One of the many irritating things about US foreign policy is its complete lack of imagination. We just keep running the same old scripts over and over. World War II, probably the US’s best war, and really the only one that can be called “good” in the 20th century, still provides the mental models for most foreign policy practitioners. This comes about in very conscious ways, such as the closing in on a century long insistence that everybody the US doesn’t like is Hitler, but I think it comes about in unconscious ways too.
In today’s video, I talk about the way that US National Security Adviser John Bolton’s foreign policy directly echoes FDR’s. They both wanted war, though for very different reasons. John Bolton is using similar tools, and as the past week illustrates he’s getting perilously close to bringing about the same results. But unlike FDR, he has no noble purpose. This is some scary stuff. But it’s also pitiful. We’ve advanced so much as a world over the past 70 years. It’s profoundly disappointing that the most powerful people in it are playing out scripts from another era.
Video Transcript after the jump…
On December 7, 1941 the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, in the US territory of Hawaii. 2,335 soldiers were killed, and over 1,000 were wounded. This infamous surprise attack launched one of the US’s greatest struggles. Its one of the darkest days in American history. Yet one of the most powerful people in today’s United States, national security adviser John Bolton, is working hard to bring about a day just like it.
People who know history like to point out that sanctions have never brought about regime change. From Iraq in the 1990s, to Iran and Venezuela to Cuba for over half a century, it never works. I have used this talking point before myself, but it recently occurred to me that there is a big exception. Sanctions totally worked against Imperial Japan in the 1940s. There was just an intervening step, between sanctions and regime change. Four years of the most costly and ruinous war the world had ever seen.
Long before there were conspiracy theories about 9-11, there were questions about what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew about the attack on Pearl Harbor. The US public was famously anti-war back then. Did Roosevelt let Pearl Harbor happen to make the people want revenge? Did he have advance notice? Now there isn’t much evidence for this, and I think we owe FDR the benefit of the doubt on the specific question of Pearl Harbor. He probably didn’t want anything that bad to happen.
But he absolutely wanted to the US to go to war. Long before Pearl Harbor dragged us into World War II FDR was supporting our future allies through the lend lease program. Back then the US was the world’s biggest oil supplier. The US had been unhappy with Japan for quite some time, and in July of 1941 we instituted oil sanctions that were designed to starve Japan’s war machine to death.
Throughout the 1930s, Japan had committed itself further and further to swallowing up China. You can argue that World War II actually started with the commencement of all out war between China and Japan in 1937. The US had opposed this from the beginning, and implemented a number of sanctions. US planners kept the oil flowing after 1937 though. They thought that cutting off the oil would lead directly to war. They were right about that. FDR cut off the oil in July 1941, and the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor less than five months later. FDR got the war he wanted.
Now am I saying that FDR’s rush to get us into World War II, and John Bolton’s rush to get us into Iran are the same thing? Absolutely not. What we are doing to Iran is much, much more crushing than what we did to Japan. FDR was only shutting down one vital element of Japan’s economy that the US happened to control. The United States is much more powerful than we were back in the 1940s and the Trump administration is acting to keep anybody from doing any business with Iran at all. We are starving Iran and we are bragging about it.
President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are just thugs who want to look tough. John Bolton knows exactly what he is doing, and he wants to drag the United States into a war with Iran. FDR wanted to drag the US into war with Japan. Both these figures needed the United States to be attacked to get what they wanted. FDR got pearl harbor, and as the past week has shown, John Bolton is very eager to blame Iran for something, whether they did it or not. FDR’s tool for bringing about an attack was cutting off the oil. Bolton’s is the much more severe attempt to shut down the entire Iranian economy. The main difference between Bolton and FDR’s strategies is the reasoning behind their policies.
After pondering it for years, I think I have concluded that what FDR did was right. He had to fix the mess that Woodrow Wilson had made of the world. Germany and Japan were out of control aggressors, who had conquered multiple countries, and FDR was right to drag the United States into war to confront them. What has Iran done exactly? Who has Iran invaded? As far as I can tell, Iran’s great sins are defeating ISIS and defending Syria from US sponsored regime change. Iran is not the bad guy here.
FDR’s sanctions successfully brought down Japan only because they were a prelude to a war that killed millions. Our sanctions on Iran are designed to bring about another such war. Iran can’t reach Pearl Harbor, so John Bolton has kept US troops in Syria as sacrificial lambs. A couple months back I published a video that talked about what the US war with Iran would look like. Is this really what we want to do as a country? Is this even what President Trump wants to do?
Thanks for watching. Please subscribe, and click on the bell next to the subscribe button to get notifications whenever I upload a video.