Obama and McChrystal: The Generals Need a Lincoln

Obama and McChrystal: The Generals Need a Lincoln

Watching a president dismiss a senior general inevitably calls to mind Abraham Lincoln, who during the Civil War sacked generals left and right until he found one who served his purposes, and Harry Truman, who famously fired Gen. Douglas Macarthur during the Korean War.

Unlike his predecessors, who removed generals either for their performance or due to disagreements over policy and strategy, President Barack Obama let Gen. Stanley McChrystal go because McChrystal had permitted a command environment that led some of his staff to crudely dismiss the president's advisers. As if to underscore the continuity in policy and strategy, Obama appointed Gen. David Petraeus as McChrystal's replacement. Petraeus, credited with turning the Iraq war around and generally having a better ear for politics, was instrumental in the 2009 policy review that produced the strategy that McChrystal was executing in Afghanistan.

The commentary on McChrystal's removal has focused on civil-military relations and the domestic political implications for Obama's national security image. Obama's defenders, who range across the domestic political spectrum, cite Lincoln and Truman and the principle of civilian control of the military. But those who focus on McChrystal's impolitic comments as justification for his departure risk missing the larger point -- namely, the contradictions and fecklessness of a policy that created the frustration on the ground to begin with, and which led some members of McChrystal's staff to vent their feelings to a Rolling Stone reporter.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.