Obama Relieves McChrystal of Command
By HELENE COOPER and JACK HEALY
Published: June 23, 2010
WASHINGTON - President Obama removed Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as commander
of American forces in Afghanistan on Wednesday, and tapped as his
replacement the general's boss and the architect of the 2007 surge in Iraq,
Gen. David H. Petraeus.
Mr. Obama, standing with General Petraeus and Vice President Joseph R. Biden
Jr. in the White House Rose Garden to underline the continuity and solidity
of his Afghan policy, said that he had accepted General McChrystal's
resignation "with considerable regret."
Mr. Obama said he had done so not out of personal insult, but because a
magazine article featuring contemptuous quotes from the general and his
staff about senior administration officials had not met standards of
behavior for a commanding general, and threatened to erode trust among
administration and military officials and undermine civilian control of the
"War is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general or
president," Mr. Obama said. "As difficult as it is to lose General
McChrystal, I believe it is the right decision for national security."
"I welcome debate among my team," he said, "but I won't tolerate division."
Mr. Obama stressed that the change in leadership did not signal a shift in
his overall war strategy in Afghanistan, where thousands of new American
troops have been arriving in recent months among increasing casualties and
growing questions about the progress of the war.
"It is a change in personnel, but it is not a change in policy," Mr. Obama
The reshuffle injected new uncertainties into relations between the United
States and the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who had urged American
leaders to let General McChrystal remain in place.
Although General Petraeus has held overarching responsibility for the wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan as the head of the United States Central Command, it
was General McChrystal who spent more time in Afghanistan, building the
trust of Mr. Karzai and traveling to tribal meetings with him.
In a brief statement, General McChrystal said he supported the strategy in
Afghanistan and had resigned out of a "desire to see the mission succeed."
General McChrystal and Mr. Obama met for about 20 minutes earlier in the
day, after the general flew from Afghanistan to Washington on Tuesday amid a
growing furor over the article in Rolling Stone magazine.
The article quoted General McChrystal and his aides speaking critically of
nearly every member of the president's national security team, saying
President Obama appeared "uncomfortable and intimidated" during his first
meeting with the general, and dismissing Vice President Biden as "Bite Me."
The firestorm over the article was fueled by increasing doubts - even in the
military - that Afghanistan can be won and by crumbling public support for
the nine-year war as American casualties rise. The remarks also laid bare
the disarray and enmity in a foreign policy team that is struggling with the
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, once the general's biggest supporter,
criticized General McChrystal for "a significant mistake" while Adm. Mike
Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was described by a senior
aide as "deeply disappointed" by the comments. But Hamid Karzai, the Afghan
president, and his powerful half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, mounted a
full-throated defense of General McChrystal.
The Afghanistan team has suffered many internal conflicts, including
complaints from the American ambassador, Karl W. Eikenberry, about Richard
C. Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. In
one episode that dramatized the building animosities, Gen. James L. Jones,
the national security adviser, wrote to Ambassador Eikenberry in February,
sympathizing with his complaints about a visit Mr. Holbrooke had recently
made to Afghanistan. In the note, which went out over channels that were not
secure, officials said, General Jones soothed the ambassador by suggesting
that Mr. Holbrooke would soon be removed from his job.
The Jones note prompted Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to
complain to Mr. Obama, and her support for Mr. Holbrooke has kept him in his
In the Rolling Stone article, which was posted on the magazine's Web site on
Tuesday, one of General McChrystal's aides is quoted as referring to General
Jones as a "clown."
The infighting has been made more severe by the increasingly perilous
situation on the ground. Violence in Afghanistan is on the rise. The mission
to pacify Marja and Kandahar is far off track. And the effort to create a
viable Afghan government is increasingly in doubt because of widespread
corruption. Criticism is mounting on Capitol Hill, even among the
backers, and many allies have announced that they are looking for the exit,
with others expected to do the same in the coming months.
General McChrystal had proved to be the one American official most able to
successfully deal with Mr. Karzai on a daily basis. Beyond that, Mr. Obama's
war strategy is in many ways a McChrystal strategy. The general devised the
plan, which called for thousands of extra troops to fight the insurgency
and, perhaps more important, create a sense of security for the Afghan
There has been vigorous debate within the administration about how to
proceed in Afghanistan, but General McChrystal and his aides did not overtly
criticize administration policy.
Rather, the differences were personal, and publicly aired. One
administration official described Mr. Obama as being particularly furious at
a McChrystal aide's characterization of him as not seeming "very engaged"
during that first White House meeting.
Over all, the magazine article depicted General McChrystal at the head of a
small circle of aides engaged in what came close to locker-room trash talk
as they discussed foreign policy, the French, their allegiance to one
another and their own concerns about course of the war. The civilian
communications adviser who set up the interview, Duncan Boothby, has
Helene Cooper reported from Washington and Jack Healy from New York.
