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Pentagon Bracing for Leadership Change

June 22, 2010 - 3:42 PM | by: Justin Fishel

Military officials inside the Pentagon are bracing themselves for the possibility that by Wednesday morning General Stanley McChrystal might not be the top commander in Afghanistan. Fallout in Washington from a disastrous profile piece of the general in the Rolling Stone magazine is thickening by the minute.

At the White House press briefing Tuesday the mood seemed grim. Asked repeatedly about McChrystal’s future following revelations he and his aides openly mocked and disparaged President Obama and members of his administration, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs did nothing to assure the public that the president was working to keep McChrystal on board. “All options are on the table,” Gibbs said. He called the magnitude of McChrystal’s errors in the profile piece “profound” and added that “these efforts are bigger than one person.”

Pentagon public affairs officers seemed blown away that McChrystal’s media relations staff and close aides decided to allow him to do this interview. They all agree that to say the things they did in front of a reporter from the Rolling Stone showed extremely poor judgment.

Meanwhile Defense Secretary Robert Gates released a statement saying General McChrystal made a “significant mistake and exercised poor judgment in this case.” A senior defense official told Fox it’s important to note that absent from the secretary’s statement was any mention of trust or confidence in the the general. “That would have been a key phrase,” this official said. “When you relieve someone of duty it’s often because trust and confidence are lost.”

Secretary Gates will meet with Obama at 3:15 pm ET Tuesday to discuss the McChrystal situation in person. According to a source close to Gates they’ve already had a number of conversations since last night — conversations that “are not business as usual,” this source said.

Officials in the Pentagon agree that deciding whether or not to fire General McChrystal will be one of the hardest decisions of the Obama presidency.

This issue could not come at a worse time in the war. The president is just weeks away from completing his 30,000 troop surge into southern Afghanistan, and perhaps only days away from the start of another major operation in Kandahar — Afghanistan’s Taliban-controlled population center. Just east of Kandahar the offensive in Marjah is taking longer than expected and is like a “bleeding ulcer,” as McChrystal recently put it.

The counterinsurgency strategy and the troop buildup that goes with it was devised in large part by McChrystal, and to remove him from the country at such a critical juncture is sure to draw criticism from across the military.

Yet if President Obama doesn’t force McChrystal out and lets him continue as normal, he runs the risk of appearing weak in the face of what many are describing as blatant insubordination. The president also has to weigh the fact that McChrystal already has a few bad marks on his record. Last Fall he was scolded by the White House for publicly calling for more troops in Afghanistan before the president had reached a decision. And prior to taking the job as head of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, McChrystal was involved in covering-up the friendly fire incident that killed former NFL player-turned Army Ranger, Corporal Pat Tillman.

Until an announcement is made, officials in the Pentagon remain deeply concerned about McChrystal’s future and worry that they may soon have to focus on the question of who will take over.

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