McChrystal: What would Eisenhower have done?
Before President Obama ousted General McChrystal, he should have considered how Ike dealt with an incident involving legendary General George Patton during World War II.
“I do not envy the generals,” wrote the famous Civil War-era poet Walt Whitman.Skip to next paragraph
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Barely 18 months into his White House term, President Obama is now on his third commander in Afghanistan. The first, Gen. David McKiernan, was booted months ago. Gen. David Petraeus, the newest, just arrived.
This merry-go-round of senior generals could make or break the war effort and the Obama presidency. Time will tell.
The media compared the president’s action – perhaps imprecisely – to dismissals of commanders in earlier wars: Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Korea (1951), and Gen. George McClellan in the US Civil War (1862).
President Truman dumped MacArthur for being too aggressive.
President Lincoln fired McClellan for being too passive.
One wonders: If the two generals had swapped places, would either have been dismissed?
Mr. Obama’s action was for reasons that seem obvious, but were not fully explained. The catalyst was critical comments about senior civilian leaders by McChrystal and his staff to Rolling Stone magazine.
The words were impolitic. But a firing offense? Not necessarily.
MacArthur and McClellan were fired because each pursued warfighting in ways that upset their presidents.
In McChrystal’s case, the counterinsurgency plan in Afghanistan was developed by the general, and the president himself approved it.
Rather, this looks as if Obama fired McChrystal for being a blabbermouth in front of a reporter.
That logic brings us to what may be a better historic comparison. McChrystal got into trouble for being a gung-ho, macho, tough-talking warrior. It rather reminds one of George Patton of World War II fame.
General Patton often put his boot in his mouth. And he sometimes acted rashly, such as the time in Sicily when he slapped two enlisted men who had gone to field hospitals suffering from “combat fatigue.” It was a court martial offense, but Gen. Dwight (Ike) Eisenhower, his commander, let Patton off with little more than a reprimand.
Why the soft treatment? Ike appreciated something that the public did not. Patton was an extraordinary commander. He inspired his men. He was extremely aggressive, something that America needed as World War II heated up.