In the first official reaction from the Obama administration, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates treated McChrystal’s outrageous insurbordination and contempt for the president and his advisers as a minor “mistake.” Here’s the full statement from Gates:
I read with concern the profile piece on Gen. Stanley McChrystal in the upcoming edition of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine. I believe that Gen. McChrystal made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment in this case. We are fighting a war against al Qaeda and its extremist allies, who directly threaten the United States, Afghanistan, and our friends and allies around the world. Going forward, we must pursue this mission with a unity of purpose. Our troops and coalition partners are making extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of our security, and our singular focus must be on supporting them and succeeding in Afghanistan without such distractions. Gen. McChrystal has apologized to me and is similarly reaching out to others named in this article to apologize to them as well. I have recalled Gen. McChrystal to Washington to discuss this in person.
So Gates says that the war must be pursued with “unity of purpose.” Is that a signal that McChrystal has got to go? Personally, I doubt that Gates wants McChrystal fired, and that’s why he emphasizes the apology and calls it “poor judgment.”
In fact, President Obama ought to fire Gates, too. He’s a Republican who was hired to give Obama cover with the rest of the Republican tribe. By hiring Gates, Obama gave fuel to the fire of those who believe that the Democrats can’t handle national security, and he put a conservative Republican in charge of the central part of his foreign policy. First step: fire McChrystal. Next: fire Gates.
McChrystal has apologized too, of course, in a desperate effort to save his job:
I extend my sincerest apology for this profile…. 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.… 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.
Reporters covering the story have made much out of the fact that the controversy centers on McChrystal’s attitude toward Obama and his mean-spirited comments, but not about the conduct of the war itself. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that Obama has long been unhappy with the COIN-based, nation-building scheme proposed by McChrystal, Petraeus and Co. There were reports flying last summer that Obama was extremely angry with McChrystal, not because of personality clashes but because McChrystal had slammed Vice President Biden and others in the administration who wanted a much smaller, less ambitious effort in Afghanistan. That was a clash over policy, not politics, and it lingers. Now it centers on Obama’s pledge to start withdrawing troops in July 2011, a pledge made to placate Biden and left-liberals in the Democratic party, and which was strongly opposed by Petraeus, McChrystal et al.