Nichole Hungerford

CNN: Gates wanted to keep McChrystal

Posted on June 24 2010 11:23 am
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by Ed Morrissey 

It didn’t take long for Jackson Diehl to be proven prophetic.  Less than 24 hours after Barack Obama insisted in a Rose Garden statement that he would not “tolerate division” among his war council, someone’s leaking to CNN that Defense Secretary Robert Gates didn’t want General Stanley McChrystal fired.  That seems to contradict a rather complimentary behind-the-scenes report from Politico’s Mike Allen, and demonstrates once again that McChrystal didn’t start the backbiting game but merely played along with it:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates backed keeping Gen. Stanley McChrystal on the job because he was vital to the war effort in Afghanistan, but he was overruled, a senior Pentagon official told CNN’s Barbara Starr.

The official has direct knowledge of the events but declined to be identified because of the internal administration discussions. …

Gates was initially furious about the article, but said McChrystal had to stay in command because the war is at such a critical point, a second source — who also asked not to be named on internal administration discussions — told CNN.

But as it became clear the White House didn’t feel same way and the issue was not going to fade, Gates shifted his position and agreed that keeping the general would be an untenable distraction.

According to Allen’s account, which sounds as though it got the White House Seal of Approval, everyone was on board from the very beginning:

Officials who participated in the discussions say no single passage was fatal to McChrystal. But the opening was really bad: It made the general sound more like a high-school knucklehead than a thoughtful warrior. As one aide dryly told Playbook: “The effect on allies was definitely a consideration.”

Intrade, the online prediction market, on Tuesday night had the chance of the general’s ouster at 75 percent. It turns out that was low. “People felt like you cannot have different rules just because you’re the top brass,” an aide said. “A kid who is some PFC [private first class], knows darn well that if he said these things about his commanding officer, he could potentially get thrown in jail.” From the beginning, according to participants, the controlling argument was: “As a matter of civilian control and chain of command, this kind of disrespect is simply untenable and he has to go. The article leaves murky the question of who is in charge, and sends the wrong signal, from the commanders down to the privates.”

So the boot was always the default. Officials say there was careful, extended debate about keeping McChrystal but it was always in the frame of, “Let’s examine the case for not accepting his resignation.” As one official put it, there were different schools of thought, but there weren’t different camps. Both sides were argued, sometimes by the same people. The best case for keeping the general always revolved around the mission: “McChrystal is the right guy to see it through, and he needs to be chastened but go finish the mission. A change in command would be disruptive and damaging.”

That view never gained traction, and there was some relief when it became clear that the consensus was: “We’re better off without him.”


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