Afghanistan war commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal privately discussed his blistering interview with President Barack Obama Wednesday, but his fate remained unknown as a formal White House war session got under way as planned.
McChrystal was seen leaving the West Wing and climbing into a van after his nearly half-hour showdown with the president. McChrystal had met earlier at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen.
With Washington abuzz over the McChrystal controversy, there was an almost complete lockdown at the White House on information about the morning's developments.
The general was not seen returning to the White House for the Afghanistan strategy session, as he has been expected. And though Obama was expected to make an announcement on McChrystal's future at some point Wednesday, there was no word from presidential aides on when — or if — that would happen.
Before the White House meeting, two military officials said McChrystal went in prepared to submit his resignation. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
"I think it's clear that the article in which he and his team appeared ... showed poor judgment," Obama said Tuesday at the close of an unrelated Cabinet meeting. "But I also want to make sure that I talk to him directly before I make any final decisions."
Obama summoned McChrystal to Washington from Afghanistan after learning of scathing, mocking comments from the general and his inner circle about administration officials, including the president. The White House rebuke of McChrystal on Tuesday suggested that it would be hard for him to give an explanation that would be enough to save his job.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed his confidence in McChrystal during a video conference Tuesday night with Obama, Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar said Wednesday in Kabul. "We hope there is not a change of leadership of the international forces here in Afghanistan," Omar told reporters.
In the article in Rolling Stone magazine, McChrystal did not criticize Obama himself but called the period last year when the president was deciding whether to approve more troops "painful" and said Obama appeared ready to hand him an "unsellable" position.
McChrystal also said he was "betrayed" by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, the man the White House chose to be his diplomatic partner in Afghanistan. He accused Eikenberry of raising doubts about Karzai only to give himself cover in case the U.S. effort failed. "Now, if we fail, they can say 'I told you so,'" McChrystal told the magazine. And he was quoted mocking Vice President Joe Biden.
If not insubordination, the remarks — as well as even sharper commentary about Obama and his White House from several in McChrystal's inner circle — were at least an indirect and extraordinary challenge. The capital has not seen a similar public contretemps between a president and a top wartime commander since Harry Truman stripped Gen. Douglas MacArthur of his command more than a half-century ago after disagreements over Korean War strategy.
Notably, neither McChrystal nor his team questioned the accuracy of the story or the quotes in it. McChrystal issued an apology.
Military leaders rarely challenge their commanders in chief publicly. When they do, consequences tend to be more severe than a scolding.
Indeed, the presidential spokesman's prepared reaction to the article was remarkably revealing, even for the normally coded language of Washington. Press secretary Robert Gibbs repeatedly declined to say McChrystal's job was safe, and questioned whether McChrystal is "capable and mature enough" to lead the war.
Gates, one of McChrystal's biggest backers, said in a statement that McChrystal had made "a significant mistake."
A senior U.S. military official in Afghanistan told The Associated Press that McChrystal — who had not spoken with Obama on the matter before Wednesday — has been given no indication that he'll be fired but no assurance he won't be. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions between Washington and the general's office in Kabul.
Obama raised the issue of McChrystal's future in a phone call with British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday night, Cameron's office said Wednesday without disclosing what was said. Britain has about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, the largest international force after the United States.
McChrystal was viewed as a visionary with the guts and smarts to turn around the beleaguered, 8-year-old Afghanistan war when he was chosen to take over last year.
But despite his military achievements, he has a history of making waves. This is not his first brush with Obama's anger. Last year, the president scolded McChrystal for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops.