Following a breathtakingly indiscreet piece in Rolling Stone magazine, the man until recently heading up the campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, has been summoned to Washington by President Barack Obama, and summarily dismissed from his command. Parallels are being drawn with the previous summons to DC of Douglas MacArthur by Harry Truman in 1951, but, apart from the common thread of a commander being sacked, there is little else to connect the events.
Nothing will change – at least, not in the foreseeable future – in the approach to the Afghan campaign. McChrystal’s dismissal, in any case, wasn’t about strategy, as MacArthur’s had been. The latter was moving not only to expand the Korean War into China, but also to threaten the use of nuclear weapons against the Chinese. The United Nations mandate under which the war was being pursued limited aspirations far short of this.
It was ultimately conceded, even by MacArthur’s greatest admirers, that Truman had little choice if escalation of the Korean War was to be avoided. In McChrystal’s case, the problem has been one of disrespect to his President and Vice President (and their team) as well as a general loose tongued and laddish attitude. McChrystal’s lack of judgment in allowing the Fourth Estate to be present when he and his pals were “getting shitfaced” has been jaw-dropping.
It is this comparison which shows the very different character of McChrystal and MacArthur: the latter knew how to cultivate his public image, and showed the press what he wanted them to see. And that was that. The idea of allowing a month’s access to a journalist – and unlimited at that – would not have entered.
Fortunately, McChrystal has not yet said “I shall return”. That’s a good move, because he just might not.