Call it the rolling stone that might flatten a general.
An “angry” President Obama summoned the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan back to Washington “to see what in the world he was thinking” when the general and his staff criticized and ridiculed top members of the administration in interviews with Rolling Stone magazine.
Spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday the president was angered when he read the article, in which Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal accused U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry of “cover(ing) his flank for the history book,” and his aides called National Security Adviser James L. Jones “a clown” and compared special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke to “a wounded animal.”
Gen. McChrystal quickly apologized Tuesday for his comments as Washington buzzed with speculation that he would be fired or forced to resign when he meets with Mr. Obama on Wednesday at the White House.
Amid reports that the general had already privately offered to resign, the president took a measured tone on the controversy in brief remarks after a Tuesday afternoon Cabinet meeting.
“I think it is clear that the article in which he and his team appeared showed poor judgment,” Mr. Obama said, “but I also want to make sure that I talk to him directly before I make any final decisions.”
In a sign of the seriousness of the incident, the White House said Tuesday evening that Mr. Obama was canceling a long-planned meeting with congressional leaders on energy policy, in part to clear his schedule to deal with the latest crisis to hit his Afghan policy.
Mr. Gibbs pointedly declined to say that Gen. McChrystal’s job was safe during a daily news briefing that was dominated by questions about the Rolling Stone interview and the general’s status.
“I would say all options are on the table,” he replied, when asked whether the president had decided to sack Gen. McChrystal.
When asked whether firing the top general in the middle of a war wouldn’t be too disruptive, he replied: “Our efforts in Afghanistan are bigger than one person.”
One of Congress’ most powerful members, Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and the head of the House Appropriations Committee, wasn’t waiting for Wednesday.
“If he actually said half of what is being reported, he shouldn’t be in the position he is in,” Mr. Obey said in a statement. “His repeated contempt for the civilian chain of command … is something that we simply cannot afford.”
Other senior Democrats on the Hill were less outspoken.
“All of us would be better served by just backing off and staying cool and calm and not succumbing to the normal Washington twitter about this in the next 24 hours,” said Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
His counterpart on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, also played down the general’s comments, calling it “significant that, while the reported comments reflect personality differences, they do not reflect differences in policy on prosecuting the war.”