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General Petraeus Replaces General McChrystal in Afganistan

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Statement by the President in the Rose Garden

Rose Garden


1:43 P.M. EDT


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.



1:51 P.M. EDT

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Guest Desert Rat

I am not a big Obama fan, but General McChrystal was way out of line. He set a bad precedent for the troops to respect the chain of command.


We also need to remember and support the soldiers fighting the longest war in our history. That should be number one news story everyday.


Otherwise, we need to get out.

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"The Runaway General" written by Michael Hastings, appears in Rolling Stone on newsstands Friday, June 25.


Even though he had voted for Obama, McChrystal and his new commander in chief failed from the outset to connect. The general first encountered Obama a week after he took office, when the president met with a dozen senior military officials in a room at the Pentagon known as the Tank.




Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was. Here's the guy who's going to run his fraking war, but he didn't seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed.




"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?"




in April 2004, McChrystal took an active role in creating the impression that Tillman had died at the hands of Taliban fighters. He signed off on a falsified recommendation for a Silver Star that suggested Tillman had been killed by enemy fire.




Two years later, in 2006, McChrystal was tainted by a scandal involving detainee abuse and torture at Camp Nama in Iraq.




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From what I read, General McChrystal reminds me of the late Great General Patton. Both men are heroic mavericks that just did not know when to shut up. I wonder though. Should we have a little more tolerance for these rare men who have mastered the art of battle and comradeship. I wonder if the media should be allowed to weigh down war effort. Then again the Freedom of Speech is what makes our Country great. General McChrystal will be missed, but the war goes on.


Pundits should lay this issue to rest. There are many battles ahead. General Patraeus needs all the support he can get from us.



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Guest American4Progress

By appointing Petraeus to replace McChrystal, Obama has ably addressed concerns about "continuity, momentum, and relations with allies" that arise from removing a commander in the middle of a war. "On a strategic level, while McChrystal designed the U.S. military policy in Afghanistan, Petraeus is its ur-architect," noted Slate's Fred Kaplan, adding that Petraeus has spent the last year and a half "building the same relations" that McChrystal had built "with political and military leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan." Widely praised for his command in Iraq, "the burden" now falls to Petraeus "to reverse the deteriorating situation on the ground" in Afghanistan and to "regain the momentum in this nine-year-old war."


OBAMA ASSERTS CONTROL: In his statement explaining his decision to replace McChrystal, Obama said that "war is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general, or a president." "Our democracy depends upon institutions that are stronger than individuals," said the President, adding, "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." "The fallout from" the Rolling Stone article has "laid bare the dysfunctional relationships among senior civilian and military officials responsible for the Afghan campaign," but divisions were apparent between the military leadership and the civilian leadership before the article that sealed McChrystal's fate was ever published. By emphasizing that the Afghanistan "mission demands unity of effort," Obama appears to be taking steps to reel in the civilian side of his war command as well. "This was not a good thing, but it had to be done," Obama told his senior staff, according to ABC News. "But if I catch any of you crowing about it I will come down on you like a ton of bricks." A senior White House official told ABC's Jake Tapper that message from Obama is "that everyone involved in the mission 'needs to remember why we're doing this'" and the President "doesn't want to see pettiness." "The commander in chief has made it clear no one is bigger than the mission and nothing less than a unified effort in Afghanistan will get the job done," said Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In an editorial today, the New York Times suggests that Obama "needs to think seriously about a wider housecleaning" that should include "a hard look at Richard Holbrooke, who is supposed to be overseeing the civilian and political aspects of Afghanistan's rebuilding."


STRATEGIC CONTINUITY: "Let me say to the American people, this is a change in personnel but it is not a change in policy," said Obama in his Rose Garden remarks yesterday. "We have a clear goal," said Obama. "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." Obama clearly signaled that Petraeus will continue McChrystal's robust counter-insurgency strategy that focuses on the military pushing back the Taliban while seeking to gain the support of the people by improving livelihoods and increasing the capacity and effectiveness of the Afghan government. "The overall strategy is not going to change, but like anyone, Petraeus will go back and check the assumptions, the vantage from Kabul, the personal dynamics and interpersonal relationships," Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) told the New York Times. "There will be shifts in emphasis and tone." Petraeus' check of assumptions will be important as the firestorm over McChrystal served to highlight the fact that American prospects in the war were "already on shaky ground." "Combat delays, rising casualties and new reports of Afghan corruption have led to growing skepticism in Congress and among the American public," the Washington Post noted on Wednesday. "At the moment, every aspect of the war in Afghanistan is going badly: the military's campaign in the strategic city of Kandahar has met with widespread resistance from the Afghan public; President Hamid Karzai is proving erratic and unpredictable; and the Taliban are resisting more tenaciously than ever," wrote the New York Times of Petraeus' task ahead.


