Did Obama Thread Military and Political Needles by Replacing McChrystal with Petraeus?
Did President Barack Obama thread the military and political needles by replacing Gen. Stanley McChrystal with Gen. David Patraeus? It certainly looks that way — for now.
As we noted earlier, Obama’s decision on whether or not to boot McChrystal after Rolling Stone ran a profile of him in which the General and his associates at various times dissed Obama, other civilian leaders and even some military had been shaping up as a lose-lose situation for Obama — where no matter what he did he’d take heat and be denounced.
But now — at this stage at least — Obama has earned mostly praise or backing for his decision. Here is Obama’s announcement in full:
Here is the text of President’s full statement:
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. Today I accepted General Stanley McChrystal’s resignation as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. I did so with considerable regret, but also with certainty that it is the right thing for our mission in Afghanistan, for our military, and for our country.
I’m also pleased to nominate General David Petraeus to take command in Afghanistan, which will allow us to maintain the momentum and leadership that we need to succeed.
I don’t make this decision based on any difference in policy with General McChrystal, as we are in full agreement about our strategy. Nor do I make this decision out of any sense of personal insult. Stan McChrystal has always shown great courtesy and carried out my orders faithfully. I’ve got great admiration for him and for his long record of service in uniform.
Over the last nine years, with America fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has earned a reputation as one of our nation’s finest soldiers. That reputation is founded upon his extraordinary dedication, his deep intelligence, and his love of country. I relied on his service, particularly in helping to design and lead our new strategy in Afghanistan. So all Americans should be grateful for General McChrystal’s remarkable career in uniform.
But war is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general, or a president. And as difficult as it is to lose General McChrystal, 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. 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 Afghanistan.
My multiple responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief led me to this decision. First, I have a responsibility to the extraordinary men and women who are fighting this war, and to the democratic institutions that I’ve been elected to lead. I’ve got no greater honor than serving as Commander-in-Chief of our men and women in uniform, and it is my duty to ensure that no diversion complicates the vital mission that they are carrying out.
That includes adherence to a strict code of conduct. The strength and greatness of our military is rooted in the fact that this code applies equally to newly enlisted privates and to the general officer who commands them. That allows us to come together as one. That is part of the reason why America has the finest fighting force in the history of the world.
It is also true that our democracy depends upon institutions that are stronger than individuals. That includes strict adherence to the military chain of command, and respect for civilian control over that chain of command. And that’s why, as Commander-in-Chief, I believe this decision is necessary to hold ourselves accountable to standards that are at the core of our democracy.
Second, I have a responsibility to do what is — 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. That, too, has guided my decision.
I’ve just told my national security team that now is the time for all of us to come together. Doing so is not an option, but an obligation. I welcome debate among my team, but I won’t tolerate division. All of us have personal interests; all of us have opinions. Our politics often fuels conflict, but we have to renew our sense of common purpose and meet our responsibilities to one another, and to our troops who are in harm’s way, and to our country.
We need to remember what this is all about. Our nation is at war. We face a very tough fight in Afghanistan. But Americans don’t flinch in the face of difficult truths or difficult tasks. We persist and we persevere. We will not tolerate a safe haven for terrorists who want to destroy Afghan security from within, and launch attacks against innocent men, women, and children in our country and around the world.
So make no mistake: We have a clear goal. We are going to break the Taliban’s momentum. We are going to build Afghan capacity. We are going to relentlessly apply pressure on al Qaeda and its leadership, strengthening the ability of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to do the same.
That’s the strategy that we agreed to last fall; that is the policy that we are carrying out, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In that effort, we are honored to be joined by allies and partners who have stood by us and paid the ultimate price through the loss of their young people at war. They are with us because the interests and values that we share, and because this mission is fundamental to the ability of free people to live in peace and security in the 21st century.
General Petraeus and I were able to spend some time this morning discussing the way forward. I’m extraordinarily grateful that he has agreed to serve in this new capacity. It should be clear to everybody, he does so at great personal sacrifice to himself and to his family. And he is setting an extraordinary example of service and patriotism by assuming this difficult post.
Let me say to the American people, this is a change in personnel but it is not a change in policy. General Petraeus fully participated in our review last fall, and he both supported and helped design the strategy that we have in place. In his current post at Central Command, he has worked closely with our forces in Afghanistan. He has worked closely with Congress. He has worked closely with the Afghan and Pakistan governments and with all our partners in the region. He has my full confidence, and I am urging the Senate to confirm him for this new assignment as swiftly as possible.
