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Obama Fires McChrystal, Replaces Him With Gen. David Petraeus

By    |   Wednesday, 23 June 2010 12:17 PM

In a stunning reversal for the administration's beleaguered war strategy in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama relieved Gen. Stanley McChrystal of his duties and replaced him with Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, according to The Associated Press and other news agencies.

President Obama said he made the decision with "considerable regret," but felt it was in the best interests of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan.

Speaking at 1:45 E.T. Wednesday afternoon outside the White House, Obama praised McChrystal and his service, saying all Americans should be "grateful for his remarkable career in uniform."

"As difficult as it is to lose Gen. McChrystal, I believe it is the right decision for our national security."

He said McChrystal's recent remarks and those of his aides in the recent Rolling Stone interview undermine the civilian control of the military.

President Obama's decision to give McChrystal his walking papers marks the second time the president has fired the commander of American troops in Afghanistan. A few months after taking office, Obama fired former commander Gen. David McKiernan.

In turning to Petraeus, President Obama is relying on a commander with whom he's shared a rocky relationship in the past.

It was Petraeus who guided then-candidate Obama on his first tour of the war zones in the Middle East.

Ironically, it also was Petraeus who supported Obama's appointment of McChrystal as the top military chief in Afghanistan -- a recommendation that now clearly has blown up in the president's face.

Petraeus, who successfully guided President Bush's military surge in Iraq, literally wrote the book on the counterinsurgency strategy Democrats are counting on to win the war in Afghanistan.

When Petraeus initially met with Obama after he gained the presidency, their relationship was described as uneasy.

In the Bush administration, Petraeus enjoyed a seat at the center of power when it came to decisions on how to fight the war. President Bush would give Petraeus 20 minutes once a week via live video feeds from Baghdad to present his point of view. But once in power, Obama shifted Petraeus into more of an advisory role.

Petraeus's isolation appeared to increase when rumors circulated of his possible interest in running for the GOP nomination for president in 2012. Petraeus took a very low key role when the extended debate arose over how many troops should be added to the fighting in Afghanistan.

In October, The New York Times reported: "General Petraeus’s aides now privately call him 'Dave the Dull,' and say he has largely muzzled himself from the fierce public debate about the war to avoid antagonizing the White House, which does not want pressure from military superstars and is wary of the general’s ambitions in particular."

Now, Petraeus finds himself back at the center of U.S. efforts to win the war in Afghanistan. His appointment won widespread plaudits from politicians on Capitol Hill.

The decision to fire McChrystal, following harshly critical remarks of Obama's leadership by both him and his staff in Rolling Stone magazine, touched off a firestorm of Beltway speculation about the direction of U.S. strategy in the Afghanistan war, already the longest conflict in U.S. history and one that has already cost the lives of more than 1,000 American soldiers.

Even before the president announced the firing, the Pentagon was brushing off the dossiers of possible generals to replace McChrystal, whom Obama appointed top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. McChrystal is widely considered the architect of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.

It is unknown whether McChrystal's ouster would alter the July 2011 deadline the administration has declared for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan to begin.

The stage was set for the announcement of McChrystal's ouster early Wednesday morning. McChrystal's day began with a stern dressing down at the Pentagon at 8 a.m., where he met behind closed doors with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

From there McChrystal went to the White House, where he met face-to-face with the president. Immediately after that meeting, McChrystal was seen heading to his SUV and leaving the premises. He shook hands vigorously with associates before departing.

On Tuesday, the White House stated that McChrystal would be attending the 11:45 a.m. monthly meeting of the president's War Council, which directs the course of U.S. war strategy in the Middle East. When McChrystal left before attending that meeting, it immediately triggered widespread speculation that he would be shown the door.

The Obama-McChrystal summit occurred after an angry president summoned the general back to Washington to face the same officials he and his staff blasted in an upcoming magazine article.

Obama had said he wanted to speak directly to McChrystal before deciding whether to fire him for mocking and disparaging his leadership.

"I think it's clear that the article in which he and his team appeared showed a poor — showed poor judgment," the president said in his first comments on the matter, surrounded by members of his Cabinet at the close of their meeting. "But I also want to make sure that I talk to him directly before I make any final decisions."

As press aides quickly ushered out the media, Obama stopped them again to emphasize his concern about the troops.

"I want everybody to keep in mind what our central focus is — and that is success in making sure that al-Qaida and its affiliates cannot attack the United States and its allies," Obama said.

Some pundits believe McChrystal's will not be the last head to roll over the conduct of the war, which has seen Taliban violence return to the key town of Marja in recent weeks following a U.S. offensive there earlier in the year.
John Pike, the national security expert and director of globalsecurity.org, told Newsmax Tuesday that it may be time to shake up the entire team of officials in charge of U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

"If the question is should [McChrystal] be replaced, well, I might start with him but I wouldn't stop with him," Pike says. "The whole country team, it seems to me, is broken, or it seems to be. But the country team is dysfunctional because the strategy is dysfunctional. And the strategy dysfunction is so massive, that I don't think there's any amount of personnel change that will change things substantially.

"Any counterinsurgency strategy that doesn't account for Afghanistan's thriving heroin and poppy business is doomed to fail, Pike said.
The war's slow progress and its rising casualties indicate America is fighting to not become the latest casualty of a region often called "the graveyard of empires."

Among the article's revelations:
  • One McChrystal aide called national security adviser James Jones a “clown.”
  • U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, a three-star general, is said to shoot off memos to cover “his flank for the history books.”
  • McChrystal felt "betrayed" by a leaked Eikenberry memo that said Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai was not an "adequate strategic partner" for the United States.
  • Obama Middle East envoy Richard Holbrooke was described as "a wounded animal." Said one McChrystal aide: "Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous."
But perhaps the most devastating critique involves Obama himself.

Rolling Stone reports that McChrystal and a dozen other senior military officials first met Obama at the Pentagon shortly after he assumed office.

The article cites a source as saying McChrystal thought Obama appeared "uncomfortable and intimidated" by the room full of military brass.

McChrystal reportedly was "disappointed" with his meeting with Obama, who was uninformed and not engaged, according to McChrystal's aides.

“I extend my sincerest apology for this profile,” McChrystal said in his apology. “It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and it should have never happened.”

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In a stunning reversal for the administration's beleaguered war strategy in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama relieved Gen. Stanley McChrystal of his duties and replaced him with Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, according to The Associated Press and...
Wednesday, 23 June 2010 12:17 PM
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