Roosevelt and His Diplomatic Pawns

Roosevelt and His Diplomatic Pawns

Mini Teaser: FDR masterfully maneuvered the United States into the Second World War without appearing to do so. His corps of envoys and advisers did little to shape the agenda of a strategic and political mastermind.

by Author(s): Conrad Black

This global conflict, from beginning to end, was a war of intricate grand strategy on all sides. Hitler recognized, based on Roosevelt’s actions, that he was almost at war with the United States in mid-1941, and if he did not move to eliminate the Soviet Union he could find himself at war with the combined might of Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt. It was a huge gamble, but he had built his career on gambles. If Hitler had flattened Stalin before America entered the war, as bulked in Roosevelt’s reasoning when he resigned himself to a Japanese attack on America to bring it into the war before Stalin and Hitler signed a separate peace, it would have been a very daunting and almost-insuperable task to dislodge the Third Reich from control of Western and Central Europe. Historian A. J. P. Taylor was essentially correct when he credited Roosevelt’s strategic genius and said, “He made the United States the greatest power in the world at virtually no cost.” Of course it was a great cost—but it paled in comparison to what all the other great powers endured.

In pretending that its five featured envoys achieved more than they did and operated in a more spontaneous policy-making environment than they did, Fullilove’s book inadvertently gives an oversimplified notion of great-power grand strategy in World War II. In doing so, it shortchanges somewhat the president who sent them, respectfully treated though he is. It also pushes the basically unsound notion, largely advanced by Doris Kearns Goodwin, that these matters were more collegial than they were. This isn’t the place for a review of other books. But Roosevelt made all the decisions and was little influenced by advice; Eleanor was not a copresident, as Goodwin suggests in No Ordinary Time, any more than Lincoln’s men profiled in Team of Rivals had much influence on their president. But both were excellent books, and so is this an interesting and a good book. Anyone who keeps these limitations in mind will find Fullilove’s Rendezvous with Destiny a very rewarding read.

Conrad Black is a writer and former newspaper publisher whose most recent book is Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America from Colonial Dependence to World Leadership (Encounter Books, 2013). He is chairman emeritus of The National Interest.

Image: Flickr/Tim Evanson. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Pullquote: It was Roosevelt's nature to use people and discard them, with a smile and a joke and a kind word, but absolutely ruthlessly.Image: Essay Types: Book Review