Gen. McChrystal gets a rare chance to speak with the commander-in-chief

On “60 Minutes” Sunday, General Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, revealed that he had spoken only once with President Obama in the last 70 days, even as the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating and the White House is considering an increase in American troops. Now, it looks like McChrystal will have another chance to speak, although not one-on-one, with the president tomorrow, when McChrystal will be part of the national security team meeting on Afghanistan. (The general will participate by videoconference from Afghanistan.)

At today's briefing, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs fended off criticism that Obama should speak more often to his top officer in such a critical conflict. “The president receives a memo every week from Gen. McChrystal, as he does from Gen. Odierno [the top U.S. officer in Iraq], an update on how things are going in Afghanistan or Iraq, respectively,” Gibbs explained. “As well as each of those memos, the president meets…regularly with the chain of command.”

Still, a few reporters were curious why Obama and McChrystal have not had more contact. “Is there a reason why the president hasn't actually spoken with Gen. McChrystal, except for the one time, since June?” Gibbs was asked. “President Bush obviously spoke with his commanders every week.”

“I think the president has — receives tremendous input from the commanders on the ground,” said Gibbs, “receives input from regional commanders like Gen. Petreaus at Central; talks and meets weekly with, as I said the chair of the Joint Chiefs, or the vice chair, if Adm. Mullen is traveling; and meets weekly with the head of that chain of command, Secretary Gates, often.”

“How does the president view Gen. McChrystal at this point?” a reporter asked. “Arguably, the general put him in a political box.”

“No, the president is intent on getting the decision that has to be made right, focusing our effort and our resources on ensuring that we have the best strategy possible,” Gibbs answered. “Understand…the president signed off on putting Gen. McChrystal where he is.”

“Does he regret it?”

“No, not at all.”

The revelation that the president has met only once with McChrystal brought the White House under a new wave of criticism this week. Critics asked how Obama has time to go to Denmark to pitch for the Olympics, or to play golf regularly, or to appear on the David Letterman show, and not have time to talk to his top general in Afghanistan. The White House points to the new round of meetings as evidence that Obama is deeply involved in the issue.
 

AfghanistanBarack ObamaBeltway ConfidentialUS

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