By Roxana Tiron - 06/24/10 08:17 PM EDT
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he was “nearly sick” when he read the magazine article that led to the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
“I couldn't believe it,” Adm. Mike Mullen said at a Pentagon press briefing Thursday afternoon. “I was stunned.”
President Barack Obama accepted McChrystal’s resignation Wednesday and nominated Gen. David Petraeus, the head of Central Command and McChrystal’s boss, to take over the military campaign in Afghanistan.
Both Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said they agreed with Obama’s decision to replace McChrystal with Petraeus.
Petraeus’s appointment is the “best possible outcome to an awful situation,” Gates said at the briefing.
Gates also said it was Obama who first raised the idea of appointing Petraeus to replace McChrystal. Gates said the president brought it up in a one-on-one meeting between the two on Tuesday, after the comments made in the Rolling Stone article became public.
Gates said the idea of picking Petraeus “immediately” answered “a lot of concerns” that he had.
Gates also stressed that throughout the entire McChrystal controversy his biggest concern was that the focus stay on the mission in Afghanistan without “distraction or division.”
“I'm confident we will be able to achieve this goal in Afghanistan under the command of Gen. David Petraeus,” Gates said in his opening statement.
“Gen. Petraeus has already established himself as one of the great battle captains in American military history. His judgment, intellect and proven record of success as a theater commander in Iraq make him the right choice to lead the military coalition in Afghanistan.”
Separately, Obama said Thursday that he is confident the mission in Afghanistan will continue seamlessly.
The Senate Armed Services Committee has scheduled Petraeus’s confirmation hearing for Tuesday morning. The general will be grilled about his backing of the president’s Afghanistan strategy, particularly with respect to a July 2011 timeline to start withdrawing U.S. troops.
Both Gates and Mullen spoke highly of McChrystal’s military service and expressed gratitude for his valor and devotion for many years. But both officials made it clear that McChrystal’s “lack of judgment” with respect to the Rolling Stone article could not be excused.
In the aftermath of the article, Gates and Mullen also sought to allay any concerns about the military challenging civilian control — the main theme that emerged from the piece.
“We do not have the right, nor should we ever assume the prerogative, to cast doubt upon the ability or mock the motives of our civilian leaders, elected or appointed,” Mullen said. “We are and must remain a neutral instrument of the state, accountable to and respectful of those leaders, no matter which party holds sway or which person holds a given office.”