Imagine the progress Franklin D. Roosevelt might have made as commander-in-chief of American forces during the Second World War if only he could have had the benefit of advice from James Baker, Lee Hamilton and the other members of the Iraq Study Group. Today's column applies its lessons-indeed, whole sections of its text-to that earlier quagmire:
February 25, 1943
It is an honor and privilege to present you and the Congress with the attached 79 recommendations which are detailed in the following 50 pages. In addition you will find a 40-page preface summarizing the state of the current conflict, plus maps, lists of the experts whose advice contributed to our disinterested conclusions, and full biographies of the commissioners who participated in this bipartisan study. (Autographed photographs are available on request.)
After long and arduous study at a generally safe distance, and by matching the self-evident with the undeniable, offsetting every platitude with a generality, and scrupulously avoiding unhelpful and provocative concepts like honor and victory, we now have reached a carefully balanced bipartisan consensus sure to give no offense or risk dangerous specifics, to wit:
The situation worldwide is grave and deteriorating. There is no path that can guarantee success, but the prospects can be improved. During the past nine months we have considered a full range of approaches for moving forward. All have flaws. Our recommended course has shortcomings, but we firmly believe that it includes the best strategies and tactics to positively influence the outcome.
Despite the greatest mass mobilization in our country's history, the enemy remains on the offensive and is proceeding to expand its earlier gains. To quote one of the distinguished historians on our extensive panel of consultants: "So swift and far-reaching were the Axis victories during the first six months of 1942 that it seemed the United Nations had lost the warŠ." -Arthur S. Link, professor of history, Northwestern University, in his "American Epoch."
Within days of their disastrously effective attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese opened a successful offensive all across the Pacific, and as of this writing control Hong Kong, Malaya, the Philippines, and a number of lesser outposts. Guam, Wake Island and Singapore have been overrun. Most of Burma is lost, and India and Ceylon are threatened. The Japanese navy largely controls the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. Except for a remnant that has made its way to Australia, the Allied fleet has been destroyed in the Java Sea campaign.
In view of Japanese dominance in the Pacific theater, it is time to open negotiations looking to a stable and enduring peace in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The results of Operation TORCH in North Africa have proved no less disheartening. Despite early progress, the outlook is bleak, as this week's news from Kasserine Pass illustrates.
With only some exceptions, our allies falter and retreat. In contrast to early and overly optimistic reports from the boisterous General Geo. S. Patton, enemy forces under the command of a seasoned and daring strategist, Field Marshal Erwin J.E. Rommel, aka The Desert Fox, continue to inflict heavy damage and threaten the progress of our arms.
Appeals to Wilsonian ideals like freedom and self-determination cannot compete with traditional European and Asiatic modes of thinking that emphasize nationalism and obedience to a strong leader. We have become involved in lands whose culture and languages are woefully beyond our understanding, and with which we have little if anything in common.
All of continental Europe is in Axis hands, and the Free French represent little more than a paper army compared to Vichy under Marshal Petain. Our British ally is exhausted despite the bravado shown by their unrealistic and ineffective leader, whatever his oratorical gifts. At best we may hope to make alliances with disaffected or captured leaders of the enemy like the late Admiral Darlan, and even such "allies" may not prove reliable as the tides of war turn.
What course do we recommend? Given the weakness of our allies, the United States should launch a new diplomatic offensive to build an international consensus for stability, reconciliation and the reconstruction of Europe and Asia. The ambitions of Germany, Italy and Japan should be left to a revitalized League of Nations to deal with while we strive to reach a modus vivendi with their leaders.
There must be a renewed and sustained commitment to a three-state solution in the Balkan tinderbox, which remains a central issue in this worldwide conflict. Until the peace process there is reinvigorated through U.S. intervention at the highest levels, there is little hope for a broader peace. The U.S. commitment must include direct talks with, by and between Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and any other Balkan nations that recognize each other's right to exist.
There is no magic formula to solve the world's problems. However, there are actions that can be taken to improve the situation and protect American interests. Many Americans are dissatisfied, as the midterm elections of 1942 demonstrated, not just with the war but with the state of our political debate regarding the war.
Our political leaders must build a bipartisan approach to bring a responsible conclusion to what has become a costly conflict. Our country deserves a debate that prizes substance over rhetoric, and a policy that is adequately funded and sustainable. The president and Congress must work together. Our leaders must be candid and forthright with the American people in order to win their support.
No one can guarantee that any course of action at this point will stop the growing violence or a slide toward chaos. If current trends continue, the potential consequences are severe. Despite a massive effort, stability remains elusive and the situation is deteriorating. The ability of the United States to shape outcomes is diminishing. Time is running out. Because none of the operations conducted by U.S. and Allied forces are fundamentally changing the conditions encouraging the violence, U.S. forces seem to be caught in a mission that has no foreseeable end.
Because of the role and responsibility of the United States, and the commitments our government has made, the United States has special obligations. Mr. President, if you're still with us, our country must address as best as possible the world's many problems. The United States has long-term relationships and interests at stake in the world and needs to stay engaged.