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

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: the strange case of the errant royal pronoun

Guy Keleny
Flowers and candles are placed at the site where a refrigerated truck with decomposing bodies was found by an Austrian motorway  

EU migrant crisis: The 71 people found dead in a lorry should have reached sanctuary

Charlotte Mcdonald-Gibson
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future