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Special Report

'All-Star' Panel on General McChrystal's Stunning Comments and What Obama Should Do About Them

From left to right: Steve Hayes, Mara Liasson, Charles Krauthammer, and Chris Wallace(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think it's clear that the article in which he and his team appear showed poor judgment. But I also want to make sure I talk to him directly before I make any final decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, GUEST HOST: President Obama late this afternoon leaving the door wide open to the possibility he may fire General Stanley McChrystal when they meet tomorrow.

And let's bring in the panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. So let's see how big of a deal this is, and to remind people, General McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, in an interview in Rolling Stone made disparaging comments, he or his top aides did, about the president, the vice president, the national security adviser to the president, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and the special envoy to the region. Is that insubordination that rises to the level of a firing offense, Steve?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, I think it probably is. In the first instance, it was unwise. What is interesting is that he didn't challenge the president's policy in the article. But did he make a number of disparaging comments that will probably lead President Obama to fire him. It's hard to see how he survives in that position at this time having made those comments.

WALLACE: One of the aspects of this, Mara, is just the question of judgment, of McChrystal making himself and his staff that available to a reporter for Rolling Stone, hardly a pro-military, pro-Afghan policy platform. It was just dumb.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: It was breathtakingly boneheaded. When Steve says he didn't question the policy, the policy is his policy. The president of the United States adopted almost lock, stock, and barrel, what McChrystal wanted. And the president put himself completely behind McChrystal's plan and he is over there carrying it out. I think it is just stunning to give a reporter like that access and talk that freely in front of him. Sure people always grouse about their superiors and people they work with, but this was really beyond the pale. And this does, as Robert Gibbs said in the briefing today, question the kind of maturity and the ability to carry out the mission there, even though it's his mission and everybody believes he is the man to carry it out.

WALLACE: Charles, the war in Afghanistan is at such a delicate moment right now, and Stanley McChrystal is, you could say that the president sanded away some of the edges, but he is the architect of the policy that the president has put on the table in Afghanistan. What do you think should happen to him? What do you think will happen to him?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I think, as you said, it is a very big deal because McChrystal was handpicked. He's not a holdover from Bush administration. In fact Obama relieved the previous commander, the first time we've actually relieved a commander in the field since the Korean War. So that was a big deal.

McChrystal is the one who presented the strategy that the president has adopted, and he obviously is the guy who is the most capable of carrying it out. I think it does not rise to the level of MacArthur and Truman. This is not that he was insubordinate in the sense that he refused to follow orders or contradicted them. I think it is extremely offensive to the tradition of respect that the military has to hold for the civilian leadership. So I think it's a fairly close call. I think Obama will likely fire him, but I think the best outcome would be -- and this was suggested by Daniel Foster of National Review and a few others -- this has been on the Internet all day today so there are a lot of opinions flowing out there. I think the best outcome would be if McChrystal shows up with a letter of resignation in hand, which he should, hand it to the president. The president ought to receive the letter and show it as evidence of the general's contrition, of his acceptance of the chain of command, and yet then say because McChrystal recognizing the error he made and the violation of the idea of civilian control is the best man in the national interest in the middle of the war with the troops in the field, I will retain him. But I'm not sure Obama will rise to that occasion. I think he should, but I'm not sure he will.

WALLACE: It's interesting, because that was a question raised at the White House briefing room, that Robert Gibbs said the U.S. war effort is bigger than any one man, including the architect of the strategy.

LIASSON: Even though everyone thought he was the best person for the job and he had so much credibility, and that was one reason that the policy was sold to Congress because they believed in Stan McChrystal, at this point it would be a really bad commentary to say he is the only person who can carry this out.

There are a lot of people who believe in the counterinsurgency strategy.

He has a cadre of people. But to have someone left in the field who let it be known through his associates that Obama, that the president of the United States was uncomfortable and intimidated in a room full of military officials, that is really undercutting him. And to have him continue in the job sends a signal that is not necessarily conducive to our winning in Afghanistan.

HAYES: And the White House has been back grounding reporters today saying he has a path to keep his job. What, if he performs and grovels well enough tomorrow? I think that's horrible.

I agree with Mara. He can't stay in this job in part because the war in Afghanistan will be won both in Afghanistan on the ground and in Washington over the next 12 months.

And the most important thing is to have the presidential buy-in, so McChrystal has to be able to speak -- or whoever is the commander has to be able to speak to the president in unvarnished way, giving him the best advice, and not be worried that he is damaged or not going to make the case because the president will hold this over his head.

KRAUTHAMMER: What makes McChrystal indispensable is not that he has a superior intellect or he's the only man to conceive the plan, but timing. He is now in place. The attack on Kandahar, which is supposed to be in place, he's the man working on it right now.

The disruption of the plans, particularly with the president having established a deadline of essentially next summer to begin withdrawing, is such that you cannot change commanders in the field without losing time at a time it's impossible and very dangerous if we do.

