Matthew Cooper: When it Comes to North Korea, Obama Is as Hamstrung as His Predecessors

Roundup: Media's Take

[Matthew Cooper is Managing Editor of White House coverage for National Journal.]

Harry Truman faced a political firestorm over firing Gen. Douglas MacArthur after disagreements prosecuting the Korean War. Historians have widely saluted Truman’s triumph of civilian over military authority, but at the time MacArthur was revered and even addressed a joint session of Congress. After his firing, MacArthur was considered a strong potential challenger to Truman in 1952. (MacArthur never ran that year following a report from the Republican-controlled Senate that bolstered Truman’s case and Truman himself declined to seek reelection.) The Korean War was one reason Truman couldn’t seek a second full term and left office unpopular, even if his stock would rise in later years.

In 1968, North Korea captured an American naval vessel, the Pueblo, and held its crew for more than a year and never returned it—adding to Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam woes. In 1976, a slew of North Korean soldiers attacked United Nations troops with crowbars and axes, killing two American soldiers and adding to Gerald Ford’s woes. Jimmy Carter’s plans to reduce troops on the peninsula never saw fruition, and he wound up in a kerfuffle with the right after he fired Gen. John K. Singlaub, who criticized his decision....

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