Mr. Obama, aides say, consulted with advisers — some, like Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who warned of the dangers of replacing General McChrystal, others, like his political advisers, who thought he had to go. He reached out for advice to a soldier-statesman, Colin L. Powell. He identified a possible successor to lead the war in Afghanistan.
And then, finally, the president ended General McChrystal’s command in a meeting that lasted only 20 minutes. According to one aide, the general apologized, offered his resignation and did not lobby for his job.
After a seesaw debate among White House officials, “there was a basic meeting of the minds,” said Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff and a major player in the deliberations. “This was not good for the mission, the military and morale,” Mr. Emanuel said.
Mr. Obama has forced out officials before, including the director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair; the White House counsel, Gregory Craig; even General McChrystal’s predecessor, Gen. David D. McKiernan.
But this is the highest profile sacking of his presidency. The time between Mr. Obama’s first reading of the Rolling Stone article and his decision to accept General McChrystal’s resignation offers an insight into the president’s decision-making process under intense stress: He appears deliberative and open to debate, but in the end, is coldly decisive.
By the time the meeting with Gates and Mullen ended, Obama had made his decision. The aides left, and Petraeus entered. The two met privately for 40 minutes, during which time the president asked him to step down from his current post as the head of the Central Command in Florida and take on the new duties.
Petraeus agreed, but aides said it was clear to Obama that he was doing so "at some great personal sacrifice." Asked what the sacrifice was, one senior official said: "Tampa to Kabul."