WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama rebuked his Afghanistan war commander for "poor judgment" Tuesday and considered whether to fire him in the most extraordinary airing of military-civilian tensions since Harry Truman stripped Gen. Douglas MacArthur of his command a half-century ago.
The White House summoned Gen. Stanley McChrystal to Washington to explain disparaging comments about his commander-in-chief and Obama's top aides. The meeting set for Wednesday was a last-ditch moment for the general once considered the war's brightest hope.
If not insubordination, the remarks in a forthcoming Rolling Stone magazine article were at least an indirect challenge to civilian management of the war in Washington by its top military commander.
"I think it's clear that the article in which he and his team appeared showed a poor - showed poor judgment," the president said, surrounded by members of his Cabinet at the close of their meeting. "But I also want to make sure that I talk to him directly before I make any final decisions."
McChrystal publicly apologized yesterday for using "poor judgment" in the interviews.
A senior U.S. military official in Afghanistan told The Associated Press the general 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.
The eruption comes as the war and public support for it are at a tipping point, a perilous time to change military leadership. A majority of Americans now say the war is probably not worth fighting, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that public dissatisfaction means the U.S.-led international coalition must show progress this year.
A crucial military push to pacify the Taliban heartland in southern Afghanistan is going more slowly than McChrystal had planned, and showing fewer solid results. Marines in Helmand Province are in near-daily firefights, months after a push there was supposed to clear out the bulk of Taliban fighters.
McChrystal has spent the past several weeks arguing that the U.S.-led military effort is gaining momentum against the Taliban, while Gates argued for time to show that McChrystal's many changes in strategy and tactics can succeed.
As support for the general drained in Washington, the showdown was set to take place in two parts - as part of Obama's regular monthly war meeting and a separate discussion with Obama in the Oval Office.
Several names circulated among Pentagon and Capitol Hill aides as potential successors. Military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the White House meeting, said the administration has not reached out to possible successors, but might do so Wednesday.