Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Washington (CNN) -- A day after his disparaging comments about America's civilian leadership surfaced and dramatically struck a nerve in the White House, the top commander in Afghanistan has been relieved of his post.
President Barack Obama accepted the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal "with considerable regret" and nominated Gen. David Petraeus, the head of the U.S. Central Command. The moves come in the wake of the revelation that Rolling Stone magazine would publish politically explosive remarks made by the general and his aides about key administration officials.
"It is the right thing for our mission in Afghanistan, for our military and for our country," Obama said outside the White House, flanked by top civilian and military leaders, including Vice President Joe Biden; Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; and Petraeus.
Obama said McChrystal's remarks in Rolling Stone undermined the civilian control of the military "at the core of our democratic system." He said the decision wasn't based on disagreement in strategy or personal issues.
"I believe that it is the right decision for our national security. The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general."
Obama said that as hard as it is to lose the general, the "war is bigger than any one man or woman" and that while he welcomes debate among his team, he won't tolerate division.
"It was a difficult decision to come to the conclusion that I've made today," Obama said. "Indeed, it saddens me to lose the service of a soldier who I've come to respect and admire. But the reasons that led me to this decision are the same principles that have supported the strength of our military and our nation since the founding."
Obama said it is his duty "to ensure that no diversion complicates the vital mission that they are carrying out" and that he has a "responsibility to do whatever is necessary to succeed in Afghanistan and in our broader effort to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda."
I believe that this mission demands unity of effort across our alliance and across my national security team. And I don't think that we can sustain that unity of effort and achieve our objectives in Afghanistan without making this change."
Obama urged the Senate to swiftly confirm Petraeus, who would leave his Central Command position. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, indicated to CNN that confirmation hearings could begin as early as next week.
McChrystal issued a statement Wednesday saying that he strongly supports "the president's strategy in Afghanistan and am deeply committed to our coalition forces, our partner nations, and the Afghan people. It was out of respect for this commitment -- and a desire to see the mission succeed -- that I tendered my resignation. It has been my privilege and honor to lead our nation's finest."
A source close to McChrystal offered a description of the roughly 30-minute meeting between Obama and McChrystal that led to the general's resignation Wednesday morning. McChrystal briefly explained the magazine article at the center of the controversy, took responsibility and then offered his resignation, the source said. Obama accepted the resignation, the source said.
The president "had no intention of keeping him," the source said.
The Rolling Stone story set off a political firestorm. Obama was "angry" after reading the general's remarks, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday.
McChrystal was recalled to Washington and met with Gates and Mullen before going to the White House, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. McChrystal's personal belongings will be shipped home from Afghanistan, the source close to the general said.
McChrystal was not invited to participate in a separate Wednesday White House national security meeting on the war in Afghanistan, two sources told CNN.
The "magnitude and graveness" of McChrystal's mistake in conducting the interview for the article were "profound," Gibbs said. Gates said McChrystal had "made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment."
McChrystal apologized Tuesday for the Rolling Stone profile. Two defense officials said the general fired a press aide over the article, which appears in Friday's edition of the magazine.
"I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened," McChrystal said in a Pentagon statement. "Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honor and professional integrity. What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard."
In the Rolling Stone story, Michael Hastings writes that McChrystal and his staff had imagined ways of dismissing Biden with a one-liner as they prepared for a question-and-answer session in Paris, France, in April. The general had grown tired of questions from Biden since earlier dismissing a counterterrorism strategy the vice president had offered.
"'Are you asking about Vice President Biden?' McChrystal says with a laugh. 'Who's that?'"
"Biden?' suggests a top adviser. 'Did you say: Bite Me?'"
McChrystal does not directly criticize Obama in the article, but Hastings writes that the general and Obama "failed to connect" from the outset. Sources familiar with the meeting said McChrystal thought Obama looked "uncomfortable and intimidated" by the room full of top military officials, according to the article.
Later, McChrystal's first one-on-one meeting with Obama "was a 10-minute photo op," Hastings writes, quoting an adviser to McChrystal. "Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was. Here's the guy who's going to run his f---ing war, but he didn't seem very engaged. The Boss (McChrystal) was disappointed."
The article goes on to paint McChrystal as a man who "has managed to piss off almost everyone with a stake in the conflict," including U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, special representative to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke and national security adviser Jim Jones. Obama is not named as one of McChrystal's "team of rivals."
Of Eikenberry, who railed against McChrystal's strategy in Afghanistan in a cable leaked to The New York Times in January, the general is quoted as saying, "'Here's one that covers his flank for the history books. Now if we fail, they can say, "I told you so.'"
Hastings writes in the profile that McChrystal has a "special skepticism" for Holbrooke, the official in charge of reintegrating Taliban members into Afghan society and the administration's point man for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"At one point on his trip to Paris, McChrystal checks his BlackBerry, according to the article. 'Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke,' he groans. 'I don't even want to open it.' He clicks on the message and reads the salutation out loud, then stuffs the BlackBerry back in his pocket, not bothering to conceal his annoyance.
"'Make sure you don't get any of that on your leg,' an aide jokes, referring to the e-mail."
McChrystal said in his apology Tuesday that he has "enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team, and for the civilian leaders and troops fighting this war and
I remain committed to ensuring its successful outcome."
The remarks from McChrystal and his staff in the Rolling Stone story were strongly criticized on Capitol Hill. Three key Senate leaders on defense and foreign policy issues -- Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut -- said in a news conference Wednesday that they believe Obama had no choice but to replace McChrystal.
They called Petraeus the best possible man to take over command, but also said Obama should now make clear that a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan will only occur when conditions allow it, rather than on the July 2011 date set by the administration.
A number of Republicans used the occasion to slam Obama for publicly declaring a withdrawal date.
Petraeus "is an outstanding military leader, but even he can't win in Afghanistan if the president continues to insist on an arbitrary withdrawal date -- a fact our enemies are counting on and our allies fear," said Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Most Democrats, on the other hand, lined up solidly behind the president.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, said in a written statement that Obama's "decision to return Gen. (David) Petraeus to the battlefield provides not just continuity in philosophy, but tested diplomatic skill that is at the very center of a military strategy which hinges on progress in governance to sustain military gains."
House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton, D-Missouri, said that Petraeus "is the best that we have."
"I have great confidence in his ability to bring about a successful outcome in Afghanistan. The commander-in-chief must have confidence in his commanders in the field," he said. "It is time to move on and return our focus to waging the war in Afghanistan."
A spokesman for the Afghanistan Defense Ministry said his government would have preferred to see McChrystal stay, but was happy Petraeus had been tapped as the replacement.
"We're not happy to see Gen. McChrystal go, but of all the choices that could have been made, we are happy to hear it is Petraeus who will continue the mission," Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said.
Obama tapped McChrystal to head the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan in the spring of 2009 shortly after dismissing Gen. David McKiernan.
READ THE ROLLING STONE ARTICLE HERE
Posted by Steve Douglass at 2:12 PM