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Breaking Ranks – Postscript

June 25, 2010

Following on from my previous post….

So McChrystal went. Not surprising really. For a President who prizes teamwork, or at least the appearance of teamwork, the alternative would have been accusations of lack of support from many of his leading advisors, resignations (either he goes or I go), and a media greedy for evidence of further fractures in the chain of command.

Obama was in a no-win situation. Accused of weakness if he kept McChrystal, thereby showing that he was prepared to tolerate the general’s maverick tendencies. Accused of weakness if he fired him, thereby allowing politics to get in the way of the pursuit of the war by an extremely talented commander.

When he took office, Obama replaced a bust of Churchill in the Oval Office and replaced it with his favourite president, Abraham Lincoln. It doesn’t surprise me that some in the US media are comparing Obama’s relationship with McChrystal with Lincoln’s handling of the Union commander in chief General George McClellan.

McClellan was a very different man from McChrystal – a cautious but highly competent manager and logistician rather than an inspirational leader. But he was much loved by his troops. Despite frequent clashes with Lincoln, who wanted him to take decisive action against Robert E Lee’s Army of Nothern Virginia, McClellan survived for a year until the bloody stalemate of Antietam.

What both generals have in common is a streak of vanity. As with McClellan, a cult of the personality seems to have been building around McChrystal, which perhaps contributed to the latter’s indiscretion.

One wonders how Obama would have reacted to the insults of McClellan, who once said of Lincoln that he was “nothing more than a well-meaning baboon”.

For those who want to explore this theme further, the US News carries an interesting interview with John Waugh, a journalist and author who, with superb timing, has just published a book about Lincoln and McClellan. The interview is here:

http://politics.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2010/06/24/when-presidents-fire-generals-lincoln-and-mcclellan.html

Meanwhile, the French national football team has returned home after its disastrous World Cup campaign. Just as McChrystal was summoned to the White House, veteran star Thierry Henry was whisked off to the Elysee Palace to explain to President Sarkozy in person the reasons behind what one journalist described as “a black day in the history of France”.

And captain Patrice Evra promises to tell all in the course of time. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

From → France, History, Politics, USA

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