Juan Cole: Obama's MacArthur Moment

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Mr. Cole is Professor of Modern Middle Eastern and South Asian History at the University of Michigan. His website is http://www.juancole.com.]

Gen. Stanley McChrystal is apologizing for remarks he made in a Rolling Stone interview denigrating Vice President Joe Biden and US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry.

McChrystal is said to have asked “Who’s that?” at the mention of Joe Biden’s name, and to have suggested that Amb. Eikenberry leaked memos critical of McChrystal’s planned counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan because he wanted to cover himself against harsh criticism if the war went badly wrong. His staffers, interviewed for the piece, were even more derisive of Obama insiders.

President Obama absolutely must fire McChrystal for subordination. You can’t have the office of the vice presidency disrespected in public by a general in uniform that way. Nor is it plausible that the Obama team has a prayer of getting Afghanistan right, assuming such a thing is possible, if the commanding military officer and the ambassador are feuding like the Baizai and the Ranizai.

Obama has largely misunderstood the historical moment in the US. He appears to have thought that we wanted a broker, someone who could get everyone together and pull off a compromise that led to a deal among the parties. We don’t want that. We want Harry Truman. We want someone who will give them hell. We don’t want him to say one day that Wall Street is making obscene profits when the rest of the country suffers, then the next day say that the brokers deserve their bonuses. We don’t want him to mollify Big Oil one day then bash it the next. More consistent giving of hell, please....

President Truman got to the point in the Korean War where he was willing to dicker with the Chinese and to recognize the 38th parallel as an armistice line between South Korea and the north. MacArthur kept rejecting such talks and baited the Chinese. Truman fired him. Obama has to be made of that Trumanian stuff if he wants to turn the country around. We aren’t out of the woods. There could be a double dip in the economy, or a long-term Japan-style post-bubble stagnation. Wall Street is still taking us to the cleaners and getting their capital gains taxed at 15% when it is being alleged there isn’t enough tax money to cover the needs of the rest of us. The Supreme Court is undermining the Bill of Rights, criminalizing speech and association, and gutting campaign finance reform by favoring corporations as persons. Big Oil is openly fouling our environment and Big Gas is doing the same thing more quietly. And the military industrial complex has us mired in forever wars that we can’t win and can’t afford....

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