Magazine profile captures unguarded moments of top general, staff

In a new magazine profile, the top commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, and his advisors appear to ridicule Vice President Joe Biden and are portrayed as dismissive of civilian oversight of the war.

The article, in Rolling Stone, said McChrystal’s staff frequently derided top civilian leaders, including special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry.

The detailed report on the top command in Afghanistan could worsen tensions with the White House, which in the past has felt boxed in by military commanders anxious to get more troops for the war. The article said that only Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton received good reviews from McChrystal’s inner circle.

McChrystal is reported as visibly exasperated by e-mails he receives from Holbrooke, appointed by President Obama to oversee developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke,” the article quotes McChrystal as saying after receiving one message. “I don’t even want to open it.”

The article’s author, former Newsweek writer Michael Hastings, said that McChrystal and his staff, while preparing for a question-and-answer session in Paris, imagined ways of dismissing Biden “with a good one-liner.”

“Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal said, according to the article, trying out a possible answer. “Who’s that?”

In a speech last summer, just as a White House strategy review was beginning, McChrystal appeared to criticize Biden’s argument in favor of fewer troops. Obama later dressed down McChrystal for his comments and for the implied criticism of Biden. The Rolling Stone report does not specify whether McChrystal was again criticizing Biden or possibly poking fun at his own difficulties last year.

Late Monday, McChrystal issued an apology for the Rolling Stone article. “It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened,” he said in a statement.