“He was angry,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said just now about President Obama’s reaction after reading Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s comments to Rolling Stone disrespecting several senior administration officials. Gibbs said he didn’t want to “prejudge” tomorrow’s Situation Room meeting between the general and the president to see “what in the world [McChrystal] was thinking.” But “all options are on the table,” Gibbs said about McChrystal’s future, repeatedly referencing Defense Secretary Gates’s statement that McChrystal has made a “significant mistake.”
But Gibbs also made all of his comments in the context of the administration’s current counterinsurgency strategy. Some observers have speculated that the prospect of cashiering McChrystal is an opportunity for overhauling the strategy. Andrew Exum, a former adviser to McChrystal on Afghanistan who also served under the general, noted, “If you feel the strategy in Afghanistan needs a radical change, this would be the ideal time to change commanders.” That wasn’t where Gibbs’ head was at in his press briefing this afternoon.
“Personality disagreements aside, we’re here to implement a new strategy” for the nine-year Afghanistan war, Gibbs repeatedly said. He emphasized that all senior officials and military leaders, including McChrystal, had an opportunity to contribute during the fall debate over strategy, and all left those meetings pledging to support and implement that agenda. “Over the course of many weeks, the strategy was refined and developed, which every member of the team pledged to implement, and agreed with that strategy,” Gibbs said. “That’s what we want everybody from the ambassador from the combatant commander to anybody else involved with this to focus on.”
None of that sounds like a White House that’s ready to scrap its counterinsurgency strategy in the year to go before it begins to shift to a heavier focus on training Afghan forces and withdrawing troops. But McChrystal will have to reiterate his commitment tomorrow to working with the team that, in many ways, signed onto a strategy he himself largely convinced the president to support. “This is bigger than anybody on the military or the civilian side,” Gibbs said. Translation: McChrystal can go or stay, but the strategy has been set. And that may be the greatest irony of the entire McChrystal imbroglio.