Obama sacks McChrystal over dismissive comments 

A grim President Obama accepted Gen. Stanley McChrystal's resignation as head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, saying McChrystal's recent conduct "does not meet the standard" for command.

"I welcome debate among my team, but I won't tolerate division," the president said after a closed-door session with his Afghanistan advisers. "We need to remember what this is all about: Our nation is at war."

McChrystal, hand-picked by Obama last year to lead a revised strategy in the war-strafed nation, this week embarrassed the administration with a profane and disrespectful interview in Rolling Stone magazine.

Recalled from Afghanistan to answer for the story, McChrystal met with Obama but departed the White House through a side door before his resignation was announced in the Rose Garden.

Obama will nominate Gen. David Petraeus, chief of U.S. Central Command, to assume control in Afghanistan.

"This is a change in personnel, but it is not a change in policy," Obama said. "Gen. Petraeus fully participated in our review last fall, and he both supported and helped design the strategy that we have in place."

The McChrystal episode presented Obama with no easy choices. Described by aides as uncommonly angry over the mocking, derisive tone taken by McChrystal aides and even the general in the offending story, Obama risked looking weak if he kept McChrystal on the job.

At the same time, Afghanistan has increasingly become Obama's signature conflict -- he dramatically shifted U.S. strategy earlier this year to a counterinsurgency plan, and announced a troop surge and subsequent draw-down of forces.

And McChrystal had powerful allies. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai cautioned against the firing in a video conference call from Afghanistan Tuesday night, according to Karzai's spokesman. And McChrystal had established strong ties with the top military leaders in Pakistan.

Having campaigned on promises to end the war and after putting his own team in place to carry out his preferred strategy, Obama's political fate has become increasingly tangled with the war in Afghanistan, now in its ninth year.

Swapping out his top commander caused Obama "considerable regret," he said. But he said the larger principle was ensuring no internal divisions undermine the mission.

"It was a difficult decision to come to the conclusion that I've made today," Obama said. "Indeed, it saddens me to lose the service of a soldier who I've come to respect and admire."

The swift action was a notable stylistic departure for Obama, whose leadership decisions more often hew to a middle path of compromise instead of sharp, decisive action.

But the administration badly needs some good news out of Afghanistan, and Obama's command shake-up could prove popular with the public and with lawmakers. The well-regarded Petraeus is widely credited with successes in the war in Iraq.

Currently stalled in the House is a $33 billion supplemental appropriations bill to pay for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several liberal lawmakers have vowed to oppose it.

Recent polls show a steady erosion of support for the war in Afghanistan. A CNN/Opinion Research survey last month found 42 percent favored the war, down from 50 percent a year ago.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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