In replacing McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus, Obama reasserts authority

Facing a challenge to his leadership and to civilian control of the military, President Obama replaced Gen. Stanley McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus as top commander in Afghanistan.

By , Staff writer

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    Gen. David Petraeus listens to President Obama announce him as the successor to Gen. Stanley McChrystal as US commander in Afghanistan 'I welcome debate among my team, but I won't tolerate division,' Obama said as he announced his decision to accept McChrystal's resignation because of comments made to Rolling Stone magazine.
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President Obama’s decision to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal as top commander in Afghanistan demonstrates an effort to reassert authority in one of the highest and most difficult priorities of his presidency.

That Mr. Obama selected the highly regarded Gen. David Petraeus – commander of the US Central Command and former head of coalition forces in Iraq – shows that Obama means business. The US and its allies are struggling in Afghanistan, and given the progress that General Petraeus oversaw in Iraq, his agreement to take the Afghanistan job could prove to be a win-win for Obama.

Obama gains a top commander back in the field, and he also reasserts his role as civilian commander in chief. It was less-than-complimentary comments about Obama and top administration officials made by General McChrystal and his staff to a reporter from Rolling Stone magazine that got the general in hot water in the first place.

Recommended: Petraeus scandal: Did anything illegal happen? Five questions so far.

IN PICTURES: Controversial American generals

Just as last week, when Obama moved to assert an air of command and control over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster, so too this week, the president faced a challenge to his leadership and moved swiftly to establish his primacy. Obama exercised his characteristic restraint, but acted more swiftly than is often his style. He summoned McChrystal to Washington for a meeting, choosing to hear out the general in person rather than rely on written words and the assessments of others, and then announced his decision.

Obama: No dispute over policy

After praising McChrystal “as one of our nation’s finest soldiers” and offering assurances that his dismissal reflects no dispute over policy, Obama announced the decision that many military analysts felt was necessary.

“The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general,” Obama said. “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.”

Obama referred to his “multiple responsibilities” as commander in chief in justifying the move. In his responsibility to the men and women in uniform, he said, it is his duty to ensure adherence to a strict code of conduct – and respect for civilian control. Obama also cited his responsibility to “do whatever is necessary” and maintain a “unity of effort” to succeed in Afghanistan and, more broadly, defeat Al Qaeda.

“I don't think that we can sustain that unity of effort and achieve our objectives in Afghanistan without making this change,” Obama said.

In a way, McChrystal made Obama’s decision fairly easy.

The comments the general had made to Rolling Stone, for which he apologized and did not claim had been misrepresented, were not his first episode of impropriety. Last September, he had leaked his preference for a higher number of troops for his Afghan counterinsurgency campaign. Last month, he said that the counterinsurgency effort in Marjah was a “bleeding ulcer.” Earlier, McChrystal had been criticized for his role in the faulty reporting of the 2004 friendly fire death of Army Ranger (and former NFL football player) Pat Tillman in Afghanistan.

To some, the latest indiscretion – which included his telling the Rolling Stone reporter that he was not impressed with Obama upon their first meeting – was the last straw.

In a rare show of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans alike applauded Obama’s decision.

“I have great respect for General McChrystal and the job he’s done in Afghanistan and elsewhere in service of our country, but I respect the decision of our Commander-in-Chief,” House minority leader John Boehner (R) of Ohio said in a statement.

On the selection of Petraeus, Congressman Boehner said he “deserves great credit for his leadership in helping to stabilize Iraq and bring it to a critical transition point this summer. I believe he is the right person to take over this command.”

IN PICTURES: Controversial American generals

Related:

Three military commanders before General McChrystal who got the ax

McChrystal Rolling Stone remarks spotlight Afghanistan withdrawal timeline

Afghanistan war: Gen. McChrystal impatient with Marjah campaign

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