As the American Civil War progressed, Abraham Lincoln despaired of the apparent inability of Union generals to take the fight to the confederacy. Some generals were blatantly political while others could not withstand the carnage resulting from improved weaponry and bludgeoning tactics. Then came Grant.
The enduring image of U. S. Grant is of the General calmly whittling away on a stick as the battle of the Wilderness rages around him. An officer weeps as he informs Grant of the killing fields yet Grant is unmoved in his quest to pursue Lee to the finish. Famously for Grant, there was “No turning back.”
Grant apparently was amply possessed of key attributes for a fighting man: he was clear eyed, entirely strait forward and given to speaking the truth. Lincoln, a politician first and foremost, rewarded Grant’s doggedness and clung to him as to a raft in a hurricane.
How times do change.
Major General Peter Fuller, a senior US Army Commander in Afghanistan, was fired from his job the other day for apparently expressing understandable outrage about Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s recent revelation that his country would support Pakistan were they to go to war with the US.
Fuller’s quotes originated in a Politico interview where he castigated the Afghans for being out of touch. He is now out of a job, effectively for speaking the truth.
While it may be best to leave the diplomacy to the diplomats, one would hope that clear thinking and frank speaking would continue to be the province of those who lead troops into battle. The State Department can afford to engage in grotesque hyperbole but generals who make life and death decisions should be rewarded, not fired, for verbalizing the literally fatal dichotomy which exists between Afghan leaders and the interests of their country.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta approved of the decision thus making the Obama administration, and ultimately the President himself, complicit in punishing a candid forthrightness that is sorely missing as we send our troops to “Alice’s Afghanistan.”
Abraham Lincoln may have joked about his fighting general’s “indiscretion”, were he thought it so. But fire him?
Credit: (Globe and Mail, Politico, Guardian)