Tuesday, June 22, 2010

McChrystal's MacArthur Act

Six decades after a commanding general lost his job for bad-mouthing Harry Truman's conduct of the Korean War, another is in the White House today apologizing for deriding Obama officials over the conflict in Afghanistan.

But Stanley McChrystal is no Douglas MacArthur, a mythic figure after his triumphal World War II return to the Philippines and a consummate military politician who played Congress like a violin in opposing his President's caution over risking war with China in Korea.

Dwight Eisenhower, who served under him before becoming Supreme Commander, once noted that in the 1930s, "I studied acting under MacArthur."

With none of his predecessor's charisma, McChrystal is in trouble, not for disagreeing over policy but for demeaning Administration officials who have urged caution in Afghanistan during a Rolling Stone interview.

"Are you asking me about Vice President Biden?" McChrystal is quoted as asking the reporter at one point, laughing. "Who's that?" as an aide chimed in, "Biden? Did you say Bite Me?"

This kind of low-rent pique, also directed at Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke, is a far cry from MacArthur's eloquent but wrong-headed advocacy of widening the Korean War, warning that "if we lose the war to communism in Asia the fall of Europe is inevitable, win it and Europe most probably would avoid war and yet preserve freedom...There is no substitute for victory."

"Victory" in Afghanistan is an even murkier concept than it was in Korea back then, and it makes matters worse to have the American commander playing for cheap laughs at the expense of his Commander-in-Chief's political team.

McChrystal will no doubt escape MacArthur's fate of being fired for insubordination, but as he promises to button his lip in the future, he may want recall his role model's famous farewell to Congress:

"When I joined the Army...it was the fulfillment of all of my boyish hopes and dreams. The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that 'old soldiers never die; they just fade away.'"

For McChrystal, a little fading away right now would be a good idea.

1 comment:

Bob Broughton said...

MacArthur was fired for a lot more than just bad-mouthing the president.