Friday, June 25, 2010
McCrystal's story dismays Pentagon brass
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, who had sponsored Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as commander in Afghanistan, expressed profound disappointment in his judgment on Thursday — tempered with thanks for his years in combat — after he was fired from the post. The dismissal followed publication of a profile of the four-star general in Rolling Stone that quoted him and his aides disparaging other officials.
“Honestly, when I first read it, I was nearly sick,” said Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Mr. Gates said he wholly supported the decision by President Obama to remove General McChrystal, who had helped devise the administration’s risky and expensive strategy of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and was in charge of carrying it out.
Mr. Gates said that the statements attributed in the article to General McChrystal and his inner circle of aides “are unacceptable under our form of government and are inconsistent with the high standards expected of military leaders.”
During a Pentagon news conference, Mr. Gates and Admiral Mullen made their first lengthy comments on the controversy and the command change. They were both clearly saddened by the sidelining of one of the military’s most combat-tested Special Operations officers.
Mr. Gates conceded that in his advice to Mr. Obama about the matter, he had expressed concern that a change of command would sap the war effort of momentum at a pivotal moment, when by all accounts it is already proceeding more slowly than expected.
It was Mr. Obama’s suggestion to give the job to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former commander in Iraq who now leads American forces across the Middle East; Mr. Gates said that the choice of General Petraeus eased his mind.
“My primary concern over the past few days has been to minimize the impact of these developments on the conduct of the war in Afghanistan,” Mr. Gates said. “The president’s decisions fully and satisfactorily address that concern.” He described the decision to give the Afghan command to General Petraeus as “the best possible outcome to an awful situation.”
Well aware that a perception of disarray in the American and NATO military headquarters in Kabul might worry American troops and allies while emboldening the insurgency, Mr. Gates spoke directly to all of those audiences.
“No one — be they adversaries or friends, or especially our troops — should misinterpret these personnel changes as a slackening of this government’s commitment to the mission in Afghanistan,” Mr. Gates said. “We remain committed to that mission and to the comprehensive civil-military strategy ordered by the president to achieve our goals there.”
For his part, Admiral Mullen spoke of the pre-eminence of civilian control of the military.
“We do not have the right, nor should we ever assume the prerogative, to cast doubt upon the ability or mock the motives of our civilian leaders, elected or appointed,” Admiral Mullen said. “We are and must remain a neutral instrument of the state, accountable to and respectful of those leaders, no matter which party holds sway or which person holds a given office.”
The Rolling Stone article contained a number of quotations attributed to General McChrystal and his aides that were rude and dismissive of members of Mr. Obama’s national security team.
In the hours after the article surfaced in public, Mr. Gates and Admiral Mullen discussed it with General McChrystal. “In my meeting with him, he didn’t try to explain it,” Mr. Gates said on Thursday. “He just acknowledged that he had made a terrible decision.”
Mr. Gates, who has questioned what he calls the negative narrative of the war in news reports and Washington political discussions, said the mission in Afghanistan was “hard but not impossible.”
“I do not believe we are bogged down,” he said. “I believe we are making some progress. It is slower and harder than we anticipated.”
MAYBE THEY SHOULD READ THIS
Posted by Steve Douglass at 8:44 AM