Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

How presidents should treat generals

I was checking something in Eliot Cohen’s classic Supreme Command, the best book every written about how presidents should handle generals, when I noticed this very good summary of last week’s events: Generals are, or should be, disposable. Statesman should not, of course, discard them thoughtlessly, nor should they treat them discourteously. Yet all four ...

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Wikimedia
Wikimedia

I was checking something in Eliot Cohen's classic Supreme Command, the best book every written about how presidents should handle generals, when I noticed this very good summary of last week's events:

Generals are, or should be, disposable. Statesman should not, of course, discard them thoughtlessly, nor should they treat them discourteously. Yet all four of these statesman [discussed in the book] showed themselves able to treat generals in line with Gladstone's first requirement for success as a prime minister: 'One must be a good butcher.' Indeed, it was the most mild-mannered of the four, Lincoln, who relieved commanders the most frequently."

As we digest the McChrystal blowup, those are words worth keeping in mind.

I was checking something in Eliot Cohen’s classic Supreme Command, the best book every written about how presidents should handle generals, when I noticed this very good summary of last week’s events:

Generals are, or should be, disposable. Statesman should not, of course, discard them thoughtlessly, nor should they treat them discourteously. Yet all four of these statesman [discussed in the book] showed themselves able to treat generals in line with Gladstone’s first requirement for success as a prime minister: ‘One must be a good butcher.’ Indeed, it was the most mild-mannered of the four, Lincoln, who relieved commanders the most frequently."

As we digest the McChrystal blowup, those are words worth keeping in mind.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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