A ‘Stern’ President Obama, A ‘Sad, Tragic’ Day

Jun 23, 2010 3:57pm

President Obama was “stern” today as he proceeded through a series of meetings that resulted in the ouster of the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a senior White House official said this afternoon.

The message from the president today was that everyone involved in the mission “needs to remember why we’re doing this,” the official said. “He doesn’t want to see pettiness. That this job isn’t about personalities or reputations, it’s about the men and women in uniform and it’s about serving our country.”

The day was regretful and sorrowful, the official said. “This was not anything more than a sad, tragic day.”

The president doesn’t mind disagreements or tensions, the official said. But when the disagreements turn petty, it undermines the mission and the unity of the team implementing the policy – including US allies, such as the French, who were also disparaged by McChrystal and his team in the Rolling Stone story.

McChrystal on Tuesday had informed Defense Secretary Robert Gates that he was prepared to resign, but contrary to reports yesterday from other news outlets he didn’t offer his resignation until today, the official said.

In a roughly 30 minute meeting in the Oval Office with President Obama, McChrystal offered his resignation and the president accepted it. No formal letter of resignation was offered, the official said.

President Obama had already spoken with Gates about possible replacements, including Central Command’s General David Petraeus, who was thought to be the best choice since he would provide “the greatest amount of continuity” with the mission. “The president doesn’t want to see any slippage in progress going forward.”

“General Petreaus represents the person that gives us the greatest amount of continuity and gives us the greatest chance at not seeing any slippage in progress going forward.”

After McChrystal left the White House, the president met for roughly 45 minutes with Gates, Vice President Biden, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones (ret.) to discuss next steps.

Immediately after that meeting, the president met with Petraeus and offered him the job.  That one on one meeting lasted roughly 40 minutes. “He had a sense that his name was being discussed,” the official said.

Then the president went to the Situation Room where he met for roughly 30 minutes with Biden, Gates, Mullen, Emanuel, Jones, Petraeus, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, Deputy National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Adviser John Brennan, deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, National Security Staff chief of staff Denis McDonough, deputy National Security Adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes, and national security adviser to Vice President Biden Tony Blinken.

He walked them through the three previous meetings and where they would go from here.

The president also spoke to Afghan President Hamid Karzai to inform him of the decision, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will hold hearings to confirm Petraeus within the next week or so.

The President also called British Prime Minister David Cameron, but Cameron was meeting with Queen Elizabeth at the time so the president called him after making his Rose Garden remarks.

– Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller

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