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Washington Weighs Gen. McChrystal Replacement

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David Wood
Chief Military Correspondent
Two Marine generals, John Allen and Jim Mattis, are on the list of potential replacements for Gen. Stanley McChrystal as he flies to Washington for a grim meeting Wednesday with President Barack Obama.

McChrystal, the hard-charging top combat commander in Afghanistan, was abruptly recalled to Washington on Tuesday, hours after White House officials read the critical comments and crude remarks the four-star general and his staff had made to a magazine journalist about administration officials, including Vice President Joe Biden.

McChrystal reportedly submitted his resignation Tuesday.

President Obama said McChrystal had "showed poor judgment'' in his comments reported by Rolling Stone, but added he would make no decisions about the general's future until he met with him at the White House.

The firestorm over McChrystal's remarks could not have come at a worse time for the Obama White House. Six months into a new strategy and with fresh troops pouring into the country, battle casualties are rising, the war seems stalemated, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai appears to be more and more unsuited to the task of leading Afghanistan into a stable future. Obama's gamble -- that dispatching 30,000 more troops for a year would turn the situation around -- seemed to rest almost entirely on McChrystal's shoulders.

Until now.

Officials in Washington are scrambling to scrub potential replacements should McChrystal's command prove unsalvageable. Apart from Mattis and Allen, attention has focused on Army Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who currently runs day-to-day combat operations in Afghanistan while McChrystal focuses on strategic military-political issues.

Selecting Rodriguez, officials pointed out, would enable a seamless transition of command, while it would take either Mattis or Allen some months to settle in with their own battle staffs.

More Stanley McChrystal Coverage:

- McChrystal Relieved of Duty; Petraeus to Take Command in Afghanistan
- Transcript of President Obama's Remarks on Gen. Stanley McChrystal
- David Wood: Combat Troops Rally Behind McChrystal
- Walter Shapiro: McChrystal, Afghanistan, and the Era of Foreign Policy Austerity
- David Corn: Will a McChrystal Dismissal Be Bad News for War Critics?

Mattis, who commanded combat troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan, is due to leave his job as the head of Joint Forces Command at the end of the summer. He was passed over when President Obama nominated Gen. James F. Amos as the next commandant of the Marine Corps.

Allen, who commanded a Marine brigade in Iraq, is deputy commander of U.S. Central Command under Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees all military operations in the Middle East region.

The controversial comments by McChrystal and his top aides were made over the course of a month during which freelance journalist Michael Hastings had apparently unfettered access to McChrystal's staff in Kabul. Hastings' subsequent article in Rolling Stone reflected some of the hubris and coarse humor common to combat commands in the stress of wartime.

McChrystal's personal staff at the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the multinational military force in Afghanistan, is a tight-knit group of highly accomplished combat officers and senior enlisted soldiers and Marines. In common with other wartime commands, many of them feel they understand the fight better than anyone on the outside -- especially members of Congress and White House officials, who drop in for a quick visit and go on to pontificate on the Sunday TV talk shows. In particular, some of his staff have voiced disdain for junior (but powerful) White House aides who, as one dusty, combat-decorated officer put it, were "carrying suitcases for candidate Obama only a few months ago.''

The most damaging remark attributed directly to McChrystal in the Rolling Stone piece involved poking fun at Biden, who had been critical of the counterinsurgency strategy McChrystal had proposed last summer. Imagining themselves dismissing Biden as irrelevant, McChrystal joked "...Biden? Who's that?'' A senior aide chimed in: "Biden? Did you say 'Bite me?'''

So what? That question consumed political and military circles Tuesday. The consensus seemed to swing against McChrystal, an acknowledged counterinsurgency expert who has spent most of his career in the uncompromisingly rough world of special operations. But even some fellow officers faulted him for allowing the coarse locker room horseplay common to commando platoons and companies to seep into the higher echelons of command.

And for allowing a reporter to witness it.

"Commanders who indulge in sloppy, tough guy, cowboy lingo -- 'smack-down, scumbags,' etc. -- tend to run sloppy, tough guy, cowboy operations,'' said an experienced combat commander. "Units, and especially staffs, tend to adopt the language and demeanor of their commander. ... Applause lines in the testosterone-driven subculture of combat units are not likely to play well on CNN.''

Said another soldier, a retired officer: "This was an incredibly dumb thing to do and probably has compromised, to some degree, his ability to command. Again, this reminds us that you can have great doctrine and the world's best-trained soldiers, but if the people on top are flawed, then your war isn't going to go well.''

U.S. constitutional law and the strong tradition of the U.S. military officer corps draw a razor-sharp distinction between the military and its civilian commanders.

Indeed, military law -- Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) -- requires that "any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department'' and on through a long list of public officials "...shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.''

Few are demanding that McChrystal be court-martialed. But the disappointment in McChrystal, who is widely admired in Washington and elsewhere as an upright professional soldier and one who might be able to win in Afghanistan, was resounding on Tuesday.

"I was disappointed ...'' began a statement issued by the staunchly pro-military Ike Skelton, the crusty Democrat who chairs the House Armed Services Committee. Notably, Skelton's statement did not say McChrystal should be kept on in command, only that the chairman hopes "we will be able to sort this out soon and move forward so we can get back to winning the war. Nothing,'' Skelton added, "is more important than defeating the terrorists.''

In a similar fashion, a statement by three reliably pro-military senators, Joe Lieberman, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, said McChrystal's comments were "inappropriate and inconsistent with the traditional relationship between commander-in-chief and the military.''

