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McChrystal: Going Or Chastened?

UPDATED: CNN Reporting Gen. Offers Resignation; Heads of Defense Committees Downplay McChrystal Comments

So far, reaction from around the Beltway to Gen. Stanley McChrystal's comments as reported by Rolling Stone magazine is split down the middle.

Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, didn't voice direct support for the general but he cautioned against "a premature Washington feeding frenzy." Instead, he cautioned that, "It would be a grave mistake to allow this unfolding news drama to distract anyone from the mission at hand. Now is not the time for Washington to be sidetracked by chatter. Everyone needs to take a deep breath and give the President and his national security team the space to decide what is in the best interest of our mission, and to have their face-to-face discussion tomorrow....”

Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, that while is he “troubled" by the general's comments -- which he called "inappropriate" -- he also strove to downplay the furor to some degree. "However, it is very significant that, while the reported comments reflect personality differences, they do not reflect differences in policy on prosecuting the war. Personality differences can negatively impact the successful implementation of policy, and that must be avoided," he said in a statement.

Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, struck a cord close to Levin's, saying that while he "was disappointed by the Rolling Stone profile of General McChrystal" he said he hoped "we will be able to sort this out soon and move forward so we can get back to winning the war in Afghanistan.  Nothing is more important than defeating the terrorists who want to harm us.  That should be paramount."

One close observer of the Pentagon argued that the Obama administration may "realize he [McChrystal] is more dangerous outside the tent" than inside it. So, in the end the White House may conclude that, "they might be better off keeping a chastised general at the helm for what will probably be an ugly end game" in Afghanistan.

Loren Thompson, defense consultant and analyst, said the Obama White House would only hurt itself should McChrystal be fired. "Democratic presidents, particularly liberal ones, suffer at a disadvantage dealing with the military because they are perceived as being weaker on military issues," he said.  That vulnerability would rebound to the Obama administration's disadvantage. "The White House loses if they replace a battlefield commander. They just end up looking thin-skinned," Thompson added. On top of that, McChrystal "is a highly competent commander and it will take time to train someone else up to replace him at a time when that would be perilous."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued this statement, which seems to leave the door open for McChrystal to stay, after censoring him:

I read with concern the profile piece on Gen. Stanley McChrystal in the upcoming edition of Rolling Stone magazine. I believe that Gen. McChrystal made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment in this case. We are fighting a war against al Qaeda and its extremist allies, who directly threaten the United States, Afghanistan, and our friends and allies around the world. Going forward, we must pursue this mission with a unity of purpose.

Our troops and coalition partners are making extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of our security, and our singular focus must be on supporting them and succeeding in Afghanistan without such distractions. 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.

Meanwhile, our first efforts at a short list should McChrystal need replacing has yielded one name: Marine Gen. John Allen, the deputy under Gen. Petraeus at Central Command.

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