How to kill two birds with a single stone? Nearly all policymakers are once faced with this dilemma and United States President Barack Obama is no exception. With war and recession looming, he may look up to one of his predecessors whom he particularly admires. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Democratic Party monument, was also a master political strategist. His never say die attitude allowed Roosevelt to launch one of the most successful political careers in American history despite a long and personal struggle with polio.
Seventy years ago, FDR’s master strategy was in full display. Roosevelt was a pragmatist as well as a realist. He understood, unlike one of his heroes, Woodrow Wilson, that the average American was not particularly inclined to sacrifice his or her life fighting wars overseas in Asia or Europe, separated from the United States by the vast Pacific and Atlantic Oceans which had served to shelter the young nation from foreign aggression. He needed a master strategy to convince his people that their fate and prosperity was linked to conflict on other continents.
Today, 69 years ago today, the Chicago Tribune carried a front page story about the American military’s Rainbow 5 plan. It envisaged attacks against German occupied Europe with up to ten million American troops as well action in the Pacific against the Empire of Japan. Rainbow 5 was one of several plans devised for American involvement in what would become World War II. It was leaked a mere four days ahead of the Japanese attack on the American naval station in Hawaii under the title “FDR’s War Plans.”
Many years before the Rainbow 5 plans were drafted, American strategists understood that their country would one day have to play a greater role in international relations, including Europe and colonized Asia. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 was a major push in this direction. The United States have since been able to organize swift naval action in both the Atlantic and the Pacific and from its bases in the Philippines, the US Navy can operate in the Indian Ocean region as well.
On the eve of World War II however support for American involvement in what was largely considered to be a European war was scarce. Many opposition lawmakers favored isolationism instead of engagement. War plans as Rainbow 5 would never have been ratified by Congress if it weren’t for the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941. Pearl Harbor changed world history — and some suggest that it wasn’t by accident.
Robert Stinnett, a former US sailor, claims in Day of Deceit (1999) that the Roosevelt Administration provoked the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, possibly in order to distract attention from its failure to end the Great Depression. If the White House knew that an attack against the United States was imminent, might it have been responsible for the leak of Rainbow 5?
The Chicago Tribune was a strong Republican newspaper at the time, funded by anti-war activists. FDR had to try to win their support to secure his third term as president in 1940. He famously promised not to send American “boys” to fight in “any foreign war” but if America itself was under attack, that would certainly have changed the public sentiment.
From what we know of Obama so far, he certainly resembles Roosevelt’s cool and stress free demeanor. Is there a chance that WikiLeaks’ release of confidential American embassy cables was organized just as the release of FDR’s war plans was? Only history will tell us.
In the meantime, the bigger lesson one needs to learn is never to count out the Yankees. And let us not forget the words of the late Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom who observed that Americans “can always be counted on to do the right thing — after they have exhausted all other possibilities.”