Let me conclude by saying that it was a difficult decision to come to the conclusion that I’ve made today. 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.
So, once again, I thank General McChrystal for his enormous contributions to the security of this nation and to the success of our mission in Afghanistan. I look forward to working with General Petraeus and my entire national security team to succeed in our mission. And I reaffirm that America stands as one in our support for the men and women who defend it.
Thank you very much.
There were several components about this decision and the way it was handled that tell us a lot about Barack Obama.
Clearly, Obama wanted to meet and hear McChrystal out himself before he finally made a decision. But early reports about the White House preparing a list of names indicated that McChrystal would bare the brunt of making a convincing plea if he was to keep his job.
And, as Jonathan Alter has noted repeatedly on cable and in writing, Obama has a process for making a decision which is to take in all info, deep six the cable and internet partisan and ideological polemics, and then decide, for better or for worse.
What makes it seem (for now) suddenly for better?
Most analysts didn’t expect to see Petraeus in the mix: he has been a hero to many Republicans and conservatives. Some even floated his name for President in 2012 as a dream candidate. Obama chose someone highly respected in the military who is virtually idolized by his political foes.
And then there was Obama’s statement. It outlines the vital issues of civilian military control and the importance of the code of conduct being applied to all in the military, regardless of rank.
If Obama hadn’t acted he most likely would have come under attack as a political wimp, a ditherer, and he and future Presidents could count on reading future disparaging comments about themselves and their security teams. And the press would have a new info gift: military officials who know they can talk to the press as if they were writing blog comments instead of as members of the military.
FOOTNOTE: This post reflects sentiment now. What happens next will be on how this issue is framed the next few days on conservative talk shows which can shape future new and old media attitudes. Also: Senator John McCain has also signaled that he may use Petraeus hearings as a stage to go after Obama (again). The San Francisco Chronicle’s blog reports:
Hours after Gen. David Petraeus’ appointment as the top commander in Afghanistan, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is already declaring that he will pressure Petraeus to abandon President Obama’s “arbitrary” July 2011 withdrawal date and instead base troop drawdown on the current conditions in Afghanistan.
McCain, a longtime arch-foe of President Obama’s withdrawal deadline, stressed the importance of tomorrow’s confirmation hearing in determining how the war will go forward. “We cannot send a message that we are leaving at an arbitrary date,” said McCain. Conservatives have long complained that Obama’s withdrawal date has set up the U.S. for failure.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein applauded the appointment of Petraeus, who rescued the Iraq war when nobody thought it was possible and saved president George W. Bush from a complete defeat in Iraq. Petraeus’ party affiliation is a mystery but he has been courted by both parties as a modern-day Eisenhower. “President Obama has made his decision, and that’s that,” Feinstein said. “Now it’s up to us to make sure General Petraeus has the resources he needs to be successful in what is an extraordinarily important year.”
The fact is this: few would have thought by late yesterday or early this morning that Obama would give an announcement that would be received so well on the right, in the center, and on the left (for now).
HERE’S A CROSS SECTION OF OTHER REACTION:
Members of both parties on Capitol Hill backed President Obama’s decision to replace Stanley McChrystal after the general and his staff disparaged members of the president’s national security team in an article in Rolling Stone magazine.
—Glenn Reynolds aka InstaPundit has some interesting tidbits.
UPDATE: A reader emails: “What’s it say about the MSM that a Presidential Candidate and a Commanding General were taken down by the National Enquirer and Rolling Stone Magazine? They’re not exactly bastions of journalistic integrity-or did things suddenly invert over the last 10 years?” Well, they still do actual reporting.
Plus this comment: “Brilliant choice by the President. He removes his hand-picked choice for someone he had no confidence in just 2 years ago.” Yes, underemphasized in all of this is that McChrystal was Obama’s hand-picked choice, for whom the previously serving general, David McKiernan, was unceremoniously removed. That switch was one of Obama’s first major decisions as commander-in-chief.
I honestly thought Obama wouldn’t sack McChrystal, especially after the language used by Gibbs and Gates. I’ve rarely been happier to have read the tea-leaves wrong and have to think the surge of opinion among military types and pundits that McChrystal had to go influenced Obama’s eventual decision.
The appointment of Petraeus obviously means the strategy will continue pretty much unchanged – Obama has just doubled down on the occupation of Afghanistan and on COIN as an operational gambit. But this leaves the teflon General sitting with his ass publicly on the line, pursuing his disciple’s impossible dreams in Afghanistan. Bye-bye any chance of Petraeus 2012…With Petraeus’ appointment, Obama is hoping the “epic narrative” will replace a renewed public debate on the direction of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. At a time when every indicator there is a bad one, he didn’t want that debate.
