviet Union and the appearance of Soviet meddling in Greek and Turkish affairs, the withdrawal of British assistance to Greece provided the necessary catalyst for the Truman Administration to reorient American foreign policy. Accordingly, in his speech, President Truman requested that Congress provide $400,000,000 worth of aid to the Greek and Turkish Governments and support the dispatch of American civilian and military personnel and equipment to the region. President Truman perceived the Soviet menace as a severe challenge to Western nation-states, just as Pericles perceived the Persian and Spartan threats to the free and democratic city-states.

Truman justified his request on two grounds. He argued that a Communist victory in the Greek Civil War would endanger Turkey’s political stability, undermining the Middle East’s political stability. This could not be allowed because of the region’s immense strategic importance to U.S. national security. Truman also argued that the United States was compelled to assist “free peoples” in their struggles against “totalitarian regimes” because the spread of authoritarianism would “undermine the foundations of international peace and hence the security of the United States.” In the words of the Truman Doctrine, it became “the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” President Truman perceived Greece as an essential nation-state due to its history. Also, he wanted the Greeks to select good politicians to lead the Greek nation. The last is still elusive.

President Truman stated that the United States could no longer stand by and allow the forcible expansion of Soviet totalitarianism into free, independent nation-states because American national security interests now depended upon more than just the physical security of American territory. Instead, in a sharp break with its traditional avoidance of extensive foreign commitments beyond the Western Hemisphere during peacetime, the Truman Doctrine committed the United States to actively offering assistance to preserve the political integrity of democratic nations. Moreover, the goal of the Truman Doctrine was to protect the world from the Soviet menace. President Truman sent the battleship Missouri to visit Athens and Istanbul to exhibit American military support. He also sent General James Van Fleet with military advisers to train and oversee the war in Greece. Also, massive military support went to Greece and Turkey. President Truman, via his doctrine, designed the communist containment in Western Europe. Centuries ago, Pericles behaved similarly to thwart the Persians and the Spartans. Pericles built a powerful navy to protect the Athenian allies and the Athenian democracy from the Persians and the Spartans. President Truman and Pericles of Athens faced and fought totalitarianism. Both were victorious and protected free nation-states and city-states from totalitarian barbarity.

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