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2010-06-23

Obama Considers Firing Gen. Stanley McChrystal over Public Criticism of Administration’s Handling of Afghan War Effort

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Ann Wright, retired Army colonel and former US diplomat. She served as deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Afghanistan, an embassy she helped open in 2002.

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The top US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, is in danger of losing his job over a magazine profile in which he criticizes several top Obama administration officials. McChrystal was summoned to Washington after Rolling Stone printed an article in which he and his aides mock Vice President Joe Biden, US ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, National Security Adviser General James Jones, and Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke. We speak to retired Army colonel and former US diplomat Ann Wright. In 2002, she helped open the US mission in Kabul. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The fallout from a controversial Rolling Stone profile of General Stanley McChrystal continues to intensify in Washington ahead of this morning’s meeting between President Obama and General McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan. The New York Times reports McChrystal has prepared a letter of resignation, though President Obama has not made up his mind whether to accept it when they meet. ABC News reports Obama has asked the Pentagon to make a list of possible generals to replace McChrystal in case the President decides to fire him.

In the Rolling Stone article, McChrystal and his top aides openly criticize the President and mock several top officials. Joe Biden is nicknamed "Bite me." National Security Adviser General James Jones is described as a clown. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke is called a "wounded animal."

While McChrystal may soon be fired over his comments, less attention has been paid to his actual military record. Prior to his time in Afghanistan, McChrystal headed the Joint Special Operations Command, where he oversaw a secretive program to hunt down and assassinate suspected terrorists around the globe. As the top general in Afghanistan, McChrystal successfully lobbied President Obama to vastly expand the war last year. McChrystal also recently admitted US forces are killing innocent Afghans at military checkpoints. He said, quote, "We’ve shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat."

To talk more about General Stanley McChrystal, we are joined here in Detroit by Ann Wright.
She’s a retired Army colonel, former US diplomat. She served as deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Afghanistan, an embassy she helped open in 2002.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Colonel Ann Wright.

ANN WRIGHT: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the Rolling Stone exposé of General McChrystal.

ANN WRIGHT: Well, this Rolling Stone article will be read by every single person in the military, for sure. This is one of the stunning reports of the behind-the-scenes of the staff, the senior staff, of a senior war general. And tragically, it’s a very unflattering picture of the staff, a staff that seems to be fraternizing with the General, junior people, lieutenant colonels and colonels that seem to have a buddy-buddy access to the General, which, on one level, with the Special Forces background that General McChrystal has, that may be kind of the culture there. But in the general military forces, you have to have generals that have good order and discipline in their units and that require their senior officials to adhere to a code of silence, really, in public on any disagreements that you have within an administration. You do that behind the scenes. And to be talking with a Rolling Stone's reporter in the manner in which these senior advisers have been doing is something of great concern to the military itself.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the divisions between the military and the diplomatic end of what is going on, of dealing in Afghanistan.

ANN WRIGHT: Well, the military component of US involvement in Afghanistan is — it's just overwhelming. The State Department side, the diplomatic side, is minor, honestly, compared to what the military involvement is. As much as the State Department has tried to gear up for provincial reconstruction teams, it’s still a very small element of it all. And if you look at really who the senior leadership of US policy in Afghanistan, even the US ambassador is a military person, a three-star general, retired, Karl Eikenberry. And, of course, there’s the rivalry, really, between two military officers, one who now has the hat of a diplomat or the pinstripes of a diplomat, but essentially it’s two military officers there in charge of US policies on the ground in Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about McChrystal’s history. For example, there are times, as the Rolling Stone article points out, that this general would have lost his job, that he has had many lives. Among them, in the representation, in the dealing with the death of the football star Pat Tillman in Afghanistan and the lies that surrounded his death.

ANN WRIGHT: Yes. Well, General McChrystal was a part of the crew that decided that the death of Pat Tillman would be covered up, that the death by friendly fire of Pat Tillman would be portrayed as a heroic effort to protect his troops from Taliban and al-Qaeda attack, when in fact it was well known on the first day that they were killed by friendly fire. General McChrystal was a part of the cover-up, of awarding to Pat Tillman a Silver Star based on false information, and then later on it was McChrystal that warned President Bush that he should be careful in how he characterized Pat Tillman’s death.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the policy in Afghanistan. This is critical. For example, the division between McChrystal and Eikenberry, that famous moment when the cables came out, the secret cables that the ambassador, also a general, a retired general, Eikenberry, had sent to the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

ANN WRIGHT: Yes, and when the Obama administration was doing its lengthy look at what their policy should be on Afghanistan, General Eikenberry, now Ambassador Eikenberry, sent a series of three very, very pointed cables saying that increasing US military presence in Afghanistan was not going to be what was needed by the US government. And it came right at a time as the — virtually the decision was being made to go ahead and have more troops go in, and ultimately 30,000 were decided by President Obama. But that was after the leak of McChrystal’s recommendation that up to 40,000 people be put in, essentially trying to press the President by this leak to commitment to a large increase in military forces, and then Eikenberry weighing in toward the last of it with three very, very important cables saying the military forces are not going to be it, that the government of Afghanistan is not a strong government, and that President Karzai himself is not what was called a strategic partner.

AMY GOODMAN: Where does this leave McChrystal, Eikenberry, the whole diplomatic side? Who’s in charge of the strategy in Afghanistan? That’s the question we are left with.

