by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
How does one turn President Obama’s admission that “we don’t have a strategy yet” to deal with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria into a net positive for him? E.J. Dionne stretches so far in the attempt that his arms must be breaking, likening it to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s comment after his “Quarantine the Aggressor’ speech in 1937 — “we are looking for a program” — to suggest that the two men were birds of a feather, caught in “a world flying out of control.”
Where to begin? Both men were Democrats, and both came from Hyde Park — or ‘came from a Hyde Park’ might describe the truth better — but points of resemblance are otherwise lacking. Obama comes from the anti-war movement, whereas FDR was a chip off the block of his fifth-cousin Theodore. He served as Teddy’s mole in the Navy Department as the latter connived to push a pacifist president into the war.
The Roosevelts reveled in power and saw themselves are world leaders. Obama wants to ‘lead from behind,’ greatly reduce the national footprint, and wind down its military role. The Roosevelts saw their country as the exceptional nation; Obama thinks America is exceptional only in its own fantasies, sort of like Greece.
In most ways, the men are opposites of each other, but the most striking difference is this: between 1935 and the attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR was a tough-minded realist. He knew war was coming, and he was driven almost insane by the isolationist mood of his country and Congress. Obama, on the other hand, is a leader in denial about the state of the world and his country. He is being pushed into a pale and conditional species of action by the foreign relations establishment of both major parties, bipartisan figures in both houses of Congress, and an angry and anxious American public, not quite as war-weary as legend has had it, which is miles ahead of its chief.