President Obama today relieved embattled Gen. Stanley McChrystal from his position as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan for his remarks belittling administration officials, replacing him with Gen. David Petraeus, currently head of United States Central Command.
McChrystal's conduct, as detailed in the Rolling Stone article, "does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general," the president said today. "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."
The president praised McChrystal for his "extraordinary dedication" and "love of the country," but made it clear the comments McChrystal and his aides made could jeopardize the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.
"All Americans should be grateful for Gen. McChrystal's remarkable career in uniform. But war is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, general or a president, " the president said. "I believe that it is the right decision for our national security."
Obama said the change was needed to maintain unity of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and to "hold ourselves accountable to standards that are at the core of our democracy." The president reaffirmed that the change in personnel didn't mean a change in U.S. policy.
"I welcome debate among my team, but I won't tolerate division," he said.
The embattled general, who was named the top commander in Afghanistan a year ago, met Obama for about 30 minutes this morning. He offered his resignation and the president accepted it, and no formal letter of resignation was offered, an administration official said.
In a written statement, McChrystal said he resigned out of "a desire to see the mission succeed."
"This morning the president accepted my resignation as Commander of U.S. and NATO Coalition Forces in Afghanistan," McChrystal said. "I strongly support the president's strategy in Afghanistan and am deeply committed to our coalition forces, our partner nations, and the Afghan people. It was out of respect for this commitment -- and a desire to see the mission succeed -- that I tendered my resignation."
Obama spoke with Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier today about possible replacements, including Petraeus, who was thought to be the best choice, since he would provide "the greatest amount of continuity" with the mission.
On the ground, news of McChrystal's dismissal and Petraeus' new position was met with surprise, but also a sense of relief that an experienced commander will take the helm.
As one Marine told ABC News, "the softball is teed up for Petraeus to hit it out of the park."
Some Marines said the new position may be a bit of a comedown for Petraeus, 57, who is best known for turning around the Iraq war in 2007 and is widely credited with devising the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy. In September 2008, as Petraeus was leaving Iraq, Gates dubbed him the "hero of the hour."