Reporting was contributed by Dexter Filkins from Kabul, Afghanistan, and
Thom Shanker and Mark Landler from Washington.
Obey's Afghanistan: At Long Last, It's Guns vs Butter
Robert Naiman: Policy Director, Just Foreign Policy
Huffingtonpost: JUne 18, 2010
One of the many destructive legacies of the Reagan Era was the effective
Washington consensus that wars and other military spending exist on their
own fiscal planet. Reagan got a Dixiecrat Congress to double military
spending at a time when the U.S. was not at war (unless you were a poor
person in Central America.) Meanwhile, Reagan got the Dixiecrat Congress to
cut domestic spending - we just couldn't afford those costly social
programs. Reagan pretended the two things were totally unrelated, and the
Dixiecrat Congress went along.
Ever since, the Democratic leadership and the big Democratic constituency
groups have largely collaborated in maintaining the destructive fiction that
we can shovel tax dollars to war and to corporate welfare called "defense
spending" without having any impact on our ability to provide quality
education, health care, effective enforcement of environmental, civil
rights, and worker safety laws, and other basic services to our citizens
that are taken for granted by the citizens of every other industrialized
But maybe - maybe - that destructive connivance is coming to an end.
This week, House Appropriations Committee Chair David Obey told the White
House that he was going to sit on the Administration's request for $33
billion more for pointless killing in Afghanistan until the White House
acted on House Democratic demands to unlock federal money to aid the states
in averting a wave of layoffs of teachers and other public employees.
Obey didn't just link the two issues rhetorically; he linked them with the
threat of effective action.
At last, at long last.
But why is David Obey standing alone?
Perhaps, behind the scenes, the big Democratic constituency groups are
pulling for Obey.
But you wouldn't know it from any public manifestation. Why? This should be
a "teachable moment," an opportunity to mobilize the majority of America's
working families to push to redirect resources from futile wars of empire
and the corporate welfare of the "base military budget" to human needs at
home and abroad. Where is the public mobilization of the Democratic
If we could shorten the Afghanistan war by a month, that would free up the
$10 billion that Obey is asking for domestic spending. Rep. Jim McGovern's
bill requiring a timetable for military redeployment from Afghanistan
currently has 94 co-sponsors in the House (act here.) If McGovern's bill
became law, it would surely save the taxpayers at least $10 billion. Why
aren't the big Democratic constituency groups aggressively backing the
McGovern bill, demanding that it be attached to the war supplemental?
This isn't just a question of missing an opportunity. There is a freight
train coming called "deficit reduction." If the big Democratic constituency
groups continue to sit on their hands on the issue of military spending,
then we can predict what the cargo of that freight train is likely to be:
cut Social Security benefits, cut Medicare benefits, raise the retirement
age for Social Security and Medicare, cut domestic spending for enforcing
environmental regulations and civil rights and worker safety.
Ending the war in Afghanistan with a timetable for withdrawal would likely
save hundreds of billions of dollars. That's money that could be used to
prevent cuts from jobs and services at home.
And we can cut the "base military budget" - the money we are purportedly
spending to prepare for wars in the future, whether those wars have any
measurable probability of occurring or not - without having any impact on
The Sustainable Defense Task Force - initiated by Rep. Barney Frank, Rep.
Walter Jones, Rep. Ron Paul, and Sen. Ron Wyden - has modestly proposed a
trillion dollars in cuts to the military budget over ten years, targeting
long-derided weapons systems like F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the
Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, and the V-22 Osprey. As Joshua Green notes
in the Boston Globe, even Dick Cheney says the V-22 is "a turkey." As the
current annual military expenditure of the U.S. is roughly $660 billion,
this would roughly amount to a 15% cut. Note that the U.S. is currently
spending about 4.3% of its GDP on the military, more than twice what China
spends as a percentage of its economy (2%.) If we cut our military spending
15%, we'd still be spending far more as a percentage of our economy (3.7%)
than China, and far more than Britain (2.5%) and France (2.3%). And in
absolute terms, we'd still be spending more than the next ten countries
combined - most of whom are our allies. Such a cut would free $100 billion a
year for deficit reduction and protecting domestic spending from cuts.
The president's Deficit Reduction Commission will recommend a package of
cuts to Congress in December for an up-or-down vote. Will the Deficit
Reduction Commission recommend real cuts to military spending?
On June 26, the deficit reduction freight train may be coming to your town.
The well-financed America Speaks is hosting a "national town hall"
discussion in twenty cities on June 26 about ways to cut the deficit,
promising that they will push the result into the Washington deficit-cutting
decision. Check to see if the freight train is coming to your town. If it
is, why not go and see if you can stow away some military spending cuts -
like ending the war and cutting the V22 - on board the train?