Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s job security looked to be increasingly in doubt Tuesday as fallout from a Rolling Stone article rippled through Washington, and an angry President Obama prepared to meet with the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan at the White House on Wednesday.
Obama, speaking to reporters late in the day, said McChrystal had shown “poor judgment” but said he wanted to talk to the general first before deciding whether to relieve him of command or not.
“Whatever decision that I make with respect to General McChrystal or any other aspect of Afghan policy is determined entirely on how I can make sure that we have a strategy that justifies the enormous courage and sacrifice that those men and women are making over there, and that ultimately makes this country safer,” Obama said.
Time’s Joe Klein reported Tuesday afternoon that McChrystal had submitted his resignation to the president and that Obama would now decide whether to accept it or not. Time clarified Klein’s report to say that the general had only offered to resign but had not actually done so.
“I would say all options are on the table,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said earlier in the day, when asked by reporters whether the president planned to relieve McChrystal of his command.
Gibbs said there are “open questions” raised by the article about whether McChrystal is “capable and mature enough” to retain command but that the president will not make a decision about whether he remains in his position until after he has spoken with the general.
McChrystal and top aides are quoted in the piece mocking and ridiculing Vice President Joe Biden and other top White House officials, such as National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones, whom one aide refers to as a “clown.”
McChrystal himself makes only one
McChrystal was summoned back to Washington Monday evening by Obama after the president read the article.
“He was angry,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said of the president’s reaction.
“The purpose of calling [McChrystal] here is to see what in the world he was thinking,” Gibbs said. “The magnitude and graveness of this mistake are profound.”
Gibbs said he first read the article Monday evening and walked it over to the president in the White House residence. Obama came back to the Oval Office a few times after reading it, Gibbs said, and spoke with his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, as well as Jones and “many members of the national security team.”
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that McChrystal “made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment.”
The general issued an apology, saying he had made “a mistake reflecting poor judgment” that “should never have happened.”
“Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honor and professional integrity. What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard,” McChrystal said.
Reaction from lawmakers and pundits was mixed. Some Democrats expressed cautious disapproval, while others were outraged and demanded McChrystal be replaced.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, said McChrystal’s “repeated contempt for the civilian chain of command demonstrates a bullheaded refusal to take other people’s judgments into consideration.”
“That is damn dangerous in somebody whose decisions determine life and death for American troops and others in the region,” Obey said.
But House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat, said that while he was “disappointed” by McChrystal’s remarks in the article, “I hope that we will be able to sort this out soon and move forward so we can get back to winning the war in Afghanistan.”
Another trio of influential lawmakers who might have been the general’s best hope for support – Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Independent, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican — also did not indicate whether McChrystal should stay or go.
“We have the highest respect for General McChrystal and honor his brave service and sacrifice to our nation. General McChrystal’s comments, as reported in Rolling Stone, are inappropriate and inconsistent with the traditional relationship between Commander-in-Chief and the military,” said a statement from the three senators.
“The decision concerning General McChrystal’s future is a decision to be made by the President of the United States,” the statement said.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, indicated that he thought sacking McChrystal would be too disruptive.
“It seems to me it’s important to remember that we’ve got a conflict going on in Afghanistan, a challenging conflict, which it has enjoyed bipartisan support, unlike the war in Iraq,” McConnell told reporters. “And I hope we can keep our eye on the ball here, which is to win in Afghanistan and not get diverted … off of that onto these other issues that seem to have developed.”
Similarly, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said that “now is not the time for Washington to be sidetracked by chatter.”
“Everyone needs to take a deep breath and give the president and his national security team the space to decide what is in the best interest of our mission, and to have their face-to-face discussion tomorrow without a premature Washington feeding frenzy,” Kerry said in a statement e-mailed to reporters.
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor said the Rolling Stone article “raises a lot of concerns” but did not call for McChrystal to be sacked.
“Obviously a General and his top brass don’t make statements like these without being frustrated, so I hope that the President’s meeting with General McChrystal will include a frank discussion about what is happening on the ground, and whether the resources and the plan are there to defeat terrorists and accomplish our mission in Afghanistan,” he said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said he was “prepared to withhold judgment for the next 24 hours until I hear what the president has to say.”
But conservative columnist Bill Kristol wrote that McChrystal “probably does” have to be replaced.
“If Stan McChrystal has to go—and he probably does—it will be a sad end to a career of great distinction and a low moment in a lifetime devoted to duty, honor, and country,” Kristol wrote. “But the good of the mission and the prospects for victory in Afghanistan may well now demand a new commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.”
This is not the first time that McChrystal has clashed with Obama. Last September, while Obama was in the middle of a three-month review of his policy in Afghanistan, a request from McChrystal for 40,000 more troops was leaked to the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward. Obama ended up sending 30,000 more troops, but the White House was upset by the military’s unilateral actions.
Obama then summoned McChrystal to leave the war theater for a meeting, chatting on board Air Force One during a stop in Copenhagen.
Hoyer also expressed doubt that the U.S. military will be successful in winning the Afghanistan war.
“What you’ve heard from me is a reticence on the probability of success after the investment of the most important treasure we have, and that’s our manpower, our people, and of course our financial investment as well,” Hoyer said.
Hoyer defined success as “an Afghanistan that is stable and strong enough to prevent a future basing, organizing, planning effort to attack the United States, which the Taliban clearly provided to al-Qaida.”