President Truman made President Obama’s job of firing General Stanley McChrystal in 2010 (Christian Science Monitor) easier by firing General Douglas MacArthur in 1951. The pressure faced by Truman was worse than by Obama because MacArthur was a hugely popular military figure at the same time that Truman’s approval rating was far worse than Obama’s. McChrystal is widely known in many circles but can’t be regarded as a truly national figure — at least until the last few days. As I consider civilian control of the military essential in a free society, be that considered as either a republic or a democracy, Obama’s action was not only proper but necessary. McChrystal’s actions might have been less than outright insubordination, but to allow McChrystal to stay, regardless of his abilities and talents, would have undermined the presidency and emboldened future challenges to presidential authority and leadership. It is not that civilian judgment is always better than that of military leaders. Indeed, I think the judgment of many top military leaders would have been much better than that offered by former President George W. Bush, as well as by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The military, however, has a very authoritarian structure, is not elected by the people, and has the role of implementing overall policy, not making it. I do find it interesting both that McChrystal is said to have voted for Obama and that he would have shared that fact with anyone. Although I doubt it will be much of a factor in 2012, voters can express their ultimate judgment on the matter in the voting booth. As for MacArthur, although he returned to a hero’s welcome by Congress, a subsequent Senate investigation of MacArthur and Korean War policies took the shine off and MacArthur was unable to obtain the 1952 Republican nomination for president.
I’m settling in at two new charges, so I’ll stop here.