Obama Fires McChrystal: A Truman-MacArthur Dismissal or a Lincoln-Hooker Moment?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

General Stanley McChrystal's fate was sealed with the publication of a bombshell Rolling Stone magazine profile on Tuesday. In less than forty-eight hours after the article surfaced on the internet, the U.S.'s top commander in the Afghanistan war found himself summoned to Washington, D.C. to hand his resignation to President Obama.

In a press conference announcing his decision to accept McChrystal's resignation, President Obama emphasized that "this is a change in personnel, but it is not a change in policy." Centcom commander General David Petraeus will take over for McChrystal. Though Petraeus is a familiar face with an arguably proven track record, some observers are dubious of the president's claim that U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is staying the same.

There is precedent for firing a general during wartime that might give us some perspective as we try to figure out what lies ahead in the Afghanistan war effort. David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for our partner, The New York Times, wrote a piece in yesterday's paper about two times in U.S. history when the president had a contentious relationship with a general.

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln quarreled with General Joseph Hooker for mouthing off to the press, yet wound up keeping Hooker, who was popular with the troops. The more famous and bombastic historic parallel is when Harry S. Truman dismissed General Douglas MacArthur at the height of the Korean War over policy disagreements. Sanger says the Obama-McChrystal situation has a lot more in common with what happened during Korea than what happened last time a president from Illinois occupied the White House.

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