Rupert Cornwell: Could this clash be Obama's 'MacArthur moment'?

Share
Related Topics

What is it about top American military men and laid-back magazines? In early 2008, Admiral William Fallon, then head of US central command, had to resign after suggesting in an interview with Esquire that his was the sole voice of sanity preventing then President George W Bush from invading Iran. But that indiscretion pales beside those delivered to Rolling Stone by General Stanley McChrystal and his aides.

By belittling President Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden and national security adviser James Jones, General McChrystal and his colleagues have broken the unwritten compact between Americans and their military.

The US armed forces enjoy a respect unmatched in almost any other country. In return though they must not be overtly disrespectful or challenging of their commander-in-chief in the Oval Office. Not only has General McChrystal violated that rule, his judgement must also be questioned by allowing his aides to vent in public against their civilian bosses, when one of his junior officers would probably have paid for similar trash-talk against him with his career. It's hard to see how General McChrystal, however important his role at this critical juncture in the Afghan war, can escape similar punishment.

Unhappiness at a president among the top Pentagon brass is nothing new. The most recent example was Bill Clinton in his early years in office. Widely perceived as a Vietnam draft dodger, Mr Clinton was believed by the generals to be "anti-military" – a fact seemingly confirmed by his determination to end the ban on gays in the military, even by his inability to deliver a suitably crisp salute on ceremonial occasions.

Mr Bush, by contrast, loved being with soldiers, even though his avoidance of Vietnam was no less suspicious than that of his predecessor. Mr Obama, for his part, seemed to be greeted with a wary respect by the generals, and on Afghanistan has been anything but a dove, granting General McChrystal his surge in Afghanistan last autumn.

Now Mr Obama may be facing his "MacArthur moment". The most dramatic clash between a US general and his commander-in-chief came in April 1951, at the height of the Korean War, when Harry Truman sacked Douglas MacArthur. After blundering by provoking China to join the war alongside North Korea, Genera MacArthur pressed for total victory, even if it meant using nuclear weapons on China. The White House however had long since decided on "limited war".

General MacArthur was relieved of his supreme command in the Far East on the grounds of insubordination. For a moment the very principle of civilian command of the military seemed at stake. In retrospect, the downfall of General MacArthur sealed a change in Korean policy. If General McChrystal is forced out, a similar moment may be at hand over Afghanistan.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Nepal earthquake: Nepal needs the world’s help right now – this is what you can do

Sanjay Karki
...and after (EPA)  

Nepal earthquake: A shocking disaster in one of the most remarkable countries on earth

Anthony Costello
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions