Gen. Stanley McChrystal might be fired Wednesday because he made contemptuous remarks about senior US officials to Rolling Stone magazine. If he does lose his job, it will represent a rare – but not unprecedented – dismissal of a wartime military commander by civilian leaders.
The most dramatic such replacement since World War II was probably President Truman’s sacking of Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur. At the time, MacArthur was commander of the United Nations forces defending South Korea in the Korean War. His daring amphibious assault at Inchon helped turn the tide of that conflict, but his public statements criticizing Mr. Truman’s policies became intolerable. At one point, for instance, MacArthur called the administration’s Far East positions “appeasement and defeatism in the Pacific.”
MacArthur even then was a legendary figure, but Truman decided he could not put up with the general’s continued blather. He fired him in April 1951.
“I was ready to kick him into the North China Sea, I was never so put out in my life,” Truman said later.
Here are three other, more-recent examples of military commanders whose words or beliefs resulted in their early retirement:
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael J. Dugan. Dugan was the Air Force’s top-ranking officer just prior to the Gulf War, but he was dismissed by Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney in September 1990, because of statements the officer made during a five-day trip to Saudi Arabia.
Dugan had told reporters that the only way to drive out the Iraqi troops then occupying Kuwait was to heavily bomb downtown Baghdad. “If I want to hurt you, it would be at home, not out in the woods someplace,” Dugan said.
Mr. Cheney quickly replaced him, saying that Dugan had shown poor judgment at a sensitive time.
Central Command chief Adm. William Fallon. In 2007, Fallon became the first Navy officer to assume the crucial Central Command post, which oversees much of the Middle East. But in 2008, a lengthy article in Esquire magazine depicted him as the only person standing between the Bush administration and war with Iran.
The Bush administration was not amused. On March 11, 2008, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced Fallon’s resignation.
Following his job loss, Fallon gave an interview in which he said he felt that he had been used as a tool to attack Bush policies, although that had not been his intention, and that the whole incident had been an “embarrassment.”
Afghan Commander Gen. David McKiernan. Just last year, Secretary Gates sacked McChrystal’s predecessor, McKiernan, at a time when the new Obama administration was increasingly concerned about the direction of US policy in that country.
McKiernan was known as something of an Army traditionalist, and the feeling at the time was that the Obama team was looking for a fresh commander who was more open to different approaches, such as increased use of new counterinsurgency techniques.
“We have a new strategy, a new mission, and a new ambassador. I believe that a new military leadership is also needed,” said Gates at a Pentagon news conference on May 12, 2009.
McCrystal was director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff at the time but had also served two years as chief of Special Operations Command. If he does lose his job Wednesday, he will have served in Afghanistan just over a year.