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General McChrystal Clearly in Four-Star Trouble

Stanley McChrystal
Some lawmakers are calling for the replacement of Special Representative to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke (left) and U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry (right). AP

There are echoes of President Lincoln and General McClellan and of President Truman and General MacArthur as General Stanley McChrystal is summoned back to Washington to explain controversial comments about President Obama and key administration officials.

It's unclear whether McChrystal will meet the same fate as his military predecessors, but he is clearly in four-star trouble.

The White House is simmering over his comments in a Rolling Stone Magazine interview. And the controversy dominated headlines on a day when the White House had hoped to spotlight one of the president's top domestic achievements, health insurance reform as Mr. Obama held a mid-morning event to explain some of the health benefits of the new law.

In a sign of disgust among members of the Obama inner circle, an administration official told CBS News McChrystal was "ordered" to appear in person at the White house tomorrow to "explain to the Pentagon and the Commander in Chief his quotes about his colleagues in the (Rolling Stone) piece."

The general usually takes part in monthly war strategy meetings via secure video hook-up from Afghanistan. The article at the center of the controversy is titled "The Runaway General."

McChrystal is quoted as describing his first meeting with President Obama as disappointing. Mr. Obama is portrayed as unprepared for the session.

National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired army general, is viewed by a McChrystal associate as "a clown." The article describes McChrystal taking a verbal jab at Vice President Joe Biden.

A Biden aide says McChrystal personally contacted the vice president to apologize. But this is not the first time words about Biden have gotten McChrystal in trouble. Last year, Mr. Obama called McChrystal on the carpet for implied criticism of Biden in a speech.

The vice president had initially opposed the general's strategy to escalate U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Biden favored a narrower approach aimed at going after terrorists.

McChrystal staffers are also quoted as ridiculing U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and special envoy Richard Holbrooke, a veteran U.S. diplomat.

In a formal apology the general said, "It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened."

The controversy puts Mr. Obama in a very difficult position. He can't be seen as tolerating what some may view as insubordination, but the dust-up comes at a crucial moment in the U.S. effort to gain the upper hand in Afghanistan.

CBS News military consultant Mike Lyons, a retired army major, said, "I think that it is not truly insubordination however commanders have been fired for less."

As for the timing, Lyons noted, "This is the worst possible time that there could be this kind of rift between the president and his commanders in the field."

The commander-in-chief certainly has the power to sack McChrystal. The general's predecessor, General David McKiernan, was replaced by McChrystal when the president decided the military "needed new thinking and new approaches" in Afghanistan war strategy.

Reacting to the McChrystal controversy, retired General David Grange, a CBS News analyst, said, "when you speak out like that, you have to be prepared to take your uniform off."

Tomorrow's Situation Room meeting with McChrystal will likely determine whether he'll survive or follow in Douglas MacArthur's footsteps and ''just fade away."

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60 Minutes: McChrystal on the Challenges in Afghanistan Special Report: Afghanistan

CBS news contributor correspondent Peter Maer CBS
Peter Maer is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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