The NATO commander in Afghanistan was summoned to Washington last night faced with the prospect of losing his job over a series of disrespectful remarks made by himself and his military staff to Rolling Stone magazine about his political bosses, including President Barack Obama.
General Stanley McChrystal was ordered back to explain himself to the President, who is said to be seething with anger at the article.
White House Press secretary Robert Gibbs said that “the magnitude and the greatness of the mistakes here are profound”. Of General McChrystal's future, he added: “We will have more to say after that meeting.”
One Pentagon official, speaking anonymously, said: “The President wants to have a conversation. We'll see where it goes from there.”
The controversy has sprung from an extraordinary Rolling Stone profile of General McChrystal due on newsstands this Friday. Called ‘Runaway General’, it includes comments attributed to the general and his aides as they voiced doubts about national security figures in Washington including the President and vice-President Joe Biden.
While the profile does not suggest policy differences between General McChrystal and Mr Obama and his security team, it contains cheap pot-shots aimed at the politicians.
The most damaging passages in the eight-page profile by reporter Michael Hastings may be those describing McChrystal's feelings about his commander-in-chief. An aide is quoted as saying that the general found Mr Obama to be “uncomfortable and intimidated” before the country's top military brass at a meeting in the Pentagon early in his presidency.
An aide reportedly also spoke of the general's disappointment after having his first face-to-face meeting with Mr Obama shortly after taking the top military post in Afghanistan. “It was a 10-minute photo op,” the aide is quoted as saying. “Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was. Here's the guy who is going to run his f***ing war, but he didn't seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed.”
Before leaving Kabul, General McChrystal issued a statement apologising for the article.