Published June 22, 2010
President Obama said Tuesday he wants to speak directly to Gen. Stanley McChrystal before deciding whether to fire the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan for mocking and disparaging the president and his national security team in a Rolling Stone interview.
Obama will meet with McChrystal on Wednesday at the White House where McChrystal is expected to be armed with a letter of resignation.
"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. "But I also want to make sure that I talk to him directly before I make any final decisions."
As the media were being ushered out quickly by press aides, Obama stopped them to make more comments and try to put the focus on the troops.
"And we've got young men and women there who are making enormous sacrifices, families back home who are making enormous sacrifices," he said.
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 article in this week's issue of Rolling Stone, 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.
McChrystal's comments are reverberating through Washington and the Pentagon after the magazine depicted him as a lone wolf on the outs with many important figures in the Obama administration.
It characterized him 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."
McChrystal has been called to the White House Situation Room on Wednesday to explain his comments to the magazine directly to the president, a senior administration official told Fox News. Normally, he would appear on a conference call for a regular strategy session.
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 Robert 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.
He 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.
McChrystal is expected to reach Washington early Wednesday.
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."
"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."'
There was no immediate response from Eikenberry. The Associated Press requested comment through an aide after business hours Monday in Kabul.
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.
Fox News' Justin Fishel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.