Gen. Stanley McChrystal went to the White House Wednesday to face the music about his future as the top commander in Afghanistan, but the embattled general isn't definitely on the outs yet despite a line of generals serving as commanders-in-waiting.
President Obama made clear Tuesday he's considering whether to fire McChrystal over disparaging remarks that appeared in Rolling Stone magazine uttered by the general and his aides toward the president and his administration.
"I think it's clear that the article in which he and his team appeared showed a poor -- showed poor judgment," the president said. "But I also want to make sure that I talk to him directly before I make any final decisions."
One defense official told Fox News that it "certainly would not surprise me if the general offered to resign. But I don't know for a fact that he will."
It's a heartbreaking prospect for Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the man who hand-picked McChrystal to replace Gen. David McKiernan as the Afghan war commander almost exactly one year ago.
"I just don't understand it, Stan," Mullen said repeatedly during a private phone call to McChrystal.
If left up to the president to oust McChrystal, officials in the Pentagon say it could be the toughest decision of Obama's presidency so far: fire the man considered to be the architect of the current Afghan strategy or keep him on board in the face of blatant insubordination.
But in war, action heats up fast, and the president's statement about making "final decisions" has the military community swirling with rumors about McChrystal's possible replacement.
A senior military official told Fox News that the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff have prepared a list of potential replacements should McChrystal go.
The official said that likely at the top of the last is three-star Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, McChrystal's current No.2 in Afghanistan and a former top military adviser to Gates. The West Point graduate led the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan in 2008 before serving as Gates' adviser and is respected for his knowledge and record on counterinsurgency operations.
Another No.2 high up is Lt. Gen. John Allen, who serves under Gen. David Petraeus at Central Command in Tampa, Fla. Before arriving at Central Command, the Naval Academy graduate led forces in the Al-Anbar Province of Iraq.
Gen. James Mattis is also believed to be on the list. Mattis is scheduled to be replaced by Gen. Ray Odierno later this summer, and his name has been mentioned in numerous media reports. However, he told Fox News late on Tuesday he's not in the running for the job.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of the Army Training and Doctrine Command, and Adm. James Stavridis, the top NATO commander in Europe, are also names that have been mentioned to replace McChrystal should he get the heave-ho on Wednesday.
Maj. Gen. Tim Haake, a former U.S. Special Ops deputy commander who served with McChrystal, said he would guess "not a lot of serious thought was given to the successors question prior to two days ago."
But now that's changed.
"If I had to make a guess, I would say -- again because of the importance of the war effort -- Stan McChrystal's deputy is a guy named Dave Rodriguez, very well respected, good soldier and he's wired in on everything that's going on, of course, so he would be the natural successor I would think," Haake said.
Lawmakers and defense officials say they hope regardless of who's in charge, the war in Afghanistan starts to show some progress soon.
"I just hope when this is resolved and I suspect it will be resolved quickly, we'll get back to the business of trying to win the war in a more unified way than apparently we are doing right now. We all need to be pulling to the on this. That means the folks in the field, commanders, the president, the people in the Congress. It has been a bipartisan effort and I hope we can return it to that," Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., told Fox News.
As McChrystal goes, so may go the strategy for the war. In Obama's mind, the strategy in place and McChrystal are both replaceable, according to statements by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
"Our efforts in Afghanistan are bigger than one person. I think there was a strategy that was -- that was borne out of discussions on both the military and the civilian side," Gibbs told reporters Tuesday, repeating a philosophy that may have led to the complaints expressed in the Rolling Stone article.
Haake said the U.S. would "be losing ground and it would hurt our war effort in Afghanistan if Stan McChrystal goes." However, he added, there's always contingency planning to accompany the levels of violence on the ground.