And just wait until Petareus starts up seriously on his campaign to ignore Obama’s 2011 “beginning of a drawdown” date…
There are those that see this as a defining moment for Obama. They will argue that, by sacking McChrystal, he has shown a firm hand on the tiller. In fact he has done no such thing.
Let’s stipulate, using what some see as the obvious example, that McChrystal is no Douglas MacArthur. True enough, but Obama is no Harry Truman, who was a vigorous and effective commander-in-chief during the earliest days of the Cold War. Obama’s feckless leadership in the war on terror bespeaks a leader who does not want or know how to win the fight we are in. It is notable, for example, that it took nearly 10months for Obama and McChrystal to meet face-to-face–via a video uplink–after the general called for a significant infusion of troops into Afghanistan. It only took about 10 hours for a meeting to occur once McChrystal’s comments leaked out.
In selecting Gen. David Petraeus to succeed McChrystal the president has perhaps turned the reins over to the one general who has proven he can lead successfully in the kind of war America finds itself. McChrystal’s comments, even though they forced his resignation, nevertheless reinforce the idea that President Obama and his national security team are in way over their heads. And that’s not a component of a winning strategy, no matter how you slice it.
Stanley McChrystal, the general and chief architect of the counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan, was relieved of his command on Wednesday, following a series of disparaging quotes that he and his aides made about the president and civilian leadership.
It was a remarkable conclusion to a frantic two-day period of frenzied coverage, climaxing with a Rose Garden appearance in which the president explained his rationale. In the end, it will remain a confounding episode for both historians and politicos alike. It was not McChrystal’s connections to a scarring episode of detainee abuse and the cover-up of a revered soldier’s death or his disparagement of the vice president’s proposal for Afghanistan that did the general in. It was a series of interviews with Rolling Stone magazine, of all things.
For me, the key statement in the President’s speech was when he said “disagreement is fine; division is not.”
Conservatives recognized that McChrystal needed to be disciplined but wanted him to stay, largely because they were concerned his departure would mean a shift in strategy. Despite the tendency of the political press to describe military commanders in near-mythological terms, McChrystal is not irreplaceable, not even for those who want to see the current counterinsurgency strategy continue. With Gen. David Petraeus stepping in as his replacement, those on the right concerned with strategic continuity can breathe easy. Obama stressed that “we have a clear goal, we are going to break the Taliban’s momentum, we are going to build Afghan capacity, we are going to relentlessly apply pressure on al-Qaeda and its leadership, strengthening the ability of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to do the same,” essentially reaffirming his commitment to the strategy decided on last fall. Petraeus’ Senate confirmation is likely to go through without incident.
Liberals were hoping that McChrystal’s departure would offer an opportunity for the administration to rethink a strategy that some suspect was adopted largely due to political pressure to continue the mission.They point to the recent difficulties in Marjah as evidence the strategy isn’t working to dislodge or weaken the Taliban, and maintain that the structure and corruption of the Afghan government is an intractable problem. At the very least, they would have liked a serious re-evaluation of the viability of the current counterinsurgency strategy.
The appointment of Gen. Petraeus is likely to squelch any such discussion before it gets started.
The president has accepted McChrystal’s resignation. David Petraeus will take over in Afghanistan – so with an old involved hand like that taking over, I have to take back what I said about the leader of the COIN strategy being out and the war winding down. The appeal of McChrystal was always that he was in the Petraeus mold. Well, Petraeus is certainly inthe Petraeus mold.
Interesting if predictable developments today with GEN McChrystal being relieved by President Obama. Er, I’m sorry, resigning. And certainly an interesting move with GEN Petraeus being promoted, er, demoted, er, reasssigned – yeah, that’s it, reassigned. That strikes me as a wise move, all the more so because of the explicit statement that the rest of the CENTCOM job will not be his, too. It’s not like that’s an easy enough job alone and we need to get more mileage out of that particular 4 star billet.
I also think the fairly short press statement today was delivered fairly well by President Obama. I’m sorry, he just looked so whiny and bureaucratic doing his Gulf “War” address, particularly in Jon Stewart’s commission accomplished send up, that I was very anxious about today.
But the emphasis in today’s address on the assertion of civilian control over the military struck me as very ironic in this particular time and in this particular war. One of the key thrusts of the Rolling Stone article is the issue of who is really in control of the civilian side of things — who was GEN McChrystal’s counterpart, and was there coherent execution there?