WALLACE: All right, tell us what you think should happen to General McChrystal. Go to the homepage at foxnews.com/specialreport. Vote in the online poll. We'll stay on the subject but a different affect the McChrystal story, and what it tells us about how the war in Afghanistan is going.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY., SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Rather than getting diverted off on this, I think it's important for everybody around here to remember that we've got a big stake in having the Afghan conflict come out the right way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell reminding everyone that beyond the magazine article there is still a war to win in Afghanistan.

We're back with our panel. Steve, let's talk about what the Rolling Stone article beyond the back biting amongst the various people, what it says about the war effort in Afghanistan. And one thing that strikes me is there seems to be chaos up and down the military and civilian chain of command.

HAYES: Yes. I think if you read the article, it reveals the problem. Nobody agrees. There is just huge dissension among the team about what to do and how the war is going.

And, you know, talking to people that I know in the field and follow this closely, they'll tell you for the last month, they have heard more sniping and griping between State Department types and the military officials about who is losing the war than they are hearing conversations about how we'll win. That's one of the real problems. I interviewed Senator McCain this afternoon on the phone, and I think his argument is a very good one. If McChrystal goes, we have to start from scratch and clean house. We need get rid of Holbrooke and Ambassador Eikenberry and we need a fresh part. And Charles makes a good point when he says it's tough to do it at this point. But in concert with that, you could have the president once and for all say what Gates and what Hillary Clinton have said, which is we are not bound by the phony deadline of July, 2011. We are going to stay and we are going to win.

WALLACE: Rahm Emanuel Just this Sunday said July of 2011.

HAYES: But McCain's point is he is playing to his political base and so he can't afford to say that. But the final point, the people that the president could put in who could help this, swap out the current team and put in David Petraeus --

WALLACE: But David Petraeus is the central commander, McChrystal's boss. You're saying go back in the field --

HAYES: He could do a lot more good in the field on the ground in Afghanistan than he can in Tampa. And we have seen this. Iraq surge took place despite the fact that Admiral Allen was not in favor of the surge and fought against it.

WALLACE: Put Petraeus back on the ground.

HAYES: Put Ryan Crocker who is masterful on the diplomatic side and eliminate the deadline.

WALLACE: Mara, as you read the article, and there is a lot of it doesn't have to do with McChrystal saying bad things about other people, but you get a sense of what is going on, on the ground. What are the questions that it raises for you about the likelihood that the counterinsurgency, the idea of clearing areas, holding them, protecting population centers, Marjah, Kandahar, that the basic strategy can work?

LIASSON: What counterinsurgency is really supposed to be is not exactly what is happening in Afghanistan, because you'd need a lot more troops and a lot more money there. Counterinsurgency was supposed to be an overwhelming boots on the ground, in and amongst the population, doing clear, hold, and build.

This strategy depends on the Afghanistan government, who isn't capable or competent of doing the building after we clear and hold. And that's the problem.

And what you get from this article is the sense of what we heard before is that the civilian side, Ambassador Eikenberry and others aren't sure that it can succeed and don't think Karzai is capable of doing the civilian end of this which is so crucial to real counterinsurgency.

Now, that contradiction has to be resolved if this thing is going to succeed.

WALLACE: Give us, Charles, the 35,000-foot view. When you read the article, what do you think if we can win the war?

KRAUTHAMMER: McChrystal thinks it's winnable, but I think there are two issues here, the leadership in Kabul and the leadership in Washington. The COIN strategy --

WALLACE: Counterinsurgency.

KRAUTHAMMER: Counterinsurgency depends on having a local government that after you clear can be put in place and hold. It hasn't happened in Marjah. That's why we are now behind. It could be that unlike Iraq there isn't a central government capable of doing this.

And secondly, unlike Iraq, it could be that the insurgents are so embedded and indigenous that it could be a different war. In Iraq the surge succeeded largely because we had the population, for example in Anbar behind us. Why? Because Al Qaeda was an alien element, soldiers from Egypt, elsewhere, Afghanistan, Pakistan, who were hated in the end.

Here the local insurgents in Afghanistan are mostly indigenous. It's not a foreign legion of Egyptians in there. And they may be so embedded that it could be a difficult win, because if you want to be as protective as McChrystal is and have rules of engagement, which are incredibly restrained because you don't want to hurt the locals, and the insurgents are embedded, then you can never shoot or kill and destroy an insurgent.

And they rearm, they fade away, and they remain. That has been a real complaint of the troops on the ground.

WALLACE: Are you saying we are going to lose?

KRAUTHAMMER: I'm saying this strategy to defeat them, using the Iraq strategy, may be one that may not be exactly applicable. It is the best option we have and I think McChrystal is the best commander to carry it out, but I don't know how successful it can be.

McChrystal and Petraeus think it can work and their judgment I think is probably the best around, but I'm skeptical.

WALLACE: We have to leave it on that pessimistic note.