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Obama's Quarrel With His Field Commander

In a traditional kingdom, the king was, of course, the most powerful and important person. But the second most important person was often what we Americans would call "The General of the Army."

That's except in the rare instances where the king was his own Army General. But most sovereigns preferred the ease and pleasures or court life, to the difficulties and dangers of a field command. In fact, the General of the Army was one of the few people who had a shot at over throwing the king.

This could have been the case when a group of right-wing plotters conspired to overthrow President Franklin Delano Roosevelt using General Smedley Butler as the point man. One reason the plot failed was that this was all news to General Butler; the conspirators had (wrongly) assumed his sympathy, and his complicity on "short notice."

Another example took place during the Civil War, when the then General of the Army, Joseph Hooker asked for dictatorial powers to win the war. The President, Abraham Lincoln, pointed out that only winning generals can establish dictatorships. He challenged Hooker, "Win the war, and I'll risk the dictatorship."

Hooker didn't (and his name has gone into the English lexicon as a synonym for the call girls he allowed to follow the troops around).

Now Obama has a very public quarrel with General Stanley McChrystal, who has warned that America will lose the war unless a greater effort is made to win it.

There has been offense on both sides, but a President needs to rise above these things. He can listen to his field commander and win the war in Afghanistan. Or he can "shoot the messenger" and win the "war" at home. The choice is his.