The McChrystal-MacArthur Comparison

Don't forget: We're still in Korea.

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One analogy that Gen. Stan McChrystal's self-immolation has stirred in many quarters is President Harry Truman's firing of Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War. It's not a completely mismatched comparison, but it's also not a good fit.

[ Read 10 Things You Didn't Know About Stanley McChrystal.]

Reading the Rolling Stone McChrystal piece, the image of the general and his insular inner circle ("a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs," reporter Michael Hastings calls them) does call MacArthur to mind. McChrystal's "Team America" (after the very funny puppet movie of the same name) comes across as too worshipful of "the Boss" and as a result too disdainful of everyone else.

In March, 1945 FDR sent aide Robert Sherwood (better known for the four Pulitzer Prizes he won as an author and playwright) to the Pacific to confer with MacArthur about governance of post-war Japan. Sherwood was taken aback by MacArthur and his coterie. "I was shocked," Sherwood wrote in a memo to the president, "by the inaccuracy of the information held by General MacArthur and his immediate entourage about the formulation of high policy in Washington. There are unmistakable evidences of an acute persecution complex at work." McChrystal's gang sounds like a watered down iteration of MacArthur's--which seems about right.

[ Check out a roundup of editorial cartoons about Afghanistan.]

As military historian Andrew Bacevich argued in today's New York Daily News,

McChrystal is no  Douglas MacArthur. His offenses come nowhere close to that infamous general's reckless and irresponsible effort to subvert established U.S. policy during the Korean War--an action for which Harry Truman rightly handed MacArthur his head.

Truman had to announce MacArthur's sacking at a hastily called 1am press conference because he wanted to do the deed before the general could resign. "I wasn't going to let that SOB resign on me," he told an aide the next day. "I wanted to fire him."

[ See a collection of photos of troops in Afghanistan.]

Bloleague Peter Roff suggests the critical difference between the MacArthur and McChrystal situations is that Obama is no Truman. Truman was a decisive Cold Warrior, Peter writes, while Obama is feckless. Of course many commentators in 1950 had far sterner criticisms of Truman. We should wait a few years before passing judgment on Obama's Afghan war.

There's one other aspect of the MacArthur-McChrystal analogy of which we should be cognizant, if not wary: More than 50 years later, we're still in Korea.

Update: Did I say 50 years later? June 24 is the 60th anniversary of the Korean War.