‘Runaway General,’ indeed

‘RUNAWAY GENERAL,’ INDEED…. As conditions in Afghanistan remain very much in peril, and domestic and international skepticism about the longest war in American history grows more intense, the timing of these inexplicable comments couldn’t be much worse.

The top U.S. general in Afghanistan apologized Tuesday for a magazine article that portrays him and his staff as flippant and dismissive of top Obama administration officials involved in Afghanistan policy.

The profile in Rolling Stone magazine, titled the “Runaway General,” is certain to increase tension between the White House and Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

It also raises fresh questions about the judgment and leadership style of the commander Obama appointed last year in an effort to turn around a worsening conflict.

I have not yet seen the Rolling Stone piece, but media accounts note that the article “depicts Gen. Stanley McChrystal as a lone wolf on the outs with many important figures in the Obama administration and unable to convince even some of his own soldiers that his strategy can win the war.”

McChrystal and his team, who the general allowed to speak to Rolling Stone on background, took derisive potshots at nearly everyone — NSA James Jones was called a “clown” and senior envoy Richard Holbrooke was described as “a wounded animal.” Vice President Biden is mocked and even lawmakers like John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are singled out. Of particular note, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, a retired three-star general, is apparently the target of the most intense criticism from McChrystal and his aides.

As news of the article began to circulate quickly, McChrystal fielded calls from the White House, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, all of whom were described as “not happy.”

Soon after, McChrystal issued a statement, extending his “sincerest apology for this profile.” It added, “It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and it should have never happened…. Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honor and professional integrity. What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard.”

McChrystal went on to say he has “enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team.”

Whether the feeling is mutual is very much in doubt. McChrystal has reportedly been ordered to get on a plane — he’ll be in the White House tomorrow to explain himself, or at least try to. It’s not an exaggeration to say McChrystal’s hold on his command is tenuous, at best.

As for what the general could have been thinking, Marc Ambinder has a good background piece, highlighting the larger context.