Warning: General Speaking on the Record
Hoo boy. The last thing you want coming out in the Monday evening news cycle is a luscious story of betrayal, gossip, and insubordination to fuel the rest of the week’s news and commentary, but you can’t always get what you want:
Tensions between General Stanley McChrystal and the White House are on full display in an unflattering profile in Rolling Stone of the commander of US and NATO forces in the Afghan war.
McChrystal jokes sarcastically about preparing to answer a question referring to Vice President Joe Biden, known as a skeptic of the commander’s war strategy.
“‘Are you asking about Vice President Biden?’ McChrystal says with a laugh. ‘Who’s that?'” the article quotes him as saying.
“‘Biden?’ suggests a top adviser. ‘Did you say: Bite Me?'”
McChrystal tells the magazine that he felt “betrayed” by the US ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, in a White House debate over war strategy last year.
Referring to a leaked internal memo from Eikenberry that questioned McChrystal’s request for more troops, the commander suggested the ambassador had tried to protect himself for history’s sake.
“I like Karl, I’ve known him for years, but they’d never said anything like that to us before,” McChrystal tells the magazine.
“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books. Now if we fail, they can say, “I told you so.'” [AP]
Yowch. Why on earth would you be that candid with Rolling Stone, of all ridiculous magazines? Of any magazine, really, but it’s not like RS doesn’t have a tradition of publishing controversial material. This is like a silver platter of controversy.
Furthermore, why would be anyone in such a delicate position of authority be so incautious halfway through a time-sensitive mission with vast political consequences? It almost seems unrealistic, if the White House, Secretary Gates, and Admiral Mullen hadn’t rung up McChrystal shortly after the story broke on the wire, according to Marc Ambinder.
Who needs a flotilla or an oil spill when you have political brushfire like this jeopardizing the war effort?
ETA: And in a lightning fast walkback, McChrystal has issued his apology (h/t Danger Room).
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.
But sir, if you have poor judgment with a stupid magazine profile, how on earth can there be great confidence in your leadership of this war? I’m inclined to favor actions, not words, but we’re struggling a little with those, too.