Capitol Hill Awaits Obama Decision on General’s Fate

Posted June 22, 2010 at 6:39pm

The burning question on Capitol Hill today will be whether Gen. Stanley McChrystal still has a job after his meeting with President Barack Obama, who summoned the general to the White House to explain why he bashed the administration in a Rolling Stone magazine profile due out Friday.

Lawmakers in both parties were abuzz over the article Tuesday and agreed that McChrystal’s post as top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is on the line.

Among the damaging comments in the article: One McChrystal aide called National Security Adviser James Jones a “clown” and another referred to Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke as “a wounded animal.” McChrystal says of his diplomatic partner, Afghanistan Ambassador Karl Eikenberry: “Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books. Now if we fail, they can say, ‘I told you so.'”

But only a handful of Democrats called outright for the general’s resignation; the rest said they would defer to the president on McChrystal’s fate. So far, a defense official confirmed that the only fallout from the ordeal has been the resignation of one of McChrystal’s top aides, Duncan Boothby.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Tuesday declined to say whether Obama was prepared to fire McChrystal over his remarks. He described the president as “angry” upon first reading the article Monday night.

“You could guess there are a number of points in which anger might be your reaction,” he said.

Obama told reporters Tuesday evening that he would wait until he met privately with McChrystal today before making any decisions, and that he would make up his mind based on what is best for achieving success in Afghanistan.

“It’s clear that the article in which he and his team appears showed a poor judgment,” the president told reporters. “Whatever decision that I make with respect to Gen. McChrystal … is determined entirely by how I can make sure that we have a strategy that justifies the enormous courage and sacrifice” of the troops, he said.

Some Congressional Democrats saw no reason to wait given what they described as a pattern of insubordination by the general.

“If he actually said half of what is being reported, he shouldn’t be in the position he is in,” House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said. He cited a dust-up last October when McChrystal angered administration officials by ruling out a scaled-back strategy in Afghanistan.

[IMGCAP(1)]McChrystal’s latest move is just another instance of his “contempt for the civilian chain of command,” Obey charged.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) also said that this is “the second time that Gen.McChrystal has crossed that line” and said he “should be dismissed, dismissed immediately, and unceremoniously returned home.”

Sen. Byron Dorgan called on the general to step down. “We can’t have a general calling the national security adviser a clown, or whatever had been attributed to him with respect to Vice President Biden, the national security adviser and others,” the North Dakota Democrat told CNN.

Some Democrats tried to signal their views without stepping on the president’s toes.

“I think whether or not he should resign is up to the president, but I think he’s had three bites out of the apple here,” Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) said.

“I think the president knows what to do,” added Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who described the Rolling Stone interview as “very troubling.”

But by and large, despite universal censure, there was no general consensus on Capitol Hill about what should happen to McChrystal.

“His comments were surprising and shocking and disappointing,” Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said. “But it is up to the president” to decide the general’s fate.

“The general needs to apologize. Everybody’s entitled to make a mistake. I assume if he does that, they’ll put this behind them,” Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said. McChrystal has issued an apology.

Congressional leaders in both parties weighed in with essentially the same message: Wait on the president.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was mostly “surprised” by the general’s statements. “I couldn’t believe Gen. McChrystal, being the good soldier I think he is, at least in this article, not being a very good soldier,” the Nevada Democrat told reporters.

But Reid demurred when asked whether McChrystal should step down.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to redirect attention to the ongoing military effort in Afghanistan.

“I hope we can keep our eye on the ball here, which is to win in Afghanistan and not get diverted off of that onto these other issues that seem to have developed,” said the Kentucky Republican, who would not comment on whether McChrystal should step down.

Even lawmakers who play a key role in military matters blasted the general for his comments but stopped short of suggesting what the next step should be.

“I was disappointed by the Rolling Stone profile of Gen. McChrystal, and I hope that we will be able to sort this out soon and move forward so we can get back to winning the war in Afghanistan,” House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) said.

“His comments were completely inappropriate and it’s very troubling that a general would speak that way about the commander in chief and the vice president,” Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) said. “But in the end, it’s up to the president to decide whether he continues or not.”

“The test needs to be … what action, if any, will advance the success of the policy in Afghanistan,” Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said. “Since it doesn’t appear there’s a conflict between McChrystal and the administration on that very fundamental point, then that means that this is a decision that is sort of irrelevant.”

Still, Levin said the Rolling Stone article does “create a real question about credibility” for the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. And when asked if there is a sense among lawmakers as to what should happen to McChrystal, Levin said: “I’m not sure there is a general feeling. I think people are just trying to understand what the significance is.”