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Presidents and Their Generals

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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Modern U.S. presidents have largely managed wars through military staff in Washington, not through their field commanders. Here is a look at some of the key relationships between presidents and their generals:

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President Franklin D. Roosevelt -- Gen. George C. Marshall

Roosevelt collaborated with Marshall, then Army chief of staff, to plan and organize U.S. military efforts in World War II. Marshall sought to resist Roosevelt's charm, historians report, refusing to laugh at the president's jokes and maintaining such a formal relationship that FDR called him "General" rather than "George."

President Harry S. Truman -- Gen. Douglas MacArthur

In their first meeting, Truman flew to Wake Island in 1950 to confer for two hours with MacArthur, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, about the conduct of the war in Korea. Six months later, he fired the general for insubordination for undermining his war policy.

President John F. Kennedy -- Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor

Kennedy called Taylor out of retirement to serve as his military adviser after he lost confidence in the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff over the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Kennedy and his brother Robert had warm personal regard for Taylor, who later served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs and as ambassador to South Vietnam.

President Lyndon B. Johnson -- Gen. William C. Westmoreland

During the Vietnam War, Johnson delegated most of the management of the war to Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and granted field commander Westmoreland considerable latitude in strategy and tactics. "I have never known a more thoughtful and considerate man than Lyndon B. Johnson," Westmoreland would later say.

President George H.W. Bush -- Gen. Colin L. Powell

As chairman of the Joint Chiefs during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Colin L. Powell wielded enormous power, establishing himself as the sole conduit between Bush and his field commander, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, and personally presenting the plan to evict Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in a 1990 meeting in the White House Situation Room. However, Powell also jousted with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney over planning and management of the war.

-- Michael Abramowitz


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