Roosevelt's Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War

Roosevelt's Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War

Roosevelt's Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War

Roosevelt's Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War


In the spring of 1945, as the Allied victory in Europe was approaching, the shape of the postwar world hinged on the personal politics and flawed personalities of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin. Roosevelt's Lost Alliances captures this moment and shows how FDR crafted a winning coalition by overcoming the different habits, upbringings, sympathies, and past experiences of the three leaders. In particular, Roosevelt trained his famous charm on Stalin, lavishing respect on him, salving his insecurities, and rendering him more amenable to compromise on some matters.

Yet, even as he pursued a lasting peace, FDR was alienating his own intimate circle of advisers and becoming dangerously isolated. After his death, postwar cooperation depended on Harry Truman, who, with very different sensibilities, heeded the embittered "Soviet experts" his predecessor had kept distant. A Grand Alliance was painstakingly built and carelessly lost. The Cold War was by no means inevitable.

This landmark study brings to light key overlooked documents, such as the Yalta diary of Roosevelt's daughter Anna; the intimate letters of Roosevelt's de facto chief of staff, Missy LeHand; and the wiretap transcripts of estranged adviser Harry Hopkins. With a gripping narrative and subtle analysis, Roosevelt's Lost Alliances lays out a new approach to foreign relations history. Frank Costigliola highlights the interplay between national political interests and more contingent factors, such as the personalities of leaders and the culturally conditioned emotions forming their perceptions and driving their actions. Foreign relations flowed from personal politics--a lesson pertinent to historians, diplomats, and citizens alike.


Of all the many books on Allied diplomacy in World War II, Robert E. Sherwood’s magisterial Roosevelt and Hopkins remains unequaled. Published in 1948, the 962-page tome draws on Sherwood’s insider status as a Roosevelt speechwriter and on his discussions with the historical actors. Sherwood was forbidden, however, to use his most explosive interview, the one that assigned blame for the breakup of the Grand Alliance. The interviewee was Anthony Eden, Winston S. Churchill’s foreign secretary. In wartime negotiations the top diplomat had loyally supported his chief even when the latter tangled with Franklin D. Roosevelt. Eden stood next in line for prime minster should the Conservatives win the next election. He understood that postwar Britain depended on Washington, where Harry S. Truman served as president. Nevertheless, by August 1946 this habitually restrained aristocrat was so disturbed by the deterioration in relations with Moscow since Roosevelt’s death in April 1945 that he let loose. In lamenting the loss of Roosevelt, Eden criticized Churchill and Truman in ways that, if made public, could have crippled his future career. After venting, he insisted on keeping the interview secret. And so it long remained.

To Sherwood, Eden “stated flatly that the deplorable turning point in the whole relationship of the Western Allies with the Soviet Union was caused directly by the death of Roosevelt.” The former foreign secretary seemed moved himself as he detailed the emotional valence of FDR’s relationship with the Russians. “He spoke at length and with great conviction of the extraordinary ability of Roosevelt to handle the Russian situation and of the overwhelming respect which the Russians had for the President.” Decades of practicing realpolitik had attuned Eden to intangibles, such as personality and respect. The . . .

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