Bush’s Pearl Harbor?

BUSH’S PEARL HARBOR?….James Pinkerton today:

If you knew that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had received a memo a month before Pearl Harbor entitled, “Japanese Determined to Attack the United States in the Pacific,” and that he had done nothing about that information, would that knowledge change your perception of FDR as a wise war leader?

Actually, the analogy is remarkably close. FDR and his staff did know the Japanese were planning an attack. In fact, they spoke about it in a cabinet meeting exactly one month before Pearl Harbor, and in late November sent warnings to military units in the Pacific warning them of the possibility of war. Unfortunately, they thought the most likely targets for the Japanese attack were the Philippines, Thailand, Malaya, or Borneo.

Of course, where the analogy breaks down is that FDR did do something about that information. He knew exactly how serious the threat was, had begun a military buildup years before, had reinstated the draft in 1940, and had methodically worked on public opinion the entire time. By December 7 the United States was uncommonly well prepared in both military and psychological terms for a long, bloody war.

George Bush didn’t have several years to prepare for 9/11, of course, but even so the contrast is instructive. He seemingly had no idea how serious the threat was, paid scant attention to warnings during the summer of 2001, and even after 9/11 did very little to prepare public opinion for anything more than business as usual. Likewise, on the military side, nothing changed either. Instead, 9/11 was simply an excuse to invade Iraq, something he had wanted to do all along anyway.

It is hardly a coincidence that World War II had broad bipartisan support and the Iraq war didn’t. The reason is that, unlike FDR, George Bush cynically began using 9/11 as a partisan cudgel almost from the very beginning. If, instead, he had genuinely reached out to his opponents and treated 9/11 as an opportunity to unite the entire nation, things today would be very different indeed.

Treating 9/11 as just another way to hammer his political opponents was an act of unsurpassed callowness, the response of a man who is congenitally unable to view anything except in terms of smallminded partisan advantage. Instead of using 9/11 as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to unite the nation, George Bush viewed it as a way to pick up a few seats in the House. It is this, more than any other single thing, that I most hold against him.