By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 3, 2009
A brief meeting between President Obama and his top general in Afghanistan on Friday offered the commander in chief an opportunity to question directly the dire assessment of the war effort there, officials said.
The previously unannounced meeting between Obama and Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal took place aboard Air Force One after it landed in Copenhagen Friday morning. McChrystal, who had been in London for a speech, was whisked to Denmark at Obama's request, White House aides said.
The relationship between the two men is increasingly under scrutiny as Obama weighs whether to accept McChrystal's recommendations for a major increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan. National security officials say Obama will decide this month, after a series of top-level briefings that began last week.
Until Friday, Obama had talked with McChrystal only from a distance, and had met him only once. Aides called the private meeting "productive" and went out of their way to say how fond Obama is of the man he chose to lead the war.
Obama likes McChrystal "very much personally," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters. He added that Obama "got a chance, as I said earlier, to meet and talk with his wife, somebody who obviously is, along with General McChrystal, making personal sacrifices in this whole endeavor."
McChrystal has spent much of the past two weeks putting enormous pressure on the Obama administration to back his calls for as many as 40,000 additional troops. The general's classified assessment of the war was obtained last month by The Washington Post and has freed him to advocate for it publicly.
In his speech in London, hours before meeting with Obama, McChrystal warned that refusing to accede to the request for more troops would be unwise.
Asked whether a scaled-back U.S. effort in Afghanistan -- an option favored by Vice President Biden and some of Obama's top political advisers -- would work in practice, McChrystal said, "The short answer is: No."
"You have to navigate from where you are, not from where you wish to be," McChrystal said after the speech. "A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy."
Aides refused to say whether Obama scolded McChrystal for his frank answer or his less-than-subtle campaign on behalf of his troop request. One adviser noted, however, that the meeting was arranged hastily after Obama realized that the two men would be close to each other in Europe during the president's effort to win the 2016 Olympics for Chicago.
"He hired McChrystal to do this job and to give him an assessment," Gibbs said in an interview Thursday evening. "From that standpoint, he's done everything the president hoped he'd do."
He added: "The president said that McChrystal understands that he put together an assessment, and he expects and wants people to ask him questions about that assessment so that we can get the right strategy."
Staff writer Anne E. Kornblut contributed to this report.