McChrystal Fired, Petraeus to Afghanistan

President Obama has relieved General Stanley Chrystal of command of ISAF.

BREAKING: Pretty much every news outlet known to man is reporting that President Obama has relieved General Stanley Chrystal of command of ISAF.  He’ll make a formal announcement at 1:30 Eastern.

NBC is reporting that General David Petraeus will replace him, which makes no sense whatsoever but could nonetheless be true.

Updates to follow.

UPDATE (1:30):  CNN is also reporting Petraeus will take over.  Still waiting for Obama’s speech.

UPDATE (1:50):  Okay, just watched the speech.    Obama struck all the right notes:

  • McChrystal’s service has been honorable and we should thank him
  • His actions in this case can’t be tolerated
  • This is not a change in policy but in personnel
  • It’s time for the team to come together; disunity can not be tolerated
  • Petraeus can step right in and keep up the momentum, such as it is.

It’s not clear to me why Petraeus, who is running CENTCOM, needs to be confirmed by the Senate for a role under his own command but Obama has urged them to confirm him nonetheless.  That’s a formality.

More thoughts later.  I need to run to a meeting.

UPDATE (3:28):  I’ve done a more extensive reaction to the speech at New Atlanticist:  ”McChrystal Out, Petreaus In.”  The money ‘graphs:

It was inconceivable this morning that McChrystal’s replacement would be seen as anything other than a setback for the mission.  But with this audacious move, the president actually upped the profile of the Afghanistan commander.  There’s simply no one in the American military who commands greater respect around the world than Petraeus.

All that being said, some caveats remain.  The Rolling Stone article pointed to some serious disconnect between ISAF and the US Ambassador, Karl Eikenberry.  Was that personal or policy?  If the latter, it needs to be ironed out or Eikenberry replaced.   Additionally, it’s rather clear that there is tremendous dissension in the ranks of American forces in Afghanistan over the counterinsurgency strategy and the attendant rules of engagement.   Petraeus will need to address that issue, pronto.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, General, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    Damn, I’m glad I didn’t bet on this.

    MSNBC reports that Petraeus will step in.

  2. PD Shaw says:

    I can’t imagine that Petraeus is anything but temporary, but I think he would be reassuring.

  3. steve says:

    The one pick, Petraeus, he could make that is likely to be met with almost universal acceptance. Assuming Petraeus is temporary, do they bring Rodriguez up to speed to command? If permanent, Mattis to Petraues’ old job? Maybe carve out Afghanistan as a special command reporting directly to SecDef/POTUS ?

    Steve

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    There’s a certain elegance in this. McChrystal was Petraeus’ guy. His guy booted it, and now Petraeus has to take a lower position in order to repair the damage. McCh done for, Petraeus simultaneously wounded and re-affirmed, Obama clearly in charge, troops reassured.

    Now. If only we had some way to actually win.

  5. steve says:

    How long til Eik goes? If Iraq goes sour, a possibility, Petraeus is now tied up.

    Steve

  6. PD Shaw says:

    The question w/ Petaeus is his health, but stepping in temporarily may make the post more appealing for a “permanent” replacement. The possibility has always nagged at the back of my head that McChrystal’s frustrations with the job might have harbored a desire to get out. Who wants the job?

    Rodriguez seems the obvious choice to me. I think Obama needs to move some of the civilian leadership out as well.

  7. anjin-san says:

    Now. If only we had some way to actually win.

    Exactly. No one has had much luck with that since Alexander the Great.

  8. I believe that it was said that Petraeus would be stepping down at CENTCOM

  9. PD Shaw says:

    Petraeus having to be confirmed to be demoted (?) seems like it leans against my notion that it’s temporary.

  10. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***Obama clearly in charge***hahahahaahahaahahheheheheheheehehahahahaahahah man I needed a good laugh…..

  11. Drew says:

    I have a question directed mainly at James, Dave S and Bernard, primarily because I have zero foreign policy or military training or experience, but have a boatload of organizational/business experience.

    No one should question that what GMac did was wrong. That’s a given. But as I understand it James, Dave and Bernard all have a worldview that a smaller, more special forces approach to Affganny is the right approach. But GMac, as I understand it, is the unquestioned master at this approach. At least that’s what I’ve heard.

    So, do we put public perception, ego, decorum, politics etc out beyond the best interests of the mission? Its a question.

    In my role as an owner / Board member of private business enterprises I know we have made decisions to swallow hard, and overlook transgressions in the interest of the best organizational leadership. And we have been correct in this view.

    Is the GMac situation different?

