I’m sorry to say that initial enthusiasm turned to disappointment as I read the Thursday Commentary column by John C. Waugh, “McClellan and McChrystal.” I had been waiting for someone to use the Abraham Lincoln comparison with regard to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s firing, but I don’t agree with the one Mr. Waugh used.
As a self-proclaimed Civil War buff, I believe it is fallacious to compare the incidents involving Gen. McChrystal and Gen. Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur argued against President Truman’s policy, not his person. Gen. McChrystal personally and publicly insulted the president and his administration. This was, of course, foolish and a proper basis for being relieved - but it did not “undermine civilian control of the military.” At no time did Gen. McChrystal advocate disobeying the orders of the president.
Closer analogies between Lincoln and President Obama are the following two incidents (using David Donald’s “Lincoln” as a reference): On the night of Nov. 13, 1861, Lincoln waited at McClellan’s home for an hour for his return. When he did come home, McClellan ignored the president and went upstairs. After another hour, the president was told that McClellan had gone to bed. Lincoln expressed the view that “it was better at this time not to be making points of etiquette and personal dignity” and said that he was willing to hold McClellan’s horse if he would win a victory.
In appointing “Fighting Joe” Hooker to command the Army of the Potomac, Lincoln told him, “[T]here are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you,” and mentioned his “recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a Dictator. … Of course, it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you command. Only those generals who gain success can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success and I will risk the dictatorship.”
This singleness of purpose made Lincoln a great president. He put success in battle above personal feelings.
If Gen. David H. Petraeus were to become incapacitated, would Mr. Obama reinstate Gen. McChrystal as commander in Afghanistan? I hope that he would, like Lincoln, put the interest of the war above personal feelings.