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Generals & Presidents


    The recent Obama-McChrystal tete’a-tete, which resulted in the general submitting his resignation (and the president accepting it) is but an historical echo from conflicts between the army and its civilian leaders, for generations.
 
    When Abe Lincoln was enmeshed in the Civil War, one of his greatest opponents was also one of his generals, one George B. McClellan.  When I heard of the words of disrespect attributed to Gen. McChrystal and staff towards the president and members of his cabinet, they seemed mild when set against the words and acts of Lincoln’s generals.
 
    Historians tell of Lincoln arriving at the Washington home of Gen. McClellan, only to be left waiting, for hours, only to be informed by the general’s wife that he was indisposed.  When someone in the Lincoln entourage remarked at this breach of protocol, Lincoln reportedly remarked that it mattered little that he was disrespectful, as long as he continued to fight and win his war.
 
    But the general, who both loved and was loved by his men, couldn’t bring himself to do that.  He dilly-dallied, temporized, and threw away critical opportunities.
 
    Lincoln sacked him, only to face him as a Democratic presidential candidate in the 1884 elections.  Of course, Lincoln won, only to lose his life and win his war a year later.
 
    The truth is, military men rarely really respect their civilian leaders, especially if they didn’t serve in the military.
 
    That was true for Lincoln (who only served during a brief skirmish during Illinois Indian wars).
 
    It was true of Clinton.
 
    It’s true of Obama.
 
    McClellan dissed Lincoln; McArthur dissed Truman; and McChrystal dissed Obama.
 
    Is there a pattern here?
 
    Most telling of the comments of McChrystal and his people weren’t snickerings against Obama and his team, despite the press hype. It’s the words of Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, formerly McChrystal’s chief of operations, who was quoted as saying, regarding the success or failure of the Afghanistan war: "It’s not going to look like a win, smell like a win, or taste like a win.  This is going to end in an argument."
 
    Hmmmm….If it doesn’t look, smell or taste like a win, what should you call it?
 

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