The three did not call for the general to be kept in place, but merely noted that that decision was "to be made by the president.''

The general is scheduled to meet with Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has already issued a scathing statement calling McChrystal's behavior a "distraction'' from war-fighting. That's bad enough. But recall that Gates has a bright history of abruptly firing senior officials and general officers who don't measure up to his standards.

Just ask former Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Gen. Michael Moseley, former Air Force chief of staff, who were fired two years ago for poor performance (among other problems, the Air Force had lost track of several nuclear weapons).

Indeed, McChrystal got his job just over 13 months ago because Gates abruptly fired his predecessor, Gen. David McKiernan, for lackluster battlefield performance.

At the time, Gates explained, in words that seem to resonate today: "We can and must do better.''

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108 Comments

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sscgrace

We should just get out of Afghanistan No one can win there. It is a lost cause and a waste of our troops. The British and the Russians were smart enough to get out, so why not us. What is of value in this country to us.

June 29 2010 at 10:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dc walker

This General spent nine years in the mid east. He is a warrior and did not want to play politics, who could blame him. I believe the author of the article showed no common sense in his reporting. They were held up in Paris due to the ash from Iceland volcano so they sat around and had some drinks. This man has given to his country more than several thousand of us put together. I understand loyalty etc. but the banter was among the guys that are in his inner circle its not like he stood before the troops. So much for Rolling Stone magazine, I hope it goes the way of Newsweek.

June 26 2010 at 10:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mary Manna

My thoughts and thanks are with General McKrystle for the 30+ years that he served this country. I for one,cannot begin to imagine how he dealt with the politicians and his soldiers with the constant restraints on how this war is being fought, where our soldiers are losing life and limbs, but yet, they cannot fully engage the enemy. As for his comments, they were inappropriate and I guess not allowed to impune the President and Vice President and others, but who is holding our officials from some of their off the wall comments? I believe that the General's comments were true and I again, thank him and salute him for his service, as all Americans should be doing.

June 23 2010 at 4:29 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
carla811

i highly doubt a man of McChrystals calibre made an "error in judgement' by doing that interview.
i believe he knew full well the ramifications it would incite..
and the probable outcome of his firing or resignation...
but despite all of that..i believe he did it because he had to state
his honest concerns...and what he felt the Obama administration
was just not involved or truly concerned at the level it should be regarding the war...the military..their risk..their needs..the requests for help..
i think Mccrystals final frustration had to be vented..right or wrong..
it was more about being honest..than following the rules regulations and protocol binding his hands and restricting his integrity to speak truth..
His number one concern and priority was and is the men he is leading on the battlefield...not coddling the ego's of the administration.

Fire him..?
Resign...?

for McChrystal ...in my opnion...he was ready for either....when he did that
interview....

June 23 2010 at 3:58 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to carla811's comment
conservgirl8

I agree totally. No way did he not know exactly the ramifications of his actions. He's highly trained and self disciplined. The coming months will be interesting to see if he speaks out. He may not, but there will be a book in the future.

June 23 2010 at 5:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
yanni

What a Shame...Another good soldiers gone....

June 23 2010 at 3:01 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
yanni

The general is a good soldier no doubt but we have plenty of good soldiers in Afghanistan, what we need is a good leader. The general's comments have diminished his ability to lead.

June 23 2010 at 2:57 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
maw808

You'll note that McChrystal DID submit his resignation yesterday. As he should have. His job--arguably his only job--is to follow orders from the commander in chief. Then he is to issue orders to his subordinates consistent with his orders. If he fails either role, he should resign. McChrystal has displayed an alarming lack of judgment and the President should accept his resignation. The military took shameful advantage of Clinton's inexperience and unease in 1982 when he tried to repeal the ban on gay servicemembers, by publicly declaring that the sky would fall. Arguably the same is occurring regarding the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." The job of the military is to follow orders. Since when are the orders of a commander-in-chief "negotiable?" When did military members get the right to "vote" on a policy--through questionnaire or otherwise? If the military was run by concensus, nothing would ever get done,and black/minority servicemembers would still be cleaning latrines... As we used to say in the "old Corps," not in MY Marine Corps!! Follow orders or find a new line of work.

June 23 2010 at 2:54 PM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
paul

I believe that the comments attributed to General McChrystal and his staff in the Rolling Stone article were probably made more out of frustration than disrespect. It is truly unfortunate because all of them knew better than to say what they said. Those words should never have been spoken, and once they were there was only one way that this could end. Whether he resigned or was fired doesn't matter, it had to happen. Time to move on.

June 23 2010 at 2:47 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
The 5th Column

I'm sure the general will resign his commission and get a job as a Fox analysts and set fire to Obama every day...

June 23 2010 at 2:27 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to The 5th Column's comment
Charlie

that won't be hard!

June 23 2010 at 3:31 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
shiloh2000

When a general loses faith in the mission and the administration plan, he needs to resign ASAP. Regardless of whether he is right or wrong, his job is to carry out policy and if he can't, or is unwilling, he should be immediately removed (as was long ago clearly established by Lincoln with McClellan, and much later by Truman with MacArthur -- a both very popular generals who clearly had trouble understanding thier role). McChrystal should have already submitted his resignation. The fact that he hasn't suggests he is not capable of understanding either his role, or the impact of his actions -- and that alone makes is ability to lead questionable.

June 23 2010 at 2:08 PM Report abuse -7 rate up rate down Reply

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