Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The apt Obama-Lincoln comparison

Today was a super-busy day (graduation ceremony, swim meet) but I can't have been the only person who thought about this incident from the American Civil War when Union General George McClellan gave President Abraham Lincoln the big snub:

President Lincoln pays a late night visit to General George McClellan, who Lincoln had recently named general in chief of the Union army. The general retired to his chambers before speaking with the president.

This was the most famous example of McClellan's cavalier disregard for the president's authority. Lincoln had tapped McClellan to head the Army of the Potomac--the main Union army in the East--in July 1861 after the disastrous Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run. McClellan immediately began to build an effective army, and he was elevated to general in chief after Winfield Scott resigned on October 31. McClellan drew praise for his military initiatives but quickly developed a reputation for his arrogance and contempt toward the political leaders in Washington. After being named to the top post, McClellan began openly to cavort with Democratic leaders in Congress and show his disregard for the Republican administration. To his wife, he wrote that Lincoln was "nothing more than a well-meaning baboon," and Secretary of State William Seward was an "incompetent little puppy."

Lincoln made frequent evening visits to McClellan's house to discuss strategy. On November 13, Lincoln, Seward, and Presidential Secretary John Hay stopped by to see the general. McClellan was out, so the trio waited patiently for his return. After an hour, McClellan came in and was told by a porter that the guests were waiting. McClellan headed for his room without a word, and only after Lincoln waited another half-hour was the group informed of McClellan's retirement to bed. Hay felt that the president should have been greatly offended, but Lincoln casually replied that it was "better at this time not to be making points of etiquette and personal dignity." Lincoln made no more visits to the general's home.
History will record that Lincoln didn't dismiss McClellan because the general was considered critical to the war effort. However, once he had to actually command an army in the field, McClellan proved to be a terrible leader and Lincoln had to relieve him from duty after failing to end the war at Antietam.

What does this portend for the Obama-McChrystal dustup? Darned if I know – different leaders, different generals, different conflicts, different times.


Vermont Woodchuck said...

Seems to be a polar position:
Lincoln situation-Strong President, weak general.
Obama situation-Weak President, strong general.

As a former Army Officer, I disagree with what McChrystal did, resign first. He McArthured himself, he should be fired.

I wholeheartedly agree with his message to the troops and Obama, his Community Organizer in Chief. That was a stinging PUBLIC rebuke for all the world to see. KUDOS!

Anonymous said...

O.D.S. is spreading. Inoculate yourself today.

I shall (not) return. said...

Weak President just bitch-slapped strong general. You might even call it a stinging PUBLIC rebuke for all the world to see.

Ridiculous said...

What "message" was McChrystal sending? "Bite me Biden"? Try growing up a little, former Army Officer.

Bram said...

The roles are reversed in the 2 situations. Obama was avoiding McChrystal the way McClellan was avoiding Lincoln.

Lincoln wanted to win and knew how. He wanted the gigantic Union Army to march south and beat the Confederacy into submission. Eventually he found Generals willing and able to do it.

Obama wants Afghanistan not to bother him. He did a review and something was decided (he can’t recall exactly what) and his golf game wasn't to be disturbed by yucky military stuff or boring oil clean-up crap.