Reading Through The Lines On McChrystal’s Fate

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In his briefing today, which is ongoing as I write, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has made clear that “all options are on the table,” including firing Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Gibbs said that the president was “angry” when he saw the Rolling Stone article. Gibbs also added that “I think our efforts in Afghanistan are bigger than one person,” suggesting that the White House does not believe the entire Afghan effort hinges on McChrystal.

But Gibbs also emphasized that personality conflicts–which is really the substance of the Rolling Stone uproar–should not get in the way of getting the job done. “It’s incumbent upon those in the policy making world to set aside those differences,” Gibbs said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, just a couple hours ago, put out his own statement, noting McChystal’s “significant mistake,” but then began the pivot forward: “Gen. McChrystal has apologized to me and is similarly reaching out to others named in this article to apologize to them as well.  I have recalled Gen. McChrystal to Washington to discuss this in person.” All of this falls far short of a demand for McChrystal’s resignation. It looks instead like the beginning of a well-choreographed effort to punish the general for his mistake, without removing him from his command. As Gibbs said, “This isn’t about us. It shouldn’t be about the personalities and the egos. It should be about the men and women doing the hard work.” Gibbs predicted that Obama would say tomorrow: “It is time for everybody to put aside their petty disagreements, put aside their egos, and get to work.” Gibbs added that he did not know if the President had made a decision.

The contrary argument is that the replacement of McChrystal, if it is already in the works, would require significant coordination across the U.S. Government–the State Department, Gates and others would all need to be consulted. In other words, the wheels may be turning. And a flight halfway around the world buys the necessary time.