Panel on What Obama Should Do About McChrystal

Panel on What Obama Should Do About McChrystal

By Special Report With Bret Baier - June 22, 2010


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think it's clear that the article in which he and his team appear showed poor judgment. But I also want to make sure I talk to him directly before I make any final decision.


CHRIS WALLACE, GUEST HOST: President Obama late this afternoon leaving the door wide open to the possibility he may fire General Stanley McChrystal when they meet tomorrow.

And let's bring in the panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. So let's see how big of a deal this is, and to remind people, General McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, in an interview in Rolling Stone made disparaging comments, he or his top aides did, about the president, the vice president, the national security adviser to the president, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and the special envoy to the region. Is that insubordination that rises to the level of a firing offense, Steve?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, I think it probably is. In the first instance, it was unwise. What is interesting is that he didn't challenge the president's policy in the article. But did he make a number of disparaging comments that will probably lead President Obama to fire him. It's hard to see how he survives in that position at this time having made those comments.

WALLACE: One of the aspects of this, Mara, is just the question of judgment, of McChrystal making himself and his staff that available to a reporter for Rolling Stone, hardly a pro-military, pro-Afghan policy platform. It was just dumb.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: It was breathtakingly boneheaded. When Steve says he didn't question the policy, the policy is his policy. The president of the United States adopted almost lock, stock, and barrel, what McChrystal wanted. And the president put himself completely behind McChrystal's plan and he is over there carrying it out. I think it is just stunning to give a reporter like that access and talk that freely in front of him. Sure people always grouse about their superiors and people they work with, but this was really beyond the pale. And this does, as Robert Gibbs said in the briefing today, question the kind of maturity and the ability to carry out the mission there, even though it's his mission and everybody believes he is the man to carry it out.

WALLACE: Charles, the war in Afghanistan is at such a delicate moment right now, and Stanley McChrystal is, you could say that the president sanded away some of the edges, but he is the architect of the policy that the president has put on the table in Afghanistan. What do you think should happen to him? What do you think will happen to him?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I think, as you said, it is a very big deal because McChrystal was handpicked. He's not a holdover from Bush administration. In fact Obama relieved the previous commander, the first time we've actually relieved a commander in the field since the Korean War. So that was a big deal.

McChrystal is the one who presented the strategy that the president has adopted, and he obviously is the guy who is the most capable of carrying it out. I think it does not rise to the level of MacArthur and Truman. This is not that he was insubordinate in the sense that he refused to follow orders or contradicted them. I think it is extremely offensive to the tradition of respect that the military has to hold for the civilian leadership. So I think it's a fairly close call. I think Obama will likely fire him, but I think the best outcome would be -- and this was suggested by Daniel Foster of National Review and a few others -- this has been on the Internet all day today so there are a lot of opinions flowing out there. I think the best outcome would be if McChrystal shows up with a letter of resignation in hand, which he should, hand it to the president. The president ought to receive the letter and show it as evidence of the general's contrition, of his acceptance of the chain of command, and yet then say because McChrystal recognizing the error he made and the violation of the idea of civilian control is the best man in the national interest in the middle of the war with the troops in the field, I will retain him. But I'm not sure Obama will rise to that occasion. I think he should, but I'm not sure he will.

WALLACE: It's interesting, because that was a question raised at the White House briefing room, that Robert Gibbs said the U.S. war effort is bigger than any one man, including the architect of the strategy.

LIASSON: Even though everyone thought he was the best person for the job and he had so much credibility, and that was one reason that the policy was sold to Congress because they believed in Stan McChrystal, at this point it would be a really bad commentary to say he is the only person who can carry this out.

There are a lot of people who believe in the counterinsurgency strategy.

He has a cadre of people. But to have someone left in the field who let it be known through his associates that Obama, that the president of the United States was uncomfortable and intimidated in a room full of military officials, that is really undercutting him. And to have him continue in the job sends a signal that is not necessarily conducive to our winning in Afghanistan.

HAYES: And the White House has been back grounding reporters today saying he has a path to keep his job. What, if he performs and grovels well enough tomorrow? I think that's horrible.

I agree with Mara. He can't stay in this job in part because the war in Afghanistan will be won both in Afghanistan on the ground and in Washington over the next 12 months.

And the most important thing is to have the presidential buy-in, so McChrystal has to be able to speak -- or whoever is the commander has to be able to speak to the president in unvarnished way, giving him the best advice, and not be worried that he is damaged or not going to make the case because the president will hold this over his head.

KRAUTHAMMER: What makes McChrystal indispensable is not that he has a superior intellect or he's the only man to conceive the plan, but timing. He is now in place. The attack on Kandahar, which is supposed to be in place, he's the man working on it right now.

The disruption of the plans, particularly with the president having established a deadline of essentially next summer to begin withdrawing, is such that you cannot change commanders in the field without losing time at a time it's impossible and very dangerous if we do.


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