RETRACTED: Inside This Morning’s White House Afghanistan Meeting: Anger With Eikenberry, ‘Beef’ With McChrystal

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Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 10:06 am

Update, 8:50 a.m.: I am retracting this post, published yesterday, titled “Inside This Morning’s White House Afghanistan Meeting: Anger With Eikenberry, ‘Beef’ With McChrystal.”

My original source for the post stands by the account provided. The individual, a National Security Council staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity, has provided truthful and verified information on past stories, and so I trusted the source for this one. Elements of the account have been subsequently borne out: yesterday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that President Obama will ask his Afghanistan-Pakistan advisers to provide him with an exit strategy for the eight-year war, which is congruent with but not identical to my source’s information that Obama has asked the team to derive timetables for troop withdrawal.

But there are greater problems with the post. For one, the source was not actually present for the video teleconference that is the post’s central scene, and passed information to me second-hand. Furthermore, not only has the White House’s Tommy Vietor denied, on the record, that Ambassador Karl Eikenberry participated in a video teleconference yesterday morning, but the other two individuals I named as being present for the meeting — the inspector generals for Iraq and Afghanistan — have, through representatives, denied being present. I cannot subsequently stand by this account.

From the start, the post should have a) more clearly indicated that my source wasn’t present at the meeting; b) more clearly indicated that the account provided was single-sourced; and c) verified the information provided before publication. My enthusiasm for a hot story outpaced my professional judgment. For that I take full responsibility, retract the story and issue a full apology for its publication.

Update, 10:57 p.m.: White House spokesman Tommy Vietor says he checked with Amb. Eikenberry’s office and the teleconference call reported in this post did not occur. I am continuing to re-report this story and will update as soon as I have additional information.

It was a tense meeting this morning at the White House, as Ambassador Karl Eikenberry addressed the National Security Council by teleconference from Kabul just hours after the media got hold of his dissent on the crucial question of sending more troops to Afghanistan. “He is very unpopular here,” said a National Security Council staffer who described the meeting.

No one was happy to read in The Washington Post that Eikenberry, who commanded the war himself from 2005 to 2007, thinks that the Karzai government needs to demonstrate its commitment to anti-corruption measures before the administration can responsibly authorize another troop increase. The prevailing theory is that “he leaked his own cables” because “he has a beef with McChrystal,” the staffer said. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Eikenberry’s successor as NATO commander in Afghanistan, has requested an increase in troops to support a counterinsurgency strategy with a substantial counterterrorism component.

But Eikenberry — who also briefed the White House by teleconference yesterday — reiterated his concerns. The ambassador told the NSC not to send additional troops to Afghanistan “without an exit strategy” and urged that the president to adopt a “purely civilian approach” with the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the lead, not the military. According to the NSC staffer, Eikenberry “wants a realignment” of USAID, the Afghanistan inspector general’s office and the State Department’s stabilization and reconstruction office. Eikenberry said President Obama “wants that” — although Obama was not in the meeting — and he hailed the arrival of the new USAID administrator-nominee, Rajiv Shah, “because he will not wage war when the org charts start changing.”

Despite the dissatisfaction with Eikenberry’s apparent leak, according to the staffer, Obama “demanded” an exit strategy for the war “after Eikenberry’s cables.” Certain members of the NSC dialed into the conference from the Fort Bragg, N.C. headquarters of the Joint Special Operations Command, which is playing a large, if underreported, role in shaping Afghanistan strategy. It would appear that much remains fluid in the administration’s strategy debates.

In a late August assessment, McChrystal warned, “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.” Nearly two and a half months have passed since McChrystal’s warning. Eikenberry’s high-profile dissent on a troop increase is likely to aggravate tensions with his former command. Over the summer, McChrystal and Eikenberry worked out a plan for civilian-military cooperation in Afghanistan that “aligns [U.S.] efforts on a single objective: the people of Afghanistan.” Perhaps my information that the two men have a good working relationship is outdated.

