- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 23, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — Afghanistan war commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal met privately with President Obama at the White House Wednesday and then departed ahead of a scheduled war strategy session. There was no immediate word on whether Mr. Obama would fire him for his inflammatory remarks in a magazine interview.

Officials had initially indicated that Gen. McChrystal would attend the strategy session on Afghanistan to explain remarks he made in the interview with Rolling Stone magazine. But he was seen leaving the West Wing and climbing into a van after his nearly half-hour face-to-face meeting with the president. Gen. McChrystal had met earlier in the day with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen.

Before the White House meeting, two military officials said Gen. McChrystal went in prepared to submit his resignation. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Mr. Obama was expected to make an announcement on Gen. McChrystal’s future later Wednesday.

“I think it’s clear that the article in which he and his team appeared … showed poor judgment,” Mr. Obama said Tuesday at the close of an unrelated Cabinet meeting. “But I also want to make sure that I talk to him directly before I make any final decisions.”

Mr. Obama summoned Gen. McChrystal to Washington from Afghanistan after learning of his comments about administration officials. A White House rebuke of McChrystal suggested that it would be hard for him to save his job.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed his confidence in Gen. McChrystal during a video conference Tuesday night with Mr. Obama, Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar said Wednesday in Kabul.

“We hope there is not a change of leadership of the international forces here in Afghanistan and that we continue to partner with Gen. McChrystal,” Mr. Omar told reporters.

In the Rolling Stone article, Gen. McChrystal didn’t criticize Mr. Obama himself but called the period last fall when the president was deciding whether to approve more troops “painful” and said Mr. Obama appeared ready to hand him an “unsellable” position.

Gen. McChrystal also said he was “betrayed” by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, the man the White House chose to be his diplomatic partner in Afghanistan. He accused Mr. Eikenberry of raising doubts about Mr. Karzai only to give himself cover in case the U.S. effort failed. “Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so,’” Gen. McChrystal told the magazine. And he was quoted mocking Vice President Joe Biden.

If not insubordination, the remarks — as well as even sharper commentary about Mr. Obama and his White House from several in Gen. McChrystal’s inner circle — were at least an indirect and extraordinary challenge and one that consumed Washington on Tuesday. The capital hasn’t seen a similar public contretemps between a president and a top wartime commander since Harry Truman stripped Gen. Douglas MacArthur of his command more than a half-century ago after disagreements over Korean War strategy.

Notably, neither Gen. McChrystal nor his team questioned the accuracy of the story or the quotes in it. Gen. McChrystal issued an apology.

Military leaders rarely challenge their commanders in chief publicly. When they do, consequences tend to be more severe than a scolding.

Indeed, the presidential spokesman’s prepared reaction to the article was remarkably revealing, even for the normally coded language of Washington. Press secretary Robert Gibbs repeatedly declined to say Gen. McChrystal’s job was safe, and questioned whether Gen. McChrystal is “capable and mature enough” to lead the war.

“Our efforts in Afghanistan are bigger than one person,” Mr. Gibbs told reporters, a formulation typically used when one person is about to leave.

Mr. Gates said in a statement that McChrystal had made “a significant mistake.”

A senior U.S. military official in Afghanistan told the Associated Press that Gen. McChrystal — who had not spoken with Mr. Obama on the matter before Wednesday — has been given no indication that he’ll be fired but no assurance he won’t be. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions between Washington and the general’s office in Kabul.

Mr. Obama raised the issue of McChrystal’s future in a phone call with British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tues

Associated Press writers Julie Pace, Pauline Jelinek, Kimberly Dozier, Laurie Kellman, Matthew Lee and Anne Flaherty in Washington and Deb Riechmann in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

 

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