World War II - the "Good War" - has an iconic place in our history, and because of this we tend to see it as a model for how wars should be fought. Never undertake a "war of choice" and always start with a clear declaration of war. Americans aren’t good at the muddled, balance-of-power wars that Europeans specialized in before the 20th century. World War II lacks the bitter feel of Korea and Vietnam. We don't do "limited wars" very well - as a religious people, we yearn for an all-out crusade against evil incarnate, and World War II was the perfect model of that.
Roosevelt also has an iconic place in our minds, but I think this is solely because he was commander-in-chief during the war. The New Deal was a complete failure - unemployment in 1939 was 17%. Beating Hitler, sending the unemployed overseas, and women working double-shifts in munitions factories formed his legacy. If he didn't go for a third term he'd be remembered for soup kitchens, bank robbers roaming the plains, and trying to pack the Supreme Court.
Some claim that Bush "should have known" about 9/11. While anything Bush should have known Clinton should have known as well (especially since the World Trade Center was attacked early in his administration), there is a better case that Roosevelt knew Japan would attack in the Pacific. Note I said better case than Bush but neither case is strong - I'm no conspiracy theorist.
Bush is said to have had it in for Iraq from the moment he took office, and seized on 9/11 as an excuse. That Roosevelt was spoiling for a fight with Germany is clear. Long before Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt chartered military staff talks with Britain, planning our European and Pacific strategies. Lend-lease tied us to Britain as well as putting the still-unemployed back to work. Well before Pearl Harbor, we had US ships escorting convoys halfway across the Atlantic. Recall that we were brought into World War I because of submarine attacks in the Atlantic.
The American people were overwhelmingly isolationist - so much so that Roosevelt, an accomplished politician if nothing else, knew that it would take an attack on America to gain our participation in the war. And we were by no means sympathetic in general with Britain - there were too many German and Irish Americans to make that issue clear before late 1940.
Propaganda? Using an attack by one enemy (Al-Queda) as an excuse to start a campaign against another country (Iraq)? The first massive ground and naval action after Pearl Harbor was an attack against . . . French North Africa. Ahh, but you say: Germany declared war against us! I recommend a fascinating, little known book called Hitler Attacks Pearl Harbor. It is a detailed study of US media coverage immediately before Pearl Harbor, and the month after it. The author makes the claim that the German declaration of war changed nothing. Even in its absence we still would have focused most of our war effort against Germany, because that was what we had been planning (with Britain, in secret) all along. There were stories in the media that Japan was incapable of such an attack. There were editorials that claimed they must have had the assistance of German planning, German planes - even German pilots! It puts the run-up to the Iraq war to shame.
Bush's assault on civil liberties and Guantonimo? Roosevelt had internment camps for US citizens on US soil.
What about Bush's obsequious "alliance" with the tyrannical, repressive Saudis? Think of all the pleasant, warm chats Franklin had with Joe Stalin.
Notwithstanding the above, there are good reasons for the actions that Roosevelt took. But there are good reasons for the things that Bush did as well. Americans would do well to recall that he does not bare sole responsibility for this. The war against Saddam was overwhelmingly popular as the tanks were steaming into Baghdad. We were in crusade mode then, but as things became muddled we deny ourselves, and act like Bush did this alone. As if there were hundreds of thousands of protesters who were barricaded in the streets of this country while the statue of Saddam was pulled down in Baghdad.
I think history will see Bush in a better light that he is seen now. I'm in only partial agreement with him on Iraq. Dragging Saddam out of his hole was the best possible lesson that leaders - no matter how many bunkers, guards, and palaces they have - should think twice before lending support to those who would attack us. When an attack on our soil kills more Americans than Pearl Harbor, a disproportionate response (like invading North Africa with the same number of troops that we sent to Iraq) is warranted.
But we should have left Iraq long ago. We don’t need an empire, and when I see the imperial temple we're building in the Green Zone, I'm afraid that's the path we've taken.