Why Obama Won't Fire McChrystal
There’s something about presidents and Army generals with Scots-Irish surnames in wartime. President Abraham Lincoln had trouble with General George McClellan during the Civil War, Harry Truman had trouble with Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War, and now Barack Obama faces trouble with Stanley McChrystal during the Afghan War.
My guess is that McChrystal will survive in his post. The words attributed to him and his team in Rolling Stone--he felt “betrayed” by the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan; James Jones, the national security adviser, is a “clown”; and, perhaps most stark of all, he regarded “the wimps in the White House” as an enemy--were pretty strong, bordering on insubordination, and yet his apology was pretty abject.
And Obama really can’t afford to fire McChrystal in 2010, as Lincoln fired McClellan in 1862, and as Truman fired MacArthur in 1951. If the president does fire McChrystal, his administration will then see an enormous blow-up over Afghanistan policy, with critics on both the hawkish right and the dovish left pounding away at the commander in chief in the muddled middle.
Moreover, Obama might think to himself that if he fires McChrystal, he will be minting a possible new Republican presidential or vice presidential candidate to oppose him in 2012.
In wartime, people naturally look to military leaders. McClellan, it will be recalled, was the Democratic presidential candidate in 1864, running against Lincoln. And for his part, MacArthur angled, unsuccessfully, for the 1952 Republican nomination, to take on his old boss, Truman.
But in 1952, Truman, a Democrat, found his own further presidential ambitions thwarted; political reality made his re-election impossible, and so he chose to retire.
And the new president was another Army general, a colleague of MacArthur’s--although a very different personality--Dwight Eisenhower. Ike was not Scots-Irish, he was Pennsylvania Dutch. And he was an easy winner in the ’52 election, serving two successful terms in the White House.
And let’s see, today there’s a prominent general with a Dutch surname, a proven leader, successful in war, still active in public affairs, whom some see as presidential timber. What’s his name? Ah, yes. Petraeus. General David Petraeus.