Eikenberry appeared on the teleconference with Arnold Fields, the retired Marine general who now serves as special inspector general for the Afghanistan war, who’s also in the country right now checking on how responsibly the U.S. is spending its reconstruction money. A surprise addition to the teleconference: Stuart Bowen, Fields’ counterpart in Iraq. That would suggest that Bowen’s proposal for revamping joint civilian and military action in Afghanistan by creating a new Office of Contingency Operations is getting high-level traction.

Eikenberry’s contribution to the NSC meeting ended at about 9:30 a.m., although the discussion is apparently continuing.

“They are pulling together the alternatives [Obama] requested” on refining options for resourcing the war, the NSC staffer continued. “They have until Friday to give him three new ones with withdrawal timetables.”

Update: This post has been edited for clarity.

Update 2: My apologies. I am told by Fields’ spokeswoman that the Afghanistan inspector-general did not in fact feature in the meeting and is in fact in his Virginia office, not Kabul.

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Categories & Tags: National Security| Obama| |

Comments

42 Comments

Reports Say Obama Looking for ‘Ramp to Withdraw’ on Afghanistan | Taylor Marsh – TaylorMarsh.com – News, Opinion and Weblog on Progressive Politics
Pingback posted November 12, 2009 @ 10:26 am

[...] II: Spencer Ackerman adds some color on Eikenberry’s recommend, which made him the least popular man with the [...]


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Trackback posted November 12, 2009 @ 10:43 am

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This post was mentioned on Twitter by TWI_news: Inside This Morning’s White House Afghanistan Meeting: Anger With Eikenberry, ‘Beef’ With McChrystal http://bit.ly/3T9pqW...


Matthew Yglesias » Ambassador Eikenberry Dissents from Troop Surge Consensus
Pingback posted November 12, 2009 @ 10:46 am

[...] Ackerman reports that there’s considerable anger at the way this got leaked to the Washington Post but at the same time Eikenberry’s concerns are being taken seriously and the process seems to [...]


Anil Petra
Comment posted November 12, 2009 @ 11:30 am

I think it's safe to say, we will never hear this president utter the words “commanders on the ground …”.


tarry Davis
Comment posted November 12, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

MacChrystal is beginning to wear thin. He is sounding more and more like Macarthur…… my way or the highway. His only answer is more troops. And do not think for a minute that once he gets 40 or 50,000 there will not be another request. Where is the original thinking? Gen Powel's advice to Obama yesterday is quite correct….. take your time. MacChrystal and the Pentagon have blinders on. How much of this is about not wanting to loose. “Dishonour.” Ego. Testosterone. I am beginning as an average citizen to fear the Pentagon and its recent entry into national politics. These generals are more of a danger to our democracy than al Quaeda.


bobdevo
Comment posted November 12, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

Obama should publicly address McChrystal's perjury before Congress and his filing of fraudulent paperwork in the Pat Tillman friendly fire cover-up, then fire his butt as a warning shot across the bow of top brass still hungry for more war.

Harry S fired Macarthur, and Macarthur had actually helped win the war in the Pacific. McChrystal is a wannabe and Dick Cheney's assassination squad stooge.


GregSanders
Comment posted November 12, 2009 @ 12:14 pm

I wonder what Sec. Clinton feels about this. If she decides to back the ambassador then that substantially ups the odds that we're finally going to see a substantial shake-up of the civilian side of things.


All Our Might » Blog Archive » Not Liking Eike.
Pingback posted November 12, 2009 @ 1:13 pm

[...] – possibly the White House’s man in Kabul himself – seems to be making life tough for US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry.  After [...]


rexozone
Comment posted November 12, 2009 @ 2:45 pm

Coopt the military by dismissing all mercenary groups and giving the jobs to our armed forces, then get the hell out of Afghanistan, Iraq and Columbia.


