A.J. DiCintio
The McChrystal affair
By A.J. DiCintio
June 26, 2010

Every president should expect to be awakened with news that a volcano has blown a bit of hell into the sky, whether it's a volcano whose rumblings and foul puffs have long been shaking and stinking a warning; one whose frightful explosion takes everyone by surprise; or one that never before existed but suddenly, from a fissure in a peaceful cornfield, blasts itself into a menacing fright.

Of course, this volcanic imagery serves as a metaphor for profound problems in all their terrible unpredictability, a reality which comes to mind today because too many people are wringing their hands that the McChrystal Affair represents a huge problem unfairly laid upon a president who is besieged by a mountain range of volcanoes exclusively bequeathed to him by the previous resident of the Oval Office (a tiresome example of doublethink and doublespeak that Obama lays upon an increasingly angered public in every speech he gives, even if it's a speech about the consequences of a breakout of spots on the face of the star we call our sun).

The truth is, however, that the affair doesn't even represent a hot spring of a problem for the president, as revealed by Lincoln's example in such an instance, which has been brought to light by Doris Kearns Goodwin (NYT).

So, what did Lincoln do after he, Secretary of State Seward, and an aide waited an hour at the home of General George McClellan, only to have the general return from his duties, pass by the parlor where the president was patiently sitting, and climb the stairs, leaving the Commander-in-Chief to be informed half an hour later that McClellan "had gone to sleep."

What did one of our greatest presidents do after an unrepentant McClellan often referred to him as the "original gorilla," dismissed members of his cabinet as "some of the greatest geese I have ever seen," and mocked Seward as "a meddling, officious, incompetent little puppy"?

According to Goodwin, Lincoln responded to the anger expressed by Seward and members of Congress by saying he would "hold McClellan's horse . . . if a victory could be achieved."

Abraham Lincoln knew, therefore, that McClellan's mouth was not a volcano of a problem but winning the war was.

And only when Lincoln "finally lost faith in his commander's commitment to the mission, his fighting spirit and his ability to prosecute the war to ultimate victory" did he give McClellan the hook.

Goodwin ends the story there, but it occurs to me that the firing led to Grant's appointing William Tecumseh Sherman commander of the armies of the Mississippi. The rest, as they say, "is history."

That history also records that in Sherman, Lincoln didn't get the kind of man who shivered at the thought of speaking his mind; for it was Sherman who warned the nation, politicians particularly, that "Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster."

And it was Sherman who in three simple words explained what war is and must be — the "limited war" alternative advanced by arrogant, smaller minds that include Truman (Korea), Johnson (Vietnam), Bush (Iraq), and Obama (Afghanistan) notwithstanding.

Sherman also did the nation the great favor of speaking the truth about politicians:

"In our Country... one class of men makes war and leaves another to fight it out."

"If forced to choose between the penitentiary and the White House for four years, I would say the penitentiary, thank you."

In fact, Sherman found the political "profession" so repugnant he uttered these memorable words when confronted with the possibility of the kind of roaring draft that leaves most politicians drooling:

"If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve."

Finally, Sherman was absolutely clear about who has the final military word under the Constitution.

However, when it came time to say something about his allegiance to a brother in arms, he didn't align himself with the president but, with his usual blunt honesty, said this:

"Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other."

The bottom line, then, about Kearns' "What Would Lincoln Do?" is that as a great wartime president, Lincoln understood his duty and never allowed himself to be distracted from it.

Which brings us back to the notion that the McChrystal Affair is no volcano for Obama.

However, the president's Afghanistan policy is — and of Krakatoan proportions, because when he sent 17,000 additional troops to that nation, he claimed the war "has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires" only to define those terms by directing his generals and, more importantly, the precious soldiers who put their lives on the line, to fight according to the principle of "courageous restraint."

That contemptibly insulting term says it all about the Pollyannaish war policy of a president who thinks his degree from the Chicago Political Machine entitles him to dismiss the thinking of great warriors who knew that a nation should go to war only when it absolutely must and that when it must, it should fight according to the dictum that "war is hell."

It also says it all about why the volcano called Afghanistan is certain to play a very big part in exploding Obama's presidency.

© A.J. DiCintio


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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A.J. DiCintio

A.J. DiCintio posts regularly at RenewAmerica and YourNews.com. He first exercised his polemical skills arguing with friends on the street corners of the working class neighborhood where he grew up. Retired from teaching, he now applies those skills, somewhat honed and polished by experience, to social/political affairs.


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