Seventy years ago today, the Japanese navy launched strikes against Pearl Harbor sinking much of “Battleship Row,” awakening a sleeping giant and forcing the United States into World War II with catastrophic effects for the Axis powers.

Countless lessons have been learned and many forgotten over that attack. Yet, seven decades later, a great deal is still to be learned from what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously coined as a Day of Infamy.

The first and most important lesson is that surprise attacks work — at first! Few surprise attacks have failed in achieving immediate aims at the start of war. Both Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s June 22, 1941, surprise attack against Russia achieved initial successes. But the end result was ultimately disastrous.

Japan had indeed launched a successful surprise attack on the Russian fleet in 1904. But the Japanese were desperate to negotiate a truce in 1905 bled by the Asian ground war against the czar and orchestrated by another Roosevelt — TR.

Second, an doctoral dissertation written by Keiichiro Komatsu published a dozen years ago had several important conclusions. Komatsu revealed a dysfunctional Japanese government riddled with bureaucratic infighting, perhaps as bad as that of the U.S. today. No one was in charge.

And if Komatsu’s convincing arguments were correct, the Japanese army and navy regarded the other as a more dangerous adversary than the United States. While the United States was able to break the Japanese codes through the system called “Magic,” the difficulties of the Japanese language and cultural differences distorted the translations in some cases confusing and not clarifying Japan’s actual policies and objectives.

Third, FDR’s aim was to engage the United States in the European war against Hitler. War in the Pacific was a diversion. Imagine FDR’s frustration when Congress declared war against Japan saying nothing about Nazi Germany. Fortunately, Hitler resolved that dilemma with his own gratuitous declaration of war against America two days later. Unfortunately, the nation cannot afford to depend on our enemies always coming to our aid.

These lessons are as applicable today as 70 years ago. The U.S. government is as badly broken as Japan’s was then. While we cannot predict sneak attacks, we can appreciate they may be of different character, September 11th withstanding. Consider more subtle approaches.

The United States, NATO and Russia remain deadlocked over missile defense in Europe. The Obama administration has invented a shrewd plan for missile defense called the Phased Adaptive Approach relying on pre-deployed radars and Aegis missiles largely aboard U.S. naval ships stationed in the Mediterranean. The Russians see any missile defense as a threat for a rationale the West rejects.

Russia has weak conventional defenses. Its military is a pale shadow of its former self. Up to 90 percent of its youth aren’t fit for military service. If a conventional war were to break out in Europe, which is as unlikely as flying to Mars tomorrow, the Russians would be overwhelmed. As a result, as the West did under U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, the Russians have chosen to rely on nuclear weapons for deterrence and as a counterweight to conventional inferiority. And of course China’s larger army in the east compounds Russia’s worries.

Given the latest collision between Pakistan and the United States and NATO and the blocking of supply routes to Afghanistan from Karachi, Russian control of the so-called Northern Distribution Network, which ships about half of the non-lethal logistics to Afghanistan, is a powerful lever. It is predictable that Russia will use that advantage in advancing its aims to limit missile defense. This is a surprise attack that should surprise no one.

Next, the United States needs to anticipate that the so-called Arab Spring is going wrong in terms of advancing democracy and stability. Here the language and cultural differences are crucial. As we misread the Magic intercepts, we don’t understand the lingua franca of the transitions occurring in the Middle East from Libya to Yemen.

Finally, in Afghanistan, what is the most significant surprise attack the Taliban and other opponents of the Karzai rule in Kabul could mount? Tet 1968 was a tactical defeat of the first magnitude for the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. Yet, it was a dramatic political victory that led to President Lyndon Johnson’s abdication and the ultimate defeat and withdrawal by America that would take another seven years to accomplish.

Why would the Taliban not attempt to replicate that in the coming months in which the killing of say 100 coalition troops in a day might have similar political impact?

Today’s world fortunately has an absence of threats as dangerous as fascist Japan and Germany. The United States is overextended and broke to boot. A sneak attack to exploit these vulnerabilities seems as certain as September 11th. But will we listen or remember history?

Probably not!

Harlan Ullman is senior advisor at the Atlantic Council, and chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business. This article was syndicated by UPI.