General Stanley McChrystal, responsible for the war in Afghanistan, has ignited a firestorm of criticism and concern in Washington after his interview with Rolling Stone magazine, though members of the Senate, where he was confirmed unanimously June 10, 2009 are, by and large, leaving questions of his future employment to the commander in chief.
Only one senator, Russ Feingold, D-WI, a critic of the war, has come close to suggesting the general should be relieved of duty. With a smile, heading into a weekly Democratic policy lunch, Feingold told reporters, "I think the president knows what to do here." The senator called the general's comments in the article "very concerning."
In a hard-hitting statement from three top members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Ranking Republican John McCain of Arizona, Joe Lieberman, I-CT, and Lindsey Graham, R-SC, who often travel to Afghanistan together, said simply, "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. The decision concerning General McChrystal's future is a decision to be made by the President of the United States."
Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-MI, said he is "very troubled by (McChrystal's) comments," though the senator, who said he had read the article "very carefully," said he noted there was "no difference in policy" expressed by the commander and his aides to Rolling Stone. Rather, Levin said, there is a personality conflict.
Committee member Jim Webb, D-VA, a former Navy secretary, said McChrystal had exercised "poor judgment," adding, "I think whether he should resign or not is up to [the] President." However, the senator clearly is frustrated with the general, noting, "I think he's had three bites out of the apple here. One was the situation with Pat Tillman, he was in the middle of that. The second was when he gave an interview with 60 Minutes while this policy was being formulated. The third was when he was giving a speech in London at the same time other people were in the White House trying to figure out where to go on the policies (in Afghanistan). So, I think it's a pretty serious matter, but its up to the president."
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, said questions about McChrystal's future are "above my pay grade" and said she had different questions for the commander. "How does he see Afghanistan? Where do we go from here? How fast do we get the surge, 30,000 in place? Particularly, what is going to happen in southern Afghanistan? I think that's where this thing goes. We either curb the Taliban down there, or we've got big trouble." Feinstein said McChrystal will stay "if the president thinks he can do the job."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, voiced astonishment when asked for his general reaction to the article. "I have always liked General McChrystal, all the times I've met with him. He -- I know he works very hard, but my reaction was, I was surprised. I couldn't believe General McChrystal, being the good soldier I think he is, at least in this article not being a very good soldier."
A top Obama ally in the Senate, Dick Durbin of Illinois, appeared chagrined when talking about the general's comments, saying, "I think he needs to clarify his beliefs about a policy he endorsed." The Majority Whip, who does not support the increased troops McChrystal requested and was granted in Afghanistan, declined to call for the general's resignation but also declined to say he has confidence in the general when asked, saying rather, "I think he needs to answer some questions."
But Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-MA, urged calm and asked that everyone not let the dust up interfere with the mission in Afghanistan. Though it was notable the chairman, who was recently in Afghanistan for the elections and is a subject of criticism in the article, did not advocate for McChrystal keeping his job. Kerry, who spoke with the general this morning, praised the general as "a terrific soldier" but said, "I am concerned personally, the top priority is our mission in Afghanistan and our ability to proceed forward competently. It will be up the president of the U.S. as commander in chief to make the decision as to whether or not he and his national security staff feel that they can do that."
Republicans were generally more muted in their reaction.
Kerry's GOP counterpart on the committee and consummate diplomat, Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana, said he, too, feels people should withhold judgment until President Obama has the chance to meet with his commander on Wednesday. "I'm very hopeful on behalf of both of those gentlemen that there will be a respectful exchange of views," Lugar said, "I think it's important the two principles listen to each other and not to anybody else."
Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, refused to evaluate the general's media performance, though one senior aide called the situation "public relations malpractice." McConnell, however, would only say repeatedly, "It seems to me it's important to remember that we've got a conflict going on in Afghanistan, a challenging conflict, which has enjoyed bipartisan support, unlike the war in Iraq. And I hope we can keep our eye on the ball here, which is to win in Afghanistan and not get diverted onto these other issues that seem to have developed."
Sen. John Thune, R-SD, said, "He's a good general but maybe not the best politician," adding, "Things that were said in the article...were inappropriate. They're inconsistent with the protocol and the chain of command in the military. And I think he's going to have to answer for them and he will. When he meets with the president, he's going to have to give an account, and I think they'll have that discussion, and I think they'll decide where to go from there." The senator deferred to President Obama in terms of McChrystal's future.
For now, it appears no one in the Senate will say it's time for the general to go, giving the president time to make a decision. And one senior GOP leadership aide tells Fox, "That's a good thing. Normally, when something like this happens, people are out there screaming and yelling, calling for the person's resignation. But that's not happening. I haven't heard anyone. I think he'll make it through this."