By Sam Youngman and Roxana Tiron - 06/24/10 12:56 AM EDT
President Barack Obama relieved Gen. Stanley McChrystal of his
command Wednesday and tapped the general’s boss to replace him as the
top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
Obama said his decision to accept McChrystal’s resignation was not
related to policy disagreements or any “personal insult,” but noted the
inflammatory remarks in Rolling Stone magazine do “not meet the
standard that should be set by a commanding general.”
Obama made the announcement in the Rose Garden on Wednesday and, in
a strong show of military support, was surrounded by Petraeus, Chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert
Gates and Vice President Joe Biden.
In his remarks, he repeatedly and harshly faulted McChrystal for breaking the chain of command.
“The conduct represented in the recently published article does not
meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general,” Obama
said. “It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at
the core of our democratic system. And it erodes the trust that’s
necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in
McChrystal was subject to a firestorm of controversy Tuesday after
Rolling Stone posted its profile of the general, which contained
several derogatory comments about Obama’s national security team. He
was recalled to Washington to discuss the situation and met with Obama
for 30 minutes in the Oval Office on Wednesday morning.
Obama’s decision to replace him with Petraeus was met with nearly
universal approval from congressional Republicans, and one former Bush
National Security Council (NSC) staffer called it a “brilliant tactical
move by President Obama.”
The president said he discussed “the way forward” with Petraeus on
Wednesday morning, and noted the new commander does not represent any
break from the administration’s policy in Afghanistan.
“Let me say to the American people, this is a change in personnel,” Obama said. “It is not a change in policy.”
Obama lauded McChrystal’s service to the country, saying “it saddens
me to lose the service of a soldier I’ve come to respect and admire.”
The president used the occasion to call for unity on his national security team.
“Now is the time for all of us to come together. Doing so is not an
option but an obligation,” Obama said. “I welcome debate among my team,
but I won’t tolerate division.
“We need to remember what this is about,” he said. “Our nation is at war.”
By nominating Petraeus, someone well-liked in both parties on
Capitol Hill and who has a recent history of successful warfare, Obama
assured the general will receive full backing in the Senate for his
But Petraeus will also face a barrage of questions from Democrats
and Republicans who have voiced strong concern over the U.S. mission in
Afghanistan. The Army general will be put on the spot regarding a July
2011 deadline to start withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Both Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed
Services Committee, and his GOP counterpart, Sen. John McCain
(R-Ariz.), on Wednesday indicated they fully support the president’s
decision to nominate Petraeus.
“Petraeus’s appointment is a strong appointment and makes it clear
there is no gap” in terms of command, Levin said. Levin added that
Petraeus would not have agreed to take on the Afghanistan post “if he
felt he wasn’t up to the challenge.”
But he noted Petraeus would have “the quickest confirmation in the
history of the Senate.” There were reports the confirmation hearing
could begin as early as Friday; Levin said they would begin as late as
Obama informed key foreign and domestic leaders about his decision
by phone, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai, British Prime
Minister David Cameron, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.),
Levin, McCain and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), according to one
The official added that National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones called his counterparts in NATO countries to tell them.
Last week, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Petraeus
faced intense grilling from senators on the July 2011 date Obama set to
start withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
At the time, Petraeus emphasized that Obama sought to convey two
messages with the July 2011 timeline: one of an “enormous additional
commitment” of troops and other resources, and one “for urgency.”
Petraeus said July 2011 is the beginning of a process for transition that is “conditions-based.”
And he created some suspense when he paused for what seemed a fairly
long time after Levin asked him whether his statement of continued
support for Obama’s policy represented his best “personal” and
“In a perfect world, Mr. Chairman, we have to be very careful with timelines,” Petraeus eventually hedged.
“There was a nuance to what the president said that was very important, that did not imply a race for the exits.”
Petraeus characterized his answer as a “qualified yes.”
The four-star general, who is now the head of Central Command, would
essentially take a step down from his current perch to become the
Afghanistan commander. As the combatant commander in charge of military
operations in a region that includes Afghanistan and Iraq, Petraeus was
McChrystal’s commanding officer.
By appointing Petraeus, the White House made it clear that it was
not stepping away from support for the counterinsurgency tactics
implemented by McChrystal. Petraeus has been a backer of those tactics
Petraeus, 57, is considered very adept politically and successful at managing his image. The Army general, who enjoyed a close relationship with former president George W. Bush, was propelled into the spotlight for overseeing the troop surge in Iraq almost two years ago.
His popularity during the Iraq troop surge also earned him an
infamous attack from the liberal group MoveOn.org, which referred to
Petraeus as “Gen. Betray Us.” There also has been talk he’s a future
presidential candidate — a rumor he has shot down.
J. Taylor Rushing and Michael O’Brien contributed to this article.
This story was originally posted at 2:06 p.m. and updated at 8:56 p.m.