Gen. Stanley McChrystal relieved of command
Wednesday, June 23, 2010; 2:00 PM
President Obama on Wednesday relieved Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal of his duties as commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, a White House official said.
Washington Post political reporter Karen Tumulty was online Wednesday, June 23, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss all the latest breaking news on the story.
Karen Tumulty: Welcome to today's chat. I'm Karen Tumulty, a relatively new addition to the Washington Post staff, covering national politics. We've just had a big piece of news: President Obama has accepted Gen. McChrystal's resignation. Gen. David Petraeus, head of CENTCOM, will replace him as commander of the war in Afghanistan.
Minneapolis, Minn.: Hi Karen -- Thank you for taking questions today. The president's approval ratings, while not in the tank, have not been exactly robust, either (around 50 percent, if not a point or two lower). From a political standpoint, does today's very decisive action help, even as other problems (the economy, the oil spill) continue to dog him and keep his ratings down?
Karen Tumulty: I think this episode may well move the president's approval ratings a bit, especially given the fact that our most recent poll showed a pretty steep decline in the percentage of Americans who view Obama as a strong leader. But by November, I suspect this episode will be a footnote, with issues like the economy and Obama's handling of the oil spill much higher in voters' minds.
Washington, D.C.: I understand that McChrystal was completely disrespectful, but aren't presidents supposed to have a pretty thick skin? The last thing we want in the military is a bunch of yes men.
Karen Tumulty: Generals are expected to give their best advice to the Commander-in-Chief, but they are also expected to respect civilian control of the military, which is enshrined in the Constitution. Most experts on military law seem to think that McChrystal came pretty close to line of insubordination, if not over it, and that is a firable offense--whether you are a general or a private.
Baltimore, Md.: How will this play now? Did Obama do the right thing? What is the view in Washington and Afghanistan?
Karen Tumulty: My hunch is that it would have been much harder for Obama to explain why he was keeping him on.
Winnipeg, Canada: Does this event open the door for Obama to change course on Afghanistan and pull out?
Karen Tumulty: The policy has been -- and remains -- that there will be a December review of the counterinsurgency strategy, and that troop withdrawal will begin next summer. However, many people are expressing doubts that second part will actually happen on schedule.
Vienna, Va.: I'm not an Obama fan; in fact, I probably agree with some of the things that Gen. McChrystal has said. However, the statements made by Gen. McChrystal are clearly insubordinate and demonstrate a lack of professionalism on his part. I was also struck by the lack of professionalism shown by the members of his staff in the Rolling Stone article. I don't want our armed forces staffed with namby-pambies ... but come on, these officers should have had enough sense to understand that what they said and the way they acted was going to be held up as representative of our Army Officer corps.
Karen Tumulty: This really was an episode of "What Were They Thinking?"
No good choices: This was another no-win situation for the president, who did what he had to do in the face of such astoundingly bad judgment. But as Seth Meyers, SNL head writer, tweeted: As punishments go, you could do worse than "you're no longer in charge of winning the war in Afghanistan."
Karen Tumulty: Joking aside, though, this was McChrystal's strategy, and it surely will be difficult for a military man with his distinguished record not to be there to implement it.
Chantilly, Va.: What's the next step? Will Congress approve Petraeus quickly? What do you think Karzai's reaction will be?
Karen Tumulty: It will be very interesting to see what kind of relationship Petraeus has with Karzai. McChrystal had been a very important ally to a partner who many senior officials believe to be an unreliable one.
As for Petraeus' confirmation, it's a pretty safe bet that it will go through very quickly.
Alexandria, Va.: Why would a general like McChrystal grant such wide access and agree to be interviewed by a freelance writer for Rolling Stone magazine? This seems, to me, bad judgment. Do you think this aspect of the case gave Obama cause to not trust him further?
Karen Tumulty: This is certainly a president who puts a very high value on message discipline, and has a very dim view of leaks, so this performance on McChrystal's part must surely have damaged the president's confidence in him.
As for why McChrystal and his aides would have said what they did to any reporter -- that is truly mystifying. It's worth noting that they have not disputed any of what was written.
Manhattan, Kan.: Will Petraeus also retain his command of CENCOM? If not, won't his taking over McChrystal's command be seen as a demotion of sorts?
Karen Tumulty: I was wondering the same thing. It is hard to see him trying to do both, and while his current job puts him in a higher position, the Afghan mission is the more urgent and high-profile task.
I do think the president was right in saying that taking this job is a real personal sacrifice on the part of Petraeus and his family.
What now: So, what does the general do now? Retirement or another posting?
Karen Tumulty: He is 55, and probably eligible for retirement, should he choose it.
Petraeus back in charge of a failed policy?: Ezra Klein via twitter: "This seems like a great way to get rid of McChrystal while miring David Petraeus in an increasingly unwinnable war..."
That's what I was thinking too. Any thoughts?
Karen Tumulty: It will be interesting to see how this affects the December review, and where Petraeus weighs in on the question of beginning troop withdrawals next summer.
Bethesda, Md.: Do you know who was in the Obama/McChrystal meeting at the White House? Did McChrystal go in knowing he was going to resign? Was he given a choice? Know the details?
Karen Tumulty: We haven't heard any of the details of that session at this point. The fact that the entire meeting lasted less than a half hour, and that McChrystal didn't come back for the subsequent meeting on AfPak strategy was a pretty good tipoff, however, of how things had gone.
Houghton, Mich.: Good afternoon. Obviously the president is driving the bus on Afghan policy, but who's riding shotgun? After this episode, is the Pentagon off the bus and policy goes all over to State? What's your take?
Karen Tumulty: It is a decent bet that this could enhance the positions of both Vice President Biden and Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, both of whom have disagreed with McChrystal on the strategy.
Baltimore, Md.: Why didn't any other reporters hear anything like this from the McChrystal staff, if it was so pervasive? I heard a criticism that most reporters on the Afghan beat are either in complete agreement with the COIN mission philosophy that they wouldn't print anything to detract from it, or the reporters are working on books and won't write any articles that aren't puff pieces. How do you counter this accusation? Aren't there any tough and critical reporters on the Afghan beat with brave editors any more?
Karen Tumulty: I don't cover the military, but in talking to colleagues who have, I get the impression that these comments were highly unusual.
Helena, Mont.: Once Obama characterized this episode as a "lack of judgment" the writing was on the wall -- how could he trust someone who had such appalling lack of judgment as to diss the civilian leaders of this country?
Karen Tumulty: I think that was what the president ultimately decided.
Elmhurst, Ill.: Even though I voted for Obama, I'm finding him an enigma as a leader. His polls say I'm not alone. He could not afford to back down after McChrystal laid down that dare. So long, McC.
I am angry at McChrystal for jeopardizing his strategy, his soldiers' lives, everything, by doing something so dumb, for tolerating that kind of atmosphere from his aides, for undercutting a life-and-death endeavor. What you tolerate is hard to turn off when others are watching. Why did he do this? To lodge a protest? To look witty? That's some expensive whining he just did.
Karen Tumulty: We may have to wait for a book from him to find out the answer to those questions. I doubt that he will be doing any interviews any time soon.
Karen Tumulty: Thank you very much for joining us today. I look forward to doing this again very soon.
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