Gen. McChrystal is dismissed as top U.S. commander in Afghanistan
Thursday, June 24, 2010
President Obama dismissed Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal on Wednesday after concluding that his military chief in Afghanistan had badly damaged the chain of command and could no longer work effectively with the civilian leadership at a crucial moment in the war.
White House officials said Obama's decision, made over a tense 40 hours, pitted his desire to retain a talented general who designed the Afghan strategy against the importance of preserving the authority of the commander in chief. Ultimately, his decision to turn over the Afghan command to Gen. David H. Petraeus allowed the president to keep his war strategy intact, given the general's key role in formulating it last year, and changed the calculus of a choice that once seemed to have no political upside.
Obama's dismissal of McChrystal, 55, calmed fears within his own party that he might look weak if he refused to confront the general. Meanwhile, Petraeus's appointment, expected to sail through the Senate confirmation process, drew praise from congressional Republicans, who provide crucial support for a war that a majority of Americans routinely say is no longer worth fighting.
"War is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general or a president," Obama said in a Rose Garden announcement. "And as difficult as it is to lose General McChrystal, I believe it is the right decision for our national security."
The announcement effectively ended McChrystal's 34-year Army career less than two days after the publication of a Rolling Stone article featuring disparaging remarks by the general and his fiercely loyal staff about some of Obama's senior civilian advisers, including Vice President Biden, who argued against McChrystal's strategy last year.
The fallout from the profile laid bare the dysfunctional relationships among senior civilian and military officials responsible for the Afghan campaign, and undermined the methodical competence that the president has sought to bring to his management of the nine-year-old war.
McChrystal's departure played out against a faltering campaign in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, rising U.S. and NATO casualties on the battlefield, and delays in a Kandahar offensive that has been described as the linchpin to the war effort. Obama faces an uncertain partner in Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who lobbied against McChrystal's dismissal, and pervasive corruption that is undermining the attempt to build a viable Afghan state.
Obama called Karzai on Wednesday to inform him of his decision; he also called British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose office later announced that British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, the deputy commander of international forces in Afghanistan, would lead the operation pending Petraeus's confirmation.
James L. Jones, Obama's national security adviser, called NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and his counterparts in half a dozen countries, including France. McChrystal and his aides had mocked the French in the article.
"This position involves managing our international partners, and there really had been some damage done there as well," said a senior administration official, who added that Obama explained to Karzai during their call the importance of defending the chain of command.
If confirmed by the Senate, Petraeus, 57, will take control of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, which comprises nearly 100,000 U.S. troops and about 40,000 forces from other countries. He currently heads the U.S. Central Command, in charge of South Asia and the Middle East.