September 30, 2004

WE MIGHT EVEN WIN THIS ONE (via Michael Herdegen):

History Can Offer Bush Hope ... (Max Boot, September 23, 2004, LA Times)

Lest we be too hard on Bush, it's useful to recall the travails of the nation's two most successful commanders in chief, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.

Lincoln is remembered, of course, for winning the Civil War and freeing the slaves. We tend to forget that along the way he lost more battles than any other president: First and Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Chickamauga…. The list of federal defeats was long and dispiriting. So was the list of federal victories (e.g., Antietam, Gettysburg) that could have been exploited to shorten the conflict, but weren't.

As the Union's fortunes fell, opponents tarred Lincoln with invective that might make even Michael Moore blush. Harper's magazine called him a "despot, liar, thief, braggart, buffoon, usurper, monster, ignoramus." As late as the summer of 1864, Lincoln appeared likely to lose his bid for reelection. Only the fall of Atlanta on Sept. 2 saved his presidency.

Most of the Union's failures were because of inept generalship, but it was Lincoln who chose the generals, including many political appointees with scant military experience. He ultimately won the war only by backing Ulysses Grant's brutal attritional tactics that have often been criticized as sheer butchery.

Roosevelt had more than his share of mistakes too, the most notorious being his failure to prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor, even though U.S. code breakers had given him better intelligence than Bush had before Sept. 11. FDR also did not do enough to prepare the armed forces for war, and then pushed them into early offensives at Guadalcanal and North Africa that took a heavy toll on inexperienced troops. At Kasserine Pass, Tunisia, in 1943, the U.S. Army was mauled by veteran German units, losing more than 6,000 soldiers.

The Allies went on to win the war but still suffered many snafus, such as Operation Market Garden, a failed airborne assault on Holland in September 1944, and the Battle of the Bulge three months later, when a massive German onslaught in the Ardennes caught U.S. troops napping.

Though FDR bore only indirect responsibility for most of these screw-ups, he was more directly culpable for other bad calls, such as the decision to detain 120,000 Japanese Americans without any proof of their disloyalty. Like Lincoln, who jailed suspected Southern sympathizers without trial, Roosevelt was guilty of civil liberties restrictions that were light-years beyond the Patriot Act. And, like Bush, Roosevelt didn't do enough to prepare for the postwar period. His failure to occupy more of Eastern Europe before the Red Army arrived consigned millions to tyranny; his failure to plan for the future of Korea and Vietnam after the Japanese left helped lead to two wars that killed 100,000 Americans.

None of this is meant in any way to denigrate the inspired leadership of two great presidents. Both Lincoln and Roosevelt were brilliant wartime leaders precisely because they were able to overcome adversity and inspire the country toward ultimate victory with their unflagging will to win. That's what Bush is trying to do today.

Considering that the post-Civil War period resulted in blacks living in virtual servitude and true apartheid and that the post-WWII period ended with all of Eastern Europe, including half of supposedly liberated Germany, and much of Asia under Communism it's impossible to imagine that President Bush will fail as badly as did his predecessors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 30, 2004 9:13 AM


Had Lincoln lived the nation may have healed more quickly. The radical Repubs. would have been kept in check. The progress of blacks would have been less volatile, more sustained as a result. As for FDR, he honestly thought he could work "uncle Joe" as if he were a reticent congressman. Dumb.

Kerry is doing a remarkable imitation of Geo. McClellen, however.

Posted by: Tom C, Stamford,Ct. at September 30, 2004 9:30 AM

Tom, good points, could you expand on how FDR wanted to work "uncle joe"? -Perry

Posted by: Perry at September 30, 2004 10:20 AM

FDR to Churchill, March 18, 1942:

"I know you will not mind my being brutally frank when I tell you I think I can personally handle Stalin better than your Foreign Office or my State Department. Stalin hates the guts of all your top people. He thinks he likes me better, and I hope he will continue to do so."

"Uncle Joe is smarter and toughfer than I thought he was."

(FDR) "..never gave up the conviction he could convince old Joe to go our way."
James Roosevelt

Posted by: Tom C, Stamford,Ct. at September 30, 2004 11:29 AM

OJ, aren't you the one who routinely decries "the perfect as the enemy of the good"? Portraying Lincoln, who saved the nation, and FDR, who brought us to world dominance, as failures is beyond ridiculous. That their victories were imperfect does not make them failures. Bush's victory is likely to be imperfect as well, and he faces a less lethal foe.