Ambassador Eikenberry and the Afghan Strategy | Progressive Fix
Pingback posted November 12, 2009 @ 2:57 pm

[...] — possibly the White House’s man in Kabul himself — seems to be making life tough for U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry. After [...]


I Like Eik « American Footprints
Pingback posted November 12, 2009 @ 3:01 pm

[...] timelines).  He has asked the working group to come back to the table with new options, and Spencer Ackerman provides a hint at what Obama might be looking for: “They are pulling together the alternatives [...]


jillibrown
Comment posted November 12, 2009 @ 5:44 pm

I don't trust McChrystal – I think he's cheneys stoolie – and his leak on the report was highly unprofessional as was his involvement in the death of Pat Tillman. His business is war – when have you ever heard a general say he wants less troops. There is no “win” in Afghanistan – this is a country stuck in biblical times – it's a civil war that we shouldn't be involved in. Seems to me mcchrystal would willingly keep pouring more troops into this quagmire year after year – and the outcome would be the same as what we see now. It's pointless, bring them all home.


lookingforsanity
Comment posted November 12, 2009 @ 7:53 pm

Oh yeah, the State Dept and other civilians are going to go over to Afghanistan and fix things. Did Eikenberry get the memo for the UN that they have already moved their civilians out of Afghanistan because it is too dangerous.

In fact instead of visiting dead bodies at Arlington or Dover, I think Obama and Rahm and Eikenberry with a whole cadre of State Dept guys should hold their meetings in Kabul.

If its so safe, and we need more civilian help these are the best talkers in the business. Why don't they go over and get the job done.


bill janes
Comment posted November 12, 2009 @ 11:33 pm

Put resources into domestic priorities, revise the tax structure so the wealthy bear their fare share and investment encourages production, pass Health Care for the middle class and put it in place right now. Stop wasting lives, resources, global prestige, and national honor. Getting out of this disastrous and dishonorable entanglement now is essential for Democrats, the military and for America.


checkmoot
Comment posted November 12, 2009 @ 11:49 pm

Does any one recall that when the Soviets sent troops in they were trying to do exactly what we are attempting. Support a central, secular. government in Afghanistan. If we had helped them instead of the Taliban and Al Qaida, we wouldn't be in this mess. They ended up with 250,000 troops there before they pulled out. How many are we going to send before we get the Hell out of there and let the Afghans worry about who is running their country ?


Gates Vows to Fire Leakers « Yuvablog
Pingback posted November 13, 2009 @ 12:21 am

[...] Secretary Robert Gates has had enough of internal administration debates appearing on blogs like this one. Gates: “I think a lot of different places are leaking. I’m confident that the Department of [...]


Afghanistan Follow-Up: The Civil War in the Obama Administration | Enduring America
Pingback posted November 13, 2009 @ 8:23 am

[...] hours later and the dispute rages on. The immediate reaction was an effort by pro-escalation forces to trash Eikenberry by claiming “he leaked his own cables” because “he has a beef with McChrystal” and [...]


TexVet
Comment posted November 13, 2009 @ 10:14 am

tarry Davis got it right. Generals will always ask for more troops. It is their answer to everything… even a hang-nail. This is why we have the final decision made by the civilian authorities.


TheGrandPanjandrum
Comment posted November 13, 2009 @ 10:21 am

Thanks for having the guts to admit your errors. Looks like the bear ate you yestereday. Today will be better. Keep up the great work.


