Petreaus Picked To Lead 'Tough Fight' In Afghanistan

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President Obama has replaced his commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal with Gen David Petraeus, who moves over from U.S. Central Command. Petraeus keeps alive the counter-insurgency strategy, and he has the confidence of Congress as well as the White House.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

There's another story we're following this morning involving a stunning change in command.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

President Obama removed his commander in Afghanistan. Stanley McChrystal is gone after the general and his aides made disparaging remarks about the administration.

INSKEEP: General David Petraeus takes over, which means for the second time in recent years, Petraeus has been sent to take direct command of a war that seems to be going badly.

MONTAGNE: In a moment, we'll get a view from Afghanistan. We begin with NPR's Scott Horsley at the White House.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Stanley McChrystal's fate may have been sealed as soon as President Obama read the now infamous Rolling Stone article in which the general and his loose-lipped aides take potshots at Vice President Biden, the national security adviser, and even the president himself.

After a long flight home from Afghanistan, McChrystal had a face-to-face meeting with the commander-in-chief. Mr. Obama said he accepted the general's resignation with considerable regret.

President BARACK OBAMA: War is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general or a president. And as difficult as it is to lose General McChrystal, I believe that it is the right decision for our national security.

HORSLEY: Pulling a general off the battlefield is difficult, especially during a decisive period in the nine-year-old Afghan war, and at a time when confidence in his own leadership is slumping. But Mr. Obama said he couldnt tolerate a commander who so publicly criticized other members of his administration.

President OBAMA: 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.

HORSLEY: That feeling was echoed by several members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham wondered how anyone could've thought it was a good idea to let Rolling Stone listen in on the general's unguarded conversations.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): I've been a military officer most of my adult life and there's lines you can't cross. Those lines were crossed. And it was poor judgment but it was beyond poor judgment.

HORSLEY: Some of the most scathing comments in the article were directed at U.S. diplomats in Afghanistan, including Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and special envoy Richard Holbrooke.

Traditionally, the military is not supposed to meddle with those civilian authorities. But Notre Dame political scientist Michael Desch says those boundaries lines get blurry in a war like Afghanistan's, where soldiers might be building bridges instead of blowing them up.

Professor MICHAEL DESCH (University of Notre Dame): By definition, the civilians and the military have to get deeply into each other's knickers. Counterinsurgency in my view is a recipe for civil/military conflict.

HORSLEY: Desch, who is the author of "Civilian Control of the Military," thinks the Rolling Stone article simply spotlights some persistent fault lines in the administration over how the war is being fought.

Prof. DESCH: A lot of people sort of scratch their heads and say, you know, we basically gave General McChrystal everything he wanted except for an open-ended timeline, and yet all of that is seemingly not doing much to help the situation.

HORSLEY: U.S. forces have suffered mounting casualties in Afghanistan and conditions are so unstable, what had been billed as a decisive offensive in the Taliban's stronghold of Kandahar had to be postponed.

Yesterday, Mr. Obama turned to the architect of the counterinsurgency strategy, David Petraeus, to replace McChrystal, saying Petraeus offers the best hope for continuity in Afghanistan.

Senator Graham applauded the selection but warned more housecleaning on the civilian side may be needed.

Sen. GRAHAM: Dave Petraeus is our best hope. I would urge the president to look at this as a chance to put new people on the ground without old baggage. And if we dont change quickly, we're going to lose a war we can't afford to lose.

HORSLEY: The president sternly cautioned all the members of his Afghan team that while he welcomes debate, he won't tolerate division. He also seemed to suggest that debate shouldnt be carried out in the pages of Rolling Stone.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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