Posted by: Brandon at September 30, 2004 12:00 PM

The only way the western allies could have gotten into Eastern Europe before the Red Army is if Ike had given Patton the materials and supplies he provided to Monty for Market-Garden. There is no other plausible scenario.

I think the Yalta Conference would have turned out quite differently if Patton had already crossed the Rhine, breached the Siegfried line, and was rushing towards Berlin. But even that would probably only have provided a land corridor to West Berlin and saved only Czechoslovakia and perhaps Hungary. Poland and Romania were still screwed not to mention the Baltics.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at September 30, 2004 12:18 PM

Perry et al:

Don't forget that one of FDR's advisers regarding how to handle Stalin was a guy named Alger Hiss -- on Stalin's payroll as a deep-cover "operative".

Posted by: Ken at September 30, 2004 12:28 PM


Yes, but the perfect is the enemy of the bad as well.

Posted by: oj at September 30, 2004 1:24 PM

Brandon: Our world dominance dates at least back to WWI, when it was proven and the rest of the contenders shot each other. It could also be backdated to 1907 and the Great White Fleet; 1898 and the Spanish-American War; and even 1865 and the Civil War. The reports sent back by European military envoys to the North and South make fascinating reading.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 30, 2004 1:38 PM


What's really strange is why anyone though the WWI tactics would work given what they should have learned from the Civil War. Which is why Gallipolli, though badly commanded, was one of the only intelligent moments in the war.

Posted by: oj at September 30, 2004 1:49 PM

Brandon -

"less lethal foe" I would have to disagree. With the proliferation of bio, chem, and nukes this foe is the deadliest we have ever faced. It is a lot more difficult to protest the homeland from a small group carrying a WMD. Add to it the dithering of the world body, the anti-American left, the enemies embrace of death, and the foes advantage of not having to protect any cities or capitals all means we are facing our greatest challenge.

Posted by: BJW at September 30, 2004 2:39 PM


Our world dominance does not extend back to WWI and certainly not back to the Civil War. The fact that in WWI we proved that our capability to intervene in an event would be decisive, does not mean that we decided anything.


Europeans thought that the results of combat in 1865 had been overridden by the events in 1871.

Posted by: Brandon at September 30, 2004 2:43 PM


Dominance didn't start then--we build down our military between wars--but the Civil War showed and WWI conclusively proved, that no one could stand against us if we chose to assert ourselves.

Posted by: oj at September 30, 2004 2:47 PM

Brandon: We were more dominant in 1918 than we were in 1946.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 30, 2004 4:52 PM


No way. In 1918, we had barely beaten the Germans, had a navy only equal to Britain and had no presence in Asia beyond the Phillipines.

Posted by: Brandon at September 30, 2004 5:21 PM


In Nov. 1918, Germany was 2 or 3 months from absolute collapse. And the US had moral power, which meant something in those days. We could have simply taken over the entire Western front, and the Europeans could not have done a thing - they were spent.

Who cared about Asia? The Japanese fleet would not have dared oppose any American move in 1918. We could have set up naval bases wherever we chose.

Had we decided to kill Lenin, the Kaiser, and put American bases in France, Austria, Russia, and Poland, no one would have blinked.

But we didn't.

Had TR been President in 1918, the world would have been quite different. Having Wilson at Versailles was a tragedy. But the US was not ready to wear the mantle that it inherited (again) in 1945.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 30, 2004 5:43 PM

Jim's right. Shoot, America barely broke a sweat in WWI, and a truly imperialistic war was more politically realistic than then it has been at any point since. Remember that the Spanish American War was then about as long ago as the Cold War is today.

Posted by: Timothy at September 30, 2004 6:15 PM

jim: Supply lines?

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at September 30, 2004 6:37 PM

Jim, so dominating the world is now reduced to dominating the Western Front? The Allies managed to move from France to Belgium in SIX MONTHS but could have easily occupied the whole of Europe? Sure.

Posted by: Brandon at September 30, 2004 7:15 PM

Why occupy anything?

Posted by: oj at September 30, 2004 7:55 PM