David Gillis
Comment posted November 13, 2009 @ 10:40 am

I wouldn't try to cross a small room using the advice posted here. What a lot of ignorant comments, not based in reality or reasoned analysis. Of course there is civilian leadership in America, however, that leadership has regularly squandered the lives of US military personnel in war after war. How? By fait-hearted committments which predictably increase casualties on both sides of the conflict. McCrystal has it right. After my experience in Vietnam, the Gulf War and the Iraq War, it is clear that security for the populace, a democratic government, education, commerce and a functioning judicial system are the key to long term success — where the mutual interest is a future stable peace, security and propserity for both sides. The posted comments remind me of the fizz after shaking a carbonated beverage — it shoots out of the mouth but provides nothing to drink. After 40 years it is clear to me that those who focus on the next entertainment in their life have nothing to offer in terms of wisdom for dealing with matters of conseqence.


adaminnyc
Comment posted November 13, 2009 @ 11:16 am

Really great retraction. It can be tough to admit to these kinds of mistakes, but I really applaud you for having done so. I wish more journalists would act with similar integrity and pride in the accuracy of their work. Well done.


rweaver
Comment posted November 13, 2009 @ 11:41 am

I think your source just got burned…


jasonconga
Comment posted November 13, 2009 @ 12:24 pm

This is a big different with MSM journalism. They never make retractions so clear and unambiguous. Just compare Hannity's apology/retraction to Ackerman's.


iLarynx
Comment posted November 13, 2009 @ 12:53 pm

Wow. You may consider the original post sloppy, but the retraction, with its detail on why the retraction was required, shows that you are not a sloppy journalist. Everyone, even good journalists make mistakes. What separates the good ones from the bad ones is how they respond to those mistakes (e.g. The reference to Hannity in one of the earlier comments).
In short, a true journalist pursues the truth regardless of how it impacts their image or their ego.
Congratulations on maintaining your integrity despite the error. An impressive (and rare) feat these days.


TexVet
Comment posted November 13, 2009 @ 3:14 pm

tarry Davis got it right. Generals will always ask for more troops. It is their answer to everything… even a hang-nail. This is why we have the final decision made by the civilian authorities.


TheGrandPanjandrum
Comment posted November 13, 2009 @ 3:21 pm

Thanks for having the guts to admit your errors. Looks like the bear ate you yestereday. Today will be better. Keep up the great work.


David Gillis
Comment posted November 13, 2009 @ 3:40 pm

I wouldn't try to cross a small room using the advice posted here. What a lot of ignorant comments, not based in reality or reasoned analysis. Of course there is civilian leadership in America, however, that leadership has regularly squandered the lives of US military personnel in war after war. How? By fait-hearted committments which predictably increase casualties on both sides of the conflict. McCrystal has it right. After my experience in Vietnam, the Gulf War and the Iraq War, it is clear that security for the populace, a democratic government, education, commerce and a functioning judicial system are the key to long term success — where the mutual interest is a future stable peace, security and propserity for both sides. The posted comments remind me of the fizz after shaking a carbonated beverage — it shoots out of the mouth but provides nothing to drink. After 40 years it is clear to me that those who focus on the next entertainment in their life have nothing to offer in terms of wisdom for dealing with matters of conseqence.


adaminnyc
Comment posted November 13, 2009 @ 4:16 pm

Really great retraction. It can be tough to admit to these kinds of mistakes, but I really applaud you for having done so. I wish more journalists would act with similar integrity and pride in the accuracy of their work. Well done.


rweaver
Comment posted November 13, 2009 @ 4:41 pm

I think your source just got burned…


jasonconga
Comment posted November 13, 2009 @ 5:24 pm

This is a big different with MSM journalism. They never make retractions so clear and unambiguous. Just compare Hannity's apology/retraction to Ackerman's.


iLarynx
Comment posted November 13, 2009 @ 5:53 pm

Wow. You may consider the original post sloppy, but the retraction, with its detail on why the retraction was required, shows that you are not a sloppy journalist. Everyone, even good journalists make mistakes. What separates the good ones from the bad ones is how they respond to those mistakes (e.g. The reference to Hannity in one of the earlier comments).
In short, a true journalist pursues the truth regardless of how it impacts their image or their ego.
Congratulations on maintaining your integrity despite the error. An impressive (and rare) feat these days.


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Right Angles » Blog Archive » Ackerman’s style of journalism: irresponsible
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