WASHINGTON TODAY: Schwarzkopf, You're No MacArthur
Mar. 29, 1991
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The dustup between President Bush and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf over the timing of the end of fighting against Iraq added a titillating touch to the Gulf War post-mortems.
But as conflicts between civilian presidents and military commanders go, this one deserves little more than a small footnote.
It was downright tame compared to what happened precisely 40 years ago when Harry Truman was the president and Douglas MacArthur was commander of an allied coalition fighting in Korea.
Like Schwarzkopf, MacArthur felt he had the enemy on the run and wanted to carry the fight further than did Truman. Like Bush, Truman felt pressures both domestically and internationally to keep the conflict contained - and not to tempt a political backlash by widening it.
On March 20, 1991, Schwarzkopf told interviewer David Frost: ''My recommendation had been ... continue the march. We had them in a rout ... We could have ... made it in fact a battle of annihilation.''
On March 20, 1951, MacArthur wrote to House Minority Leader Joseph Martin: ''My views and recommendations with respect to the situation created by Red China's entry into the war ... follow the conventional pattern of meeting force with maximum counter-force ... Here in Asia is where the communist conspirators have elected to make their play for global conquest ... If we lost this war to communism in Asia, the fall of Europe is inevitable.''
Martin read MacArthur's letter on the House floor on April 5, provoking outrage from Truman. As Truman saw it, MacArthur forgot who was boss. Truman felt that if the allies became bogged down in a ground war in China, that might be an incentive for the Soviets to move against Europe. The MacArthur letter, Truman said later, constituted ''open insubordination to his commander in chief.''
Six days after the letter was made public, Truman fired MacArthur. The president who had served anonymously as a nearsighted Army captain during World War I boldly cashiered the general who had become a legend during World War II, a five-star fighter whose exploits had earned him a reputation as a military genius.
The differences between 1951 and 1991 outweigh the similarities. When Schwarzkopf spoke out, the cease-fire in the Persian Gulf had already been in effect for three weeks. The Iraqi military had been routed at astonishingly low cost to the allied forces. America is still savoring its victory.
In contrast, the Korean conflict was still in its infancy at the time Truman sacked MacArthur. The war didn't end for another 2 1/2 years and the death toll of American soldiers alone was more than 33,000.
There were other differences. Until the Frost interview, there was no indication of any differences between Bush and Schwarzkopf. In contrast, Truman had been having trouble keeping MacArthur in line for more than two years before sacking him.
The media seized on Schwarzkopf's comments because they seemed to puncture the notion that civilian-military coordination throughout the gulf operation was one of lockstep harmony.
Schwarzkopf said he recommended against the cease-fire; Bush replied that the general had said nothing of the kind and was in ''total agreement'' with the decision to end the fighting on Feb. 27.
Bush sought Thursday to defuse the dispute by calling Schwarzkopf to tell him that, despite those Page One headlines trumpeting a rift, they are still on the ''same wavelength,'' according to White House deputy press secretary Roman Popadiuk.
Truman and MacArthur never were on the same wavelength. On his return home, while Truman suffered in silence, MacArthur got a hero's welcome, replete with ticker-tape parade.
But for those who prize the concept of civilian supremacy, the firing of MacArthur was perhaps their finest hour. Schwarzkopf, they would say, when it comes to insubordination, you're no MacArthur.
EDITOR'S NOTE - George Gedda has covered foreign affairs for The Associated Press since 1968.