McChrystal Is Summoned to Washington Over Remarks
An angry President Obama summoned his top commander in Afghanistan to Washington on Tuesday after a magazine article portrayed the general and his staff as openly contemptuous of some senior members of the Obama administration.
An administration official said the commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, would meet with President Obama and Vice President Biden at the White House on Wednesday “to explain to the Pentagon and the commander in chief his quotes in the piece,” which appears in the July 8-22 edition of Rolling Stone. General McChrystal was scheduled to attend a monthly meeting on Afghanistan by teleconference, the official said, but was directed to return to Washington in light of the article.
The article shows General McChrystal or his aides talking in sharply derisive terms about Mr. Biden; Ambassador Karl Eikenberry; Richard C. Holbrooke, the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan; and an unnamed minister in the French government. One of General McChrystal’s aides is quoted as referring to the national security adviser, James L. Jones, as a “clown.”
A senior administration official said Mr. Obama was furious about the article, particularly with the suggestion that he was uninterested and unprepared to discuss the Afghanistan war after he took office.
The magazine article, entitled “The Runaway General,” quotes aides of General McChrystal saying the general was “pretty disappointed” by an Oval Office meeting with Mr. Obama, and that he found the president “uncomfortable and intimidated” during a Pentagon meeting with General McChrystal and several other generals.
The article does not mention any serious policy differences with Mr. Obama, who chose General McChrystal to take charge of a major escalation of American troops and materiel, in hopes of reversing the deteriorating situation here.
Still, the article seems destined to raise questions about General McChrystal’s judgment, and to spark debate over the wisdom of Mr. Obama’s strategy, at a time when violence in Afghanistan is rising sharply and when several central planks of the strategy appear to be stalled. Two important American allies, the Dutch and Canadians, have announced plans to pull their combat troops out of the country.
In a statement, General McChrystal apologized for his remarks.
“I extend my sincerest apology for this profile,” he said. “It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened. Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honor and professional integrity. What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard.”
His statement continued: “I have enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team, and for the civilian leaders and troops fighting this war and I remain committed to ensuring its successful outcome.”
The author of the article — Michael Hastings, a freelance journalist — appears to have been granted intimate access to General McChrystal’s inner circle. Most of the comments appear to have been uttered during unguarded moments, in places like bars and restaurants where the general and his aides gathered to unwind. The issue of the magazine in which the article appears is due out Friday.
About Mr. Holbrooke, Mr. Obama’s special envoy to the region, an aide to General McChrystal is quoted saying: “The Boss says he’s like a wounded animal. Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to be fired, so that makes him dangerous.”
On another occasion, General McChrystal is described as reacting with exasperation when he receives an e-mail message from Mr. Holbrooke. “Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke. I don’t even want to open it.”
The article describes a conversation in which General McChrystal and an aide talk about Mr. Biden. Mr. Biden is known to have opposed the decision to escalate the war, preferring instead a slimmed-down plan focused on containing terrorism.
“Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” General McChrystal jokes.
“Biden?” suggests a top adviser. “Did you say ‘Bite me?’ ”
General McChrystal is also quoted making disdainful remarks about Mr. Eikenberry, the ambassador to Afghanistan, with whom he has had sharp disagreements over the war. Last year, Mr. Eikenberry sent confidential cables to Washington opposing Mr. Obama’s decision to send more troops.
“He’s one that covers his flanks for the history books,” General McChrystal is quoted as saying. “Now, if we fail, they can say, ‘I told you so.’ ”
The magazine article also describes a meeting in which a soldier vents his frustration over General McChrystal’s tightening of the rules governing the use of air strikes against suspected insurgents. In the article, the soldier, Pfc. Jared Pautsch, is quoted telling General McChrystal that he is endangering soldiers’ lives by forcing them to be too restrained.
Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting from Washington.