Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

We’ve had these Karzai problems before

I was surprised to see in reading about the Korean War that South Korean President Syngman Rhee gave the United States government the same kind of fits that Afghan President Hamid Karzai does now. At one point in the spring of 1951 Rhee was demanding that the U.S. give him enough weaponry and other gear ...

wikipedia; JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

I was surprised to see in reading about the Korean War that South Korean President Syngman Rhee gave the United States government the same kind of fits that Afghan President Hamid Karzai does now.

At one point in the spring of 1951 Rhee was demanding that the U.S. give him enough weaponry and other gear to equip 10 divisions -- which, by coincidence, was approximately the amount of equipment that the U.S. calculated South Korean troops had abandoned in running away from North Korean and Chinese forces. At the same time Lt. Gen. James A. Van Fleet, then the senior U.S. commander on the ground in Korea, wrote this (quoted in Clay Blair's terrific The Forgotten War) about local security forces in that war:

The primary problem in the Republic of Korea is to secure competent leadership in their army. They do not have it, from the Minister of Defense on down, as is clearly evidenced by repeated battle failures of major units. This is the chief and basic responsibility of the President of the Republic in the military field. Until we get competent leadership, there is little reason to expect any better performance of ROK troops, or any higher degree of confidence than presently exists....

I was surprised to see in reading about the Korean War that South Korean President Syngman Rhee gave the United States government the same kind of fits that Afghan President Hamid Karzai does now.

At one point in the spring of 1951 Rhee was demanding that the U.S. give him enough weaponry and other gear to equip 10 divisions — which, by coincidence, was approximately the amount of equipment that the U.S. calculated South Korean troops had abandoned in running away from North Korean and Chinese forces. At the same time Lt. Gen. James A. Van Fleet, then the senior U.S. commander on the ground in Korea, wrote this (quoted in Clay Blair’s terrific The Forgotten War) about local security forces in that war:

The primary problem in the Republic of Korea is to secure competent leadership in their army. They do not have it, from the Minister of Defense on down, as is clearly evidenced by repeated battle failures of major units. This is the chief and basic responsibility of the President of the Republic in the military field. Until we get competent leadership, there is little reason to expect any better performance of ROK troops, or any higher degree of confidence than presently exists….

Until competent leadership is secured and demonstrates its worth, there should be no further talk of the U.S. furnishing arms and equipment for additional forces.

A few months later, in an internal cable, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea accused President Rhee of trying to “blindly…. sabotage” armistice talks. 

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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