ANN WRIGHT: Indeed. And by how the US government operates, it’s not the military commanders that are in charge of US policies. It’s the — they are a component of it, but in countries like Afghanistan, the US ambassador, although in wartime the military component certainly has a large element of play in it, but right now the diplomatic role seems to be very low. You report that the British ambassador is — another British ambassador is on the verge of resignation over it, and this will probably be the third British ambassador to Afghanistan that has had severe criticisms of US policies and, hence, NATO policies in Afghanistan. And McChrystal is the head of not only US forces in Afghanistan, but also of the International Security Assistance Force and the NATO forces that are there.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s not only British officials and military personnel that have criticism of the United States. In the Rolling Stone piece, they quote a senior US adviser, saying the war is going worse than we realize. Quote, "If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular." That was the quote. Reporter going on to say still Pentagon officials are hoping that, rather than a withdrawal of troops, the White House will approve a third surge, that it’s going worse than they thought.

ANN WRIGHT: Yes. Well, when you have the General himself saying that this much-touted offensive in Marjah is now a "bleeding ulcer," when you have McChrystal himself saying that the offensive that was to take place in Kandahar needs to be postponed, you can see that the military strategy is definitely being relooked, that things are being postponed, because there’s not the cooperation on the ground of Afghan forces.

AMY GOODMAN: You were in Afghanistan. You were a fierce critic of the war in Afghanistan. A lot of the discussion about this Rolling Stone article, about, you know, catching the criticism of calling Holbrooke a wounded animal, because he’s always afraid of being fired, no telling what he will do, calling National Security Adviser Jones a clown, Biden "Bite me," also talked about President Obama as being uncomfortable when he met with top generals and not being prepared when he first actually met with General McChrystal.

ANN WRIGHT: Well, that sort of analysis of your commander-in-chief and to have that coming out publicly is — you know, it is ultimately the criticism of a president that, while one might hold those views personally, you certainly don’t put them out to a reporter. You don’t put them out so that the troops in the field will read the uncomfortableness that the senior leadership of the military has with their commander-in-chief. I mean, it’s all based on good order and discipline of the military and being subordinate to civilian leadership. And this is really undercutting any faith and confidence that the military should be having in its leadership and how it relates to the commander-in-chief.

AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Ann Wright, you’re a former diplomat. You were the former deputy head of the Afghanistan mission. You opened the Afghanistan US mission in 2002.

ANN WRIGHT: Yes. And at that time, I thought there was a window of opportunity that the United States might be able to help the people of Afghanistan through a short program of help on civic assistance, humanitarian assistance, but knowing full well the history of Afghanistan, that invaders and occupiers, no matter what your national reason for being there, have a short shelf life. And with the Bush decision to divert the resources into Iraq, that window of opportunity closed very quickly.

And now we are nine years into being in Afghanistan, and we see that, as much as most Afghans don’t like the Taliban, they also don’t like warlords that are part of the Karzai government, the corruptness of the Karzai government. And while they really don’t want to be allied with the Taliban, at least there’s some order and structure, and you know what’s going on with them. That’s the real battle that General McChrystal and US foreign policies in Afghanistan are facing right now, that the Afghan people really have no faith in what the United States is trying to do, nine years later.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about another issue, aside from just coming off the flotilla that tried to get into Gaza, and we spoke to you about that when you were in Turkey, when you had been deported by the Israeli military. I also wanted to ask you about the oil spill, the BP oil spill.

A federal judge has struck down the Obama administration’s six-month ban on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The White House imposed the ban last month, as the BP oil spill spiraled into what many have called the worst environmental disaster in US history. On Tuesday, US District Judge Martin Feldman called the suspension, quote, "heavy-handed" and "overbearing." A Reagan appointee, Feldman has extensive stock holdings in energy companies, including Transocean, which owned the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, where the explosion took place, and Halliburton, which also performed work at the site. Feldman also owned stock in two of BP’s largest shareholders, BlackRock and JPMorgan Chase. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the Obama administration will appeal the ruling.

    ROBERT GIBBS: We will immediately appeal to the Fifth Circuit. The President strongly believes, as the Department of Interior and the Department of Justice argued yesterday, that continuing to drill at these depths, without knowing what happened, is — does not make any sense and puts the safety of those involved — potentially puts safety of those on the rigs and safety of the environment in the Gulf at a danger that the President does not believe we can afford right now.

AMY GOODMAN: In a statement, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he’ll issue a new order reimposing the drilling ban. Salazar says he’ll detail the reasons for the ban to address Judge Feldman’s concerns.

But you were in a House — a congressional hearing room when Diane Wilson, a CODEPINK activist, got arrested, her hands covered in oil. Why were you there?

ANN WRIGHT: Yes. Well, I was there. I had been at the Congress all the night before. Diane and I stayed overnight in front of the houses of Congress to make sure that some citizens got some seats in that hearing room. Only ten citizens got in that room, one of whom was Diane Wilson, an environmentalist, a shrimper. She’s a boat captain. She’s been fighting for cleanup of oil spills and chemical spills in her bay in Texas for years and years and years. And so, I was there with Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK and Diane Wilson, who’s a co-founder of CODEPINK and also Unreasonable Women. And that’s where we have to be. We have to be very unreasonable. This whole thing of — I mean, a short-term ban on drilling is just a tiny drop in the water. We need to be out there saying a full-time ban on this deepwater drilling.

Also, Diane Wilson is in Taiwan right now. She’s going to a stockholders’ meeting of Formosa Chemicals, which polluted her bay in Texas. And stand by for news for that one. I’ll tell you what, Diane Wilson will be doing something in Taiwan that will be equally as dramatic as she did in the hearings in Washington, DC.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ann Wright, I want to thank you for being with us, retired Army colonel and former US diplomat, served as the deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Afghanistan. She helped open that mission in 2002. And she’s here at the US Social Forum.

We’re going to talk more about the US Social Forum and hear from people who took to the streets. More than 10,000 people across the country and the world marched through the streets of Detroit yesterday. We’ll hear from some of them. Stay with us.

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