President Trump’s campaign of “maximum pressure” against Iran reminds me of President Franklin Roosevelt’s similar campaign against Japan prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
After England declared war on Germany, owing to the latter’s invasion of Poland, the American people were overwhelmingly opposed to entry into the war. That was because they recognized that U.S. interventionism into World War I, which cost the lives and limbs of tens of thousands of American soldiers and severely infringed on the liberty of the American people, had accomplished nothing.
Americans had no interest in doing it again. Their mindsets were similar to those of our American ancestors, whose founding foreign policy was to avoid involvement in Europe’s forever wars.
In his 1940 campaign for president, Roosevelt told the American people that he was with them in their opposition to foreign wars. He said to them, “I’ve said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.”
The problem is that FDR was lying.
In fact, his secret aim was to circumvent the will of the American people and somehow maneuver the United States into the war.
During that time, U.S. presidents were still complying with the provision in the Constitution that prohibits the president from waging war without first securing a declaration of war from Congress. FDR knew, however, that securing such a declaration was impossible, given the overwhelming sentiment against getting involved in another European war.
So, FDR, who is widely recognized as one of the craftiest politicians in U.S. history, began figuring out a way by which he could embroil the nation in the war despite the fierce opposition of the American people. He decided that if he could provoke Germany into attacking U.S. ships, Congress would give him his desired declaration of war under the principle of self-defense.
So FDR embarked on a campaign of helping Great Britain in its war against Germany, such as by providing it with food, oil, and weaponry under the program called “Lend Lease” and also by using U.S. Naval vessels in assist British forces in the Atlantic. Much to Roosevelt’s chagrin, Germany, however, refused to take his bait and refrained from attacking U.S. Navy vessels.
A back door to war
That caused the wily FDR to look toward the Pacific, with the aim of provoking Japan into “firing the first shot.” His hope was that a war with Japan would provide a “back door” to getting involved in the European war.
So FDR embarked on a campaign aimed at preventing Japan from securing oil for its war machine in China, a plan that might well be serving as a model for Trump’s actions against Iran. FDR’s plan consisted of three main things: Place a tight oil embargo on Japan; seize Japanese assets in the United States; and place humiliating terms on the Japanese in “peace negotiations.”
As FDR tightened the embargo noose around Japan’s neck, Japan was left with three choices: capitulate to whatever FDR dictated, withdraw its military forces from China, or strike the United States militarily in the hope of breaking FDR’s oil embargo.
Japan chose the third option. That’s what its attack on Pearl Harbor was all about. It wasn’t the first stage in a Japanese attempt to take over America, as U.S. officials maintained. Instead, it was a way, it was hoped, to impede the U.S. Navy from interfering with Japan’s military takeover of oil fields in the Dutch East Indies.
Of course, FDR played the innocent. We’ve been attacked, he exclaimed. It’s a big surprise for us, he insinuated. We are shocked! Shocked! We had no idea that this was coming! We are totally innocent! We were just minding our own business! This is a day that will clearly live in infamy!
But it's all a lie. In fact, FDR’s plan had worked brilliantly. He had gotten what he wanted — U.S. involvement in the European war — and with overwhelming support of the American people, most of whom who did not comprehend what Roosevelt had done to embroil the United States in the war.
Trump’s brutal economic embargo on Iran brings to mind what FDR did to Japan. The difference, however, is that Trump’s objective seems different from that of Roosevelt. Seemingly, he isn’t targeting the Iranian people for death with his embargo in the hope of being provided an excuse for attacking Iran. Instead, he seems to be using his embargo simply as a means to force Iranian rulers to comply with his dictates, specifically to force them to agree to his terms for a new nuclear accord.
When Trump withdrew the United States from the accord that it had entered into with Iran under the Obama administration, it was with the aim of arriving at a new accord. Trump figured that by squeezing the economic life out of the Iranian citizenry with his embargo, he could induce Iran’s rulers to return to the bargaining table and enter into a new agreement, one that would be satisfactory to Trump, which he could then trumpet in his campaign for reelection.
What Trump didn’t figure on, however, was the unwillingness of the Iranian regime to go along with his scheme. Their position was quite logical: We have already entered into an agreement with the United States and we have upheld our end of that bargain. Therefore it is up to you to live up to your end rather than asking us to renegotiate what we have already agreed to.
It is also increasingly clear that Iran does not intend to capitulate, no matter how many Iranian citizens Trump and his forces kill with their sanctions. And it certainly shouldn’t surprise anyone if Iran was responsible for the destruction of those Saudi oil facilities. Given that Trump is preventing Iran from selling its oil, why would it surprise anyone that Iran decides to prevent Trump’s close ally, the tyrannical and murderous Saudi regime, from selling its oil?
Ironically, Trump’s plan to squeeze the Iranian people to death with his embargo in the hope of securing a new nuclear accord with Iran might well end up with the same result — war — as FDR’s scheme to squeeze the Japanese with his oil embargo.