Friday, August 19, 2005

Peter Schweizer on Rooseveltian grand strategy in the war on terror

There have been many announcements in recent months of the collapse of any kind of strategic vision of the Bush administration in the war on terror; many articles and pundit pieces declaring that there is no war, that if there was a war it is long over, and of course the perennial claims that Iraq was always a distraction from combating terrorism. Gideon Rose of Foreign Affairs pontificated yesterday in the New York Times op-ed page that the latest gush of idealism in foreign policy - in this case neo-con idealism about democracy and so forth - had spent itself and we would now return to a more modest pragmatic realism. And then there were Robin Wright's claims that the Bush administration itself had ratcheted down its expectations about what could be accomplished in Iraq - as with all Robin Wright material, however, equal parts expression of fervent hope and reportage. So I was curious to see this piece by Hoover Institution research fellow Peter Schweitzer in USA Today, of all places, arguing that there is indeed a grand strategy - in the formal sense of uniting highest level military strategy and political strategy - at work in the Bush administration foreign policy, and that it bears enough resemblance to Rooseveltian grand strategy that wishfully skeptical liberals should have some care in rejecting it out of hand.

In general, I am skeptical of partisans in any direction trying to draw genuinely historical parallels, lessons of history, out of a struggle which has really only just begun and is far from over - even though policy makers and the rest of us surely have to try to find what we think history teaches us for this particular struggle, we also have to recognize that it is far too early to offer any truly "historical" assessments. Yes, we have to seek to apply historical lessons, and figure out which ones we think are relevant. We have to act; we have to draw on history and we believe its lessons to be. What we should not do is think that enough time has elapsed for this to be a genuine exercise in history, and that definitive historical answers can be given - a certain modesty all the way around in claiming to have the lessons of history on any side is in order.


Strategies or diversions?
By Peter Schweizer
USA Today, August 17, 2005

Critics have assailed President Bush for his strategy on terrorism, calling the war in Iraq a diversion from the main task of defeating al-Qaeda. But just days after the 60th anniversary of victory in World War II, it is striking to note how Franklin D. Roosevelt faced very similar critics and how President Bush has adopted a grand strategy very much in the Roosevelt tradition.
With a logic that Bush would find familiar, FDR was lambasted by his critics for his WWII military strategy of defeating Germany first before focusing on Japan. They considered Germany a diversion. Wasn't it Japan and not Germany that had attacked us at Pearl Harbor, asked Sens. Arthur Vandenberg and A.B. Chandler? One foreign minister called the idea "suicidal heresy."

By 1942, American generals were complaining that precious resources were being diverted to fight Germans in North Africa, hardly a direct strategic concern. All of this should sound familiar in the debate over Iraq and the war on terrorism.

Conspiracy theories abounded then as they do today. Jon Meacham, in his book Franklin and Winston, writes about how FDR's critics believed that his Germany-first strategy was a result of excessive British influence. It wasn't a conspiracy involving Israel-loving neocons back then, but Anglophiles, who were manipulating the White House to serve British ends.

Both presidents also faced wild conspiracy theories that they manipulated intelligence to start a war: If Bush distorted intelligence to invade Iraq, FDR purposely ignored evidence that Japan was going to attack Pearl Harbor.

Then and now: Cries of politics

Democratic Sen. Millard Tydings essentially accused Roosevelt of ignoring his military advisers. Republican heavyweight Thomas Dewey, sounding like some of Bush's critics today, claimed that FDR's strategy of Germany first was really about domestic politics: FDR wanted to make sure that Pacific commander and potential GOP presidential candidate Gen. Douglas MacArthur didn't get the glory.

In a very strict and narrow military sense, FDR's critics were correct, just as Bush's are today. Germany did not pose an immediate military threat to the United States the way that Japan did.

In a fascinating parallel to Bush and Iraq, part of FDR's motivation for defeating Germany first was fear that the Nazis were working on atomic weapons. Alas, postwar intelligence revealed that Germany (like Saddam Hussein's Iraq) did not have much of a program. But military victory led most to ignore this massive intelligence failure.

FDR was not concerned with just the narrow military question of threats. Like Islamist extremists and secular Saddam, Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany were opportunistic allies. Though the Nazis considered the Japanese racially inferior, no better than mongrels, they were part of a worldwide movement. Using the same logic that Bush does today, FDR understood the need for a grand strategy that destroyed the movement, not just certain military aggressors that were part of it.

Grand strategy is not only about defeating enemies, but also defeating them in a sequence and a manner that leads to a favorable postwar situation. Can anyone seriously doubt that defeating al-Qaeda but leaving the political situation in the Middle East the same is at best a temporary victory? Bush, as FDR did, understands that only with political transformation will the postwar prospects for peace improve.

A worldview

The threat we face today is more amorphous and less easy to define than it was during World War II. But the strategic principles remain the same. Bush's critics, like Roosevelt's, are flawed in their thinking because they lack a grand strategy. Concerned only (or so they say) with the military defeat of al-Qaeda, they have nothing to say about defeating a worldwide movement or how to build a foundation for a successful postwar world.

There have been numerous tactical mistakes made in the war on terrorism, just as there were under Roosevelt 60 years ago. Nonetheless, we cannot let tragic, tactical setbacks, like the recent deaths of 20 Marines from one unit, lead us to abandon the grand strategy. Allied errors at the Battle of the Bulge didn't mean the sweep across Europe was wrong.

Bush is in many ways FDR's strategic soul mate. His war on terror is a total global war against a movement comprised of terrorist groups and their state sponsors. By ousting both Saddam and the Taliban, he has removed two important components of the worldwide terrorist movement. And his grand strategy is slowly achieving results.

The forces of reform in the Middle East have been strengthened; the terrorist movement has been psychologically shaken. By destroying Saddam's military machine overnight, he has completely changed the psychology of the war on terrorism. Bush's strategy is one that FDR would understand well.

(Peter Schweizer is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and author of the forthcoming book Do as I Say (Not as I Do).)

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