  12. James Joyner says:

    In my role as an owner / Board member of private business enterprises I know we have made decisions to swallow hard, and overlook transgressions in the interest of the best organizational leadership. And we have been correct in this view.

    Is the GMac situation different?

    It is. For one thing, GMac is a multiple offender. For another, generals who are allowed to be insubordinate have a nasty tendency to expand their base of power. Civilian control of the military is paramount to all other considerations here.

    And, actually, Dave, Bernard, and I all think that we’re exceedingly unlikely to “win” in Afghanistan given the traditional definitions of victory. But, regardless, there are plenty of generals who know something about SOF and COIN. Certainly, Petraeus is among them.

  13. Drew says:

    Thanks, James.

    I note that considerations of potential power expansion (Ha! I have a weak Board) and ultimate control pertain to private businesses. Perhaps the difference is just that: these are private busineeses, without the circus of public scrutiny and second guessing, affording private Boards more latitude.

    “But, regardless, there are plenty of generals who know something about SOF and COIN.”

    I suspected that would be the answer, but are they the Michael Jordan or Phil Michelson of SOF/COIN?

  14. Brian Knapp says:

    Civilian control of the military is paramount to all other considerations here.

    Absolutely.

  15. steve says:

    “No one should question that what GMac did was wrong. That’s a given. But as I understand it James, Dave and Bernard all have a worldview that a smaller, more special forces approach to Affganny is the right approach. But GMac, as I understand it, is the unquestioned master at this approach. At least that’s what I’ve heard.”

    There was, at the time of his selection, concern about putting a SF guy in charge. Large scale, coordinated warfare is not SF territory. Some who favored a small war approach to COIN thought that a Marine would be a better option, someone like Mattis. Others thought we needed a more politically savvy general, like an Eisenhower. Anyway, De Gaulle was right about indispensable men.

    James- Eikenbrry next or Holbrooke and Eik together? I don’t remember how Petraeus has gotten along with these two in the past.

    Steve

  16. Drew says:

    “Tanks,” steve.

  17. Al Bullock says:

    Tough way to get out of a crappy assignment or out from under an assinine boss. My money is still on McChrystal. Obama is a flaming a$$hole.

  18. PD Shaw says:

    Marc Ambinder’s take on Obama’s motivations is more persuasive: Obama thought McChrystal was undisciplined, not insubordinate. McChrystal wasn’t undermining civilian control of military policy, he was the chief implementer/enabler of Obama’s policy. At best he was ham-handed in his defense of the policy, and at worse he became a liability to the policy.

  19. PD Shaw says:

    steve, doesn’t the appointment of Petraeus here re-enforce the importance of political generals?

  20. steve says:

    PD- Absolutely. Gives one mixed feelings, but in this particular case, it may be what is needed. One point often noted recently, was that Karzai preferred McChrystal over Eikenberry. There were also rumors that Eikenberry and McChrystal did not get along. Karzai may be corrupt and inept in many ways, but I expect him to be an accomplished political weasel. He would work to wedge the two farther apart to get what he wanted. The Ambassador and the General should really work as a close knit team and present a united front.

    Steve

  21. Michael Reynolds says:

    Generals can’t be indifferent to public relations. But that’s especially true of someone running a COIN strategy. McChrystal wasn’t involved in a beach landing or a tank column, he was running a war that was necessarily political. A war he himself agreed was necessarily political. His own war plan says as much.

    He undercut his own strategy. And he screwed up so thoroughly that he ended up having to leave his men right in the middle of a major offensive. Nothing about this was unpredictable to McChrystal, he isn’t some young lieutenant, he’s a four star general. And he’d already been down this road before.

    It’s just sheer dumb luck that we happen to have someone like Petraeus who can be plugged in with minimal transition time.

  22. superdestroyer says:

    One has to wonder if the White House Staffers have ever heard of Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act. Petraues was McChrustal’s boss. Why fire the subordinate and replace him with his boss. Why replace Petraues with his deputy. Also, since McChrustal’s staff all need to be fire, does that mean that Petraues will bring his staff with him from CENTCOM or will a new staff have to be created?

    The Obama Administration is giving Petraues a huge vote of no confidence. I wonder if Axelrod is seeing this is a win-win situation where President Obama looks decisive while eliminating Petraeus as a future political concern.

    McChrystal is also giving the Obama Administration the perfect excuse to get out of Afghanistan. I feel for the junior commander in Afghanistan trying to lead while every knows that the Commander-In-Chief is preparing to abandon the mission and thorw them under the bus.