CHALLENGES AHEAD: As soon as Petraeus is confirmed by the Senate, which is expected to happen quickly, he will face a stark set of challenges that include "parliamentary elections in September; a scheduled administration review of progress in Afghanistan in December; and next summer's drawdown deadline." But Petraeus will also have to address the basic challenges that the U.S. faces in Afghanistan. When Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Washington in May, Center for American Progress (CAP) Senior Fellow Brian Katulis noted that "nearly nine years into the war, we lack clear answers to two fundamental questions: How does this war end? What is the desired sustainable end state in Afghanistan?" In a recent CAP report, Caroline Wadhams and Colin Cookman argued that the American public "will not tolerate an indefinite military occupation in Afghanistan that continues to strain our armed forces and financial coffers in the midst of our own economic crisis." Though Obama has stood firmly by "his plan to begin pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan next year," the administration "has not yet outlined a clear plan for transferring control to the Afghan state or sufficiently prioritized the reforms needed to ensure that it can one day stand on its own." Conservatives are looking to Petraeus to support their desire for an open-ended commitment in Afghanistan, but ABC News' George Stephanopoulos reported this morning that "the general assured Obama" yesterday that "he would support the deadline."

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Guest Jim Garamone

Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both said they “fully support” Obama’s decision and his nomination of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus to replace McChrystal.


“Like the president, I deeply regret the circumstances that made this decision necessary,” Gates said during a Pentagon news conference. “General McChrystal is one of the finest officers and warriors of his generation, who has an extraordinary record in leading the fight against some of this country’s most lethal enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan.”


Gates and Mullen said McChrystal showed poor judgment with regard to the Rolling Stone profile in which he and members of his staff were critical of administration officials. The situation “has made his continued service in that post and as a member of the national security team untenable,” Gates said. “The statements and attitudes reported in the news media are unacceptable under our form of government, and are inconsistent with the high standards expected of military leaders.”


The chairman said he was stunned when he read the Rolling Stone profile.


“I cannot excuse his lack of judgment with respect to the Rolling Stone article or a command climate he evidently permitted that was at best disrespectful of civilian authority,” Mullen said. “We do not have that luxury, those of us in uniform. We do not have the right, nor should we ever assume the prerogative, to cast doubt upon the ability or mock the motives of our civilian leaders, elected or appointed.”


Military personnel are and must remain a neutral instrument of the government, he said. Servicemembers must be accountable to and respectful of civilian leaders “no matter which party holds sway or which person holds a given office,” Mullen said.


Military leaders must step down when they lose the trust and confidence of civilian leaders, the chairman said.


“The job we are called upon to do for the nation is too important, the lives we are sworn to protect too precious, to permit any doubt or uncertainty in that regard,” he said. “General McChrystal did the right thing by offering to resign.”


Both men stressed that while the leadership is changing, the strategy in Afghanistan is not. “Our troops and coalition partners are making extraordinary sacrifices in the fight against al-Qaida and its extremist allies,” Gates said. “Our singular focus must be on succeeding in this mission without distraction or division.”


Gates said that he was concerned that the effort in Afghanistan would lose time and focus if a new commander came in without knowledge of the situation.


One concern that the secretary had was to minimize any impact a change would have on the conduct of the war in Afghanistan. “I will tell you that … it was the president who first raised Petraeus’ name,” Gates said. “And it immediately, to me, answered a lot of the concerns that I had.”


As the U.S. Central Command chief, Petraeus has been part of the discussions on the Afghan strategy all along. The general was in charge of U.S. military operations in Iraq during the troop surge there, and military and civilian efforts there have paid off.


“The key [in Afghanistan] was that we not lose our focus and be further distracted for a period of months,” Gates said. “And that's why the selection of General Petraeus was so important, in my view. Now the president has established the strategy, but from my perspective, General Petraeus will have the flexibility to look at the campaign plan and the approach and all manner of things when he gets to Afghanistan, assuming Senate confirmation.”


The Senate Armed Services Committee has scheduled Petraeus’ confirmation hearings for June 29, and committee officials promised an early vote on the matter. NATO still must act to appoint the general as the commander of the International Security Assistance Force.


“No one – be they adversaries or friends, or especially our troops – should misinterpret these personnel changes as a slackening of this government’s commitment to the mission in Afghanistan,” Gates said. “We remain committed to that mission and to the comprehensive civil-military strategy ordered by the president to achieve our goals there.”


Both Gates and Mullen praised McChrystal’s service.


“General McChrystal and many of his immediate staff have served and protected this country in combat with great courage, valor, skill and devotion for many years,” Gates said. “Their outstanding record of service remains intact for posterity, and is deserving of our lasting recognition and profound gratitude.”


Mullen said McChrystal is a friend with whom he worked when the general served as the director of the Joint Staff for a year.


“He's a fine soldier and a good man,” Mullen said of McChrystal. “He has served his country nobly and with great distinction for more than three decades, much of that last decade at war. He led men in places the rest of us could not follow, and he fought men in ways the rest of us could not fathom.


“I was proud one year ago to support him for the Afghanistan command,” the admiral continued. “And I think it's worth noting his strong leadership and the foundation he has laid for future success there.”

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