Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander and strategist for the Afghan war, is prepared to offer his resignation over an article in which he and his aides mocked and disparaged President Obama and his national security team, two military officials said Tuesday.
Obama will meet with McChrystal on Wednesday at the White House where the general is expected to be armed with a letter of resignation. He will first meet with Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon in the morning before heading to the White House where he faces an uncertain fate.
“I think it’s clear that the article in which he and his team appeared showed a poor — showed poor judgment,” the president said in his first comments on the matter, surrounded by members of his Cabinet at the close of their meeting on Tuesday. “But I also want to make sure that I talk to him directly before I make any final decisions.”
If not insubordination, the remarks in the Rolling Stone magazine article were at least an indirect challenge to civilian management of the war in Washington by its top military commander.
Military leaders rarely challenge their commander in chief publicly, and when they do, consequences tend to be more severe than a scolding.
A senior U.S. military official in Afghanistan told The Associated Press the general has been given no indication that he would be fired but no assurance he would not be. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions between Washington and the general’s office in Kabul.
“I want everybody to keep in mind what our central focus is — and that is success in making sure that Al Qaeda and its affiliates cannot attack the United States and its allies,” Obama said. “And we’ve got young men and women there who are making enormous sacrifices, families back home who are making enormous sacrifices.”
Gates, who issued a stern scolding to McChrystal on Tuesday that contained no endorsement for him to remain in his job, hand-picked McChrystal to take over the war last year, calling him a driven visionary with the fortitude and intelligence to turn the war around. Obama fired the previous commander at Gates’ recommendation.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that “all options are on the table” for Obama as he decides how to punish McChrystal, including firing him.
At a White House daily briefing, Gibbs repeatedly declined to say McChrystal’s job was safe.
“The magnitude and greatness of the mistake here are profound,” he said.
In the Rolling Stone article, McChrystal and his staff described the president as unprepared for their first one-on-one encounter.
McChrystal also said he felt betrayed and blind-sided by his diplomatic partner, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry.
It characterized the general as unable to convince some of his own soldiers that his strategy can win the nation’s longest-running war, and dejected that the president didn’t know about his commendable military record.
In Kabul on Tuesday, McChrystal issued a statement saying: “I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened.”
The general was making a flurry of calls and decisions in the wake of the article’s publication. Fox News has learned that he fired the press aide, Duncan Boothby, who booked the interview. McChrystal also called Defense Secretary Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen late Monday to apologize. Mullen told the general he was deeply disappointed, according to a senior military official at the Pentagon.
Several names circulated among Pentagon and Capitol Hill aides as potential successors. Military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the White House meeting, said the administration has not talked to possible successors but might do so on Wednesday.
“We all serve at the pleasure of the president,” said Gen. James Mattis, one of those mentioned. “I have a pretty full plate here” in his current job as Joint Forces Command chief, Mattis told AP.
Other names include Lt. Gen. John Allen, the No. 2 at U.S. Central Command; Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, McChrystal’s No. 2 in Afghanistan; Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of the Army Training and Doctrine Command; and Adm. James Stavridis, the top NATO commander in Europe.
McChrystal has since spoken with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., both of whom were described as attention-seekers by an aide in the article. Kerry said afterward that he has “enormous respect” for the general, while a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai reportedly said Karzai “strongly supports” McChrystal and his strategy.
Click for a blow-by-blow on which officials were criticized by McChrystal and his staff.
The article says that although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. Obama called McChrystal on the carpet last fall for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops.
“I found that time painful,” McChrystal said in the article, on newsstands Friday. “I was selling an unsellable position.”
It quoted an adviser to McChrystal dismissing the early meeting with Obama as a “10-minute photo-op.”
“Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. The boss was pretty disappointed,” the adviser told the magazine.
Obama agreed to dispatch an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan only after months of study that many in the military found frustrating. The White House’s troop commitment was coupled with a pledge to begin bringing troops home in July 2011, in what counterinsurgency strategists advising McChrystal regarded as an arbitrary deadline.
McChrystal said Tuesday, “I have enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team, and for the civilian leaders and troops fighting this war and I remain committed to ensuring its successful outcome.”
The profile, titled “The Runaway General,” emerged from several weeks of interviews and travel with McChrystal’s tight circle of aides this spring.
It includes a list of administration figures said to back McChrystal, including Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and puts Vice President Joe Biden at the top of a list of those who don’t.
The article claims McChrystal has seized control of the war “by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”
Asked by the Rolling Stone reporter about what he now feels of the war strategy advocated by Biden last fall – fewer troops, more drone attacks – McChrystal and his aides reportedly attempted to come up with a good one-liner to dismiss the question. “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal reportedly joked. “Who’s that?”
Biden initially opposed McChrystal’s proposal for additional forces last year. He favored a narrower focus on hunting terrorists.
“Biden?” one aide was quoted as saying. “Did you say: Bite me?”
Another aide reportedly called White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired four-star general, a “clown” who was “stuck in 1985.”
Some of the strongest criticism, however, was reserved for Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“The boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” one of the general’s aides was quoted as saying. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”
If Eikenberry had doubts about the troop buildup, McChrystal said he never expressed them until a leaked internal document threw a wild card into the debate over whether to add more troops last November. In the document, Eikenberry said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counterinsurgency strategy McChrystal was hired to execute.
McChrystal said he felt “betrayed” and accused the ambassador of giving himself cover.
“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books,” McChrystal told the magazine. “Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so.”‘
Eikenberry remains in his post in Kabul, and although both men publicly say they are friends, their rift is on full display.
McChrystal and Eikenberry, himself a retired Army general, stood as far apart as the speakers’ platform would allow during a White House news conference last month.