By Dave Kopel
October 07, 2004, 8:47 a.m., National Review Online. More by Kopel on fighting terrorists.
Thanks to Senator John Kerry, there has been a lot of talk recently about the proper response to Pearl Harbor. He claims that "invading Iraq in response to 9/11 would be like Franklin Roosevelt invading Mexico in response to Pearl Harbor." The senator should check his history.
After Pearl Harbor, the United States did not just fight a defensive war against the Japanese, who had attacked us, and against whom we initially could do little except try to slow down our losses. And we did not just fight Germany and Italy, who declared war against us. And we certainly did not attack Mexico, a friendly nation that had resisted German blandishments in the First World War and had little sympathy for the Axis in its sequel.
So what was the first major American offensive of the Second World War? The invasion of a neutral country.
Operation Torch was the November 8, 1942, Anglo-American invasion of Morocco and Algeria, both colonies of Vichy France — a neutral in the war since June 1940. The Vichyites had engaged in no hostile actions against the United States, and obviously played no role in the Pearl Harbor attack. Vichy France and its colonies posed no threat to the United States. But President Roosevelt had a strategic vision. He recognized that attacking an innocent nation formally at peace with the United States was necessary to winning the broader war against Fascism.
Franklin Roosevelt and John Kerry have a lot in common: opportunistic, duplicitous, big-government Northeasterners naively supportive of the United Nations. The crucial difference is that President Roosevelt understood that defeating our totalitarian foes required fighting anywhere and everywhere we chose, on our own terms, regardless of international law.
Operation Torch was an unprovoked attack against a neutral, and against a country which was (compared to Saddam's Iraq) a human-rights paradise. Like George Bush, Roosevelt miscalculated the extent of the resistance. Some of the Vichy forces fought against the American invasion, and the Germans quickly moved into North Africa (just as Syrian and Iranian surrogates have begun fighting in Iraq). Whereas North Africa had previously been free of the Wehrmacht, the area quickly became a German base, as Iraq is now an al Qaeda base. The invasion of North Africa was hindered by Roosevelt's mistaken reliance on a local leader (French Admiral Darlan), who was a treacherous rogue intent only on advancing his own power — a mistake also repeated by the Americans in Iraq.
Operation Torch was contrary to international law and to the wishes of the French government; yet in the long run, it advanced the interests of international law and of France. Attacking a country that bore no responsibility for Pearl Harbor was key to preventing future Pearl Harbors. Likewise, the destruction of the Saddam regime and the construction of Iraqi democracy are inflicting a terrible blow against the Islamofascists who preach that the only political choice for Arabs is totalitarianism.
Today, despite its tactical errors, Operation Torch is recognized as a strategic success. Like Operation Iraqi Freedom, Torch opened a new front in the war against international fascism. In a global war for the survival of freedom, people who want America to fight only a single foe in a single place show that they lack the strategic vision of President Roosevelt and President Bush.