Doris Kearns Goodwin: What Would Lincoln Do?

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Doris Kearns Goodwin is the author of “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.”]

IF Abraham Lincoln’s experience is any guide, Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s fate will be determined by President Obama’s judgment of how his firing would affect the war in Afghanistan.
What to Do With the ‘Runaway General’?

Should General McChrystal be fired for insubordination, or do his remarks reflect a healthy level of dissent?

For months during the Civil War, Lincoln chose to ignore insolent behavior by Gen. George McClellan, who served at times as the commander of the Army of the Potomac and the general in chief of the Union Army, arguing that his breaches of protocol were worth tolerating as long as he was exerting a positive influence on his forces....

So McClellan remained, until in November 1862 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. Only then did he fire “the young Napoleon.”

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Donald Wolberg - 6/25/2010

I would Ms Goodwin has the wrong President and the wrong general. McClellan was hardly a warrior, and apart from his desire for replacing Mr. Lincoln, he was certainly not a warrior and more inclined to have an overly large view of himself, now well documented by fact. General McChrystal is an experienced warrior with a reall appreciation of the needs of the battlefield. General McClellan was more concerned it seems with not engaging the enemy, and in the end it was his unwillingness to fight that led to his downfall.

In mucht the same way, Mr. Obama is certainly not Mr. Lincoln and the list of the "not-Lincoln" character traits of Mr. Obama need not be looked at here (and there would not be the time or space). Mr. Obama has never indicated other than a superficial appreciation of history, world or local and his only indicators were no primary documents but popular renditions. Mr. Lincoln was always involved in the war, spend endless hours monitoring communications or even in the field. One only has to look at Lincoln's writings, virtually all his own words, to appreciate the depth of the man.

I would suggest that the McChrystal-Obama entanglement is more akin to the Patton-Eisenhower confrontations (General to General) rather than the Truman-McArthur Korean disagreement. Like Patton, McChrystal and his staff were "guilty" of intemperate speech. There was no disagreement of working the mission. This more closely mirrors the "style" of Eisenhower-Patton. I suspect that the matter would have been better managed by General Petraeus, and did not really rise to the Presidential level. Unfortunately, the negative fallout in so many ways will deepen Mr. Obama's appearance of non-leadership. In the end, the pain will be carried by our soldiers in the field.