WASHINGTON — With his future as the top U.S. commander of the war in Afghanistan uncertain, Gen. Stanley McChrystal arrived at the White House Wednesday to explain his biting complaints about President Barack Obama and his aides directly to the commander in chief.
The general was meeting with Obama in the Oval Office before attending the president's regular monthly war meeting. McChrystal usually participates by videoconference.
McChrystal met earlier Wednesday with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the Pentagon.
Obama summoned McChrystal after learning of his comments about administration officials in a magazine article. A White House rebuke of McChrystal suggested it would be hard for him to save his job.
Two military officials said McChrystal was prepared to submit his resignation. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Obama was set to make an announcement on McChrystal's future soon after their face-to-face.
"I think it's clear that the article in which he and his team appeared ... showed poor judgment," Obama said Tuesday at the close of an unrelated Cabinet meeting. "But I also want to make sure that I talk to him directly before I make any final decisions."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed his confidence in McChrystal during a video conference Tuesday night with Obama, Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar said Wednesday in Kabul.
"We hope there is not a change of leadership of the international forces here in Afghanistan and that we continue to partner with Gen. McChrystal," Omar told reporters.
In a Rolling Stone magazine article, McChrystal didn't criticize Obama himself but called the period last fall when the president was deciding whether to approve more troops "painful" and said Obama appeared ready to hand him an "unsellable" position.
McChrystal also said he was "betrayed" by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, the man the White House chose to be his diplomatic partner in Afghanistan. He accused Eikenberry of raising doubts about Karzai only to give himself cover in case the U.S. effort failed. "Now, if we fail, they can say 'I told you so,'" McChrystal told the magazine. And he was quoted mocking Vice President Joe Biden.
If not insubordination, the remarks — as well as even sharper commentary about Obama and his White House from several in McChrystal's inner circle — were at least an indirect and extraordinary challenge and one that consumed Washington on Tuesday. The capital hasn't seen a similar public contretemps between a president and a top wartime commander since Harry Truman stripped Gen. Douglas MacArthur of his command more than a half-century ago after disagreements over Korean War strategy.
Notably, neither McChrystal nor his team questioned the accuracy of the story or the quotes in it. McChrystal issued an apology.
Military leaders rarely challenge their commanders in chief publicly. When they do, consequences tend to be more severe than a scolding.
Indeed, the presidential spokesman's prepared reaction to the article was remarkably revealing, even for the normally coded language of Washington. Press secretary Robert Gibbs repeatedly declined to say McChrystal's job was safe, and questioned whether McChrystal is "capable and mature enough" to lead the war.
"Our efforts in Afghanistan are bigger than one person," Gibbs told reporters, a formulation typically used when one person is about to leave.
Gates said in a statement that McChrystal had made "a significant mistake."
A senior U.S. military official in Afghanistan told The Associated Press that McChrystal — who had not spoken with Obama on the matter before Wednesday — has been given no indication that he'll be fired but no assurance he won't be. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions between Washington and the general's office in Kabul.
Obama raised the issue of McChrystal's future in a phone call with British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday night, Cameron's office said Wednesday without disclosing what was said. Britain has about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, the largest international force after the United States.