Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, is prepared to offer his resignation over disparaging comments made by him and his aides about Obama administration officials, NBC News has learned.
President Barack Obama said Tuesday that McChrystal displayed "poor judgment" and summoned him to the White House on Wednesday to hear from him first-hand and consider whether to fire him.
If not insubordination, the remarks in a forthcoming were at least an indirect challenge to civilian management of the war in Washington by its top military commander.
"I think it's clear that the article in which he and his team appeared showed a poor — showed poor judgment," the president said Tuesday, surrounded by members of his Cabinet at the close of their meeting. "But I also want to make sure that I talk to him directly before I make any final decisions."
According to two senior administration aides, McChrystal informed his superiors that he is prepared to offer his resignation but had not done so, NBC News reported.
‘Significant mistake’Defense Secretary Robert Gates said McChrystal had "made a significant mistake" in participating in the Rolling Stone profile in which aides called one top Obama official a "clown" and another a "wounded animal" and the general himself made disparaging remarks about officials.
McChrystal was quoted saying he was "betrayed" by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, his diplomatic partner in Afghanistan. He accused Eikenberry of raising doubts about the reliability of Afghan President Hamid Karzai only to give himself cover in case the U.S. effort failed.
McChrystal publicly apologized Tuesday for using "poor judgment" in interviews for the magazine. He then left Afghanistan to fly to Washington for Wednesday's meeting with the commander in chief.
Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama acknowledged McChrystal's apology and believed he deserved a chance to explain himself. A decision on McChrystal's future will be announced by the White House after Wednesday's meeting, Gibbs said.
Wisconsin Democrat Rep. David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, called for McChrystal to resign. Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee that approved McChrystal for the job, was among three prominent Republican senators to criticize the general and say a decision about his future should rest with Obama.
Obama appointed McChrystal to lead the Afghan war in May 2009. Despite a continuing troop buildup, progress has been halting, with U.S. casualties rising, public support waning and tensions growing between Washington and Kabul.
The first victim in the controversy was the Pentagon's PR official who set up the interview with McChrystal. NBC reported that Duncan Boothby, a civilian member of the general's public relations team, was "asked to resign."
Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he had confidence in McChrystal's ability as a general. However, he said the issue was whether the article would impact his ability to have a relationship with Obama and the rest of the national security staff.
Kerry, speaking on MSNBC's "Daily Rundown," declined to say whether McChrystal should step down.
McChrystal, for his part, on Tuesday issued a statement saying: "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."
"I extend my sincerest apology for this profile," the statement said. "It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened."
McChrystal spent Tuesday calling those mentioned in the article to apologize, officials said. Among those was Holbrooke. It was not clear whether the general had spoken directly to Obama.
Holbrooke's office said in a terse two-line statement that McCrystal had called him in Kabul "to apologize for this story and accept full responsibility for it." It said Holbrooke "values his close and productive relationship with General McChrystal."
The Rolling Stone article depicts McChrystal as a lone wolf on the outs with many important figures in the Obama administration and unable to persuade even some of his own soldiers that his strategy can win the war.
The interview describes McChrystal, 55, as "disappointed" in his first Oval Office meeting with Obama. The article says that although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. Obama appointed McChrystal to lead the Afghan effort in May 2009. Last fall, though, Obama called McChrystal on the carpet for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops.
"I found that time painful," McChrystal said in the article. "I was selling an unsellable position."
The article also reported:
- One anonymous aide said McChrystal seized control of the war "by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House."
- One aide called White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired four star general, a "clown" who was "stuck in 1985."
- On Holbrooke, an aide is quoted saying: "The Boss says he's like a wounded animal. Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he's going to be fired, so that makes him dangerous." McChrystal is also described as exasperated on receiving an e-mail from Holbrooke. "Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke. I don’t even want to open it."
- 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. And the White House's troop commitment was coupled with a pledge to begin bringing them home in July 2011, in what counterinsurgency strategists advising McChrystal regarded as an arbitrary deadline.
- McChrystal's team disapproves of the Obama administration, with the exception of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who backed McCrystal's request for additional troops in Afghanistan.
The profile, titled "The Runaway General," emerged from several weeks of interviews and travel with McChrystal's tight circle of aides this spring.
In the interview, McChrystal said he felt betrayed Ambassador Eikenberry. If Eikenberry had the same doubts, 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 Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counterinsurgency strategy McChrystal was trying to execute.
McChrystal 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.'"
McChrystal has a history of drawing criticism, despite his military achievements.
In June 2006, then President George W. Bush congratulated McChrystal for his role in the operation that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. As head of the special operations command, McChrystal's forces included the Army's clandestine counterterrorism unit, Delta Force.
He drew criticism for his role in the military's handling of the friendly fire shooting of Army Ranger Pat Tillman — a former NFL star — in Afghanistan. An investigation at the time found that McChrystal was "accountable for the inaccurate and misleading assertions" contained in papers recommending that Tillman get a Silver Star award.
McChrystal acknowledged he had suspected several days before approving the Silver Star citation that Tillman might have died by fratricide, rather than enemy fire. He sent a memo to military leaders warning them of that, even as they were approving Tillman's Silver Star. Still, he told investigators he believed Tillman deserved the award.
Last October, McChrystal tangled publicly with Biden over Afghan war strategy, dismissing Biden's idea of a narrow counterterrorism approach as "short-sighted." Obama, in Denmark at the time, called him in for what sources said was a dressing down aboard Air Force One.
Several names circulated among Pentagon and Capitol Hill aides as potential successors. They include Gen. James Mattis, Joint Forces Command chief; 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.