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Clinton conspicuously silent on McChrystal flap

As various officials and lawmakers weigh in on the Rolling Stone profile of General Stanley McChrystal, one voice is conspicuously absent from the chatter: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "Only Hillary Clinton receives good reviews from McChrystal’s inner circle," the story reports, quoting an advisor as saying that "Hillary had Stan’s back during the strategic ...

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Getty Images
Getty Images

As various officials and lawmakers weigh in on the Rolling Stone profile of General Stanley McChrystal, one voice is conspicuously absent from the chatter: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"Only Hillary Clinton receives good reviews from McChrystal's inner circle," the story reports, quoting an advisor as saying that "Hillary had Stan's back during the strategic review"

As various officials and lawmakers weigh in on the Rolling Stone profile of General Stanley McChrystal, one voice is conspicuously absent from the chatter: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"Only Hillary Clinton receives good reviews from McChrystal’s inner circle," the story reports, quoting an advisor as saying that "Hillary had Stan’s back during the strategic review"

A State Department official told The Cable that Clinton and her staff were not contacted during the writing of the article; they found out about it Monday evening along with everybody else. But Clinton hasn’t issued any statement on the story, even though it directly attacks two of her senior staffers, Special Representative Richard "Wounded Animal" Holbrooke and Amb. Karl Eikenberry.

Clinton was also among the only officials named in the story who did not receive an apology call, presumably because the comments about her in the story were so favorable. Holbrooke and Eikenberry both got calls, which seemed redundant since both were in Kabul with McChrystal this week and even sat in meetings together with the General and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

There are two plausible explanations for Clinton’s silence. First of all, McChrystal works for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Clinton may not want to step on his toes by seeming to weigh in on an issue surrounding a military official. She also may not want to fuel speculation that she is gunning for Gates’s job, however unlikely that possibility really is.

"The secretary of state has backed McChrystal to the hilt, even going against her own ambassador, Karl Eikenberry. Her get-tough stance is fueling talk that she might replace Gates as defense secretary," the article says.

The other reason Clinton might be keeping silent is because she is preparing to defend McChrystal inside today’s Afghanistan strategy meeting at the White House, and criticizing him openly in the press would impair that cause. Clinton could be one of McChrystal’s last friends inside that room — and he needs all the friends he can get.

The State Department official declined to comment on Clinton’s views on the article, or whether she felt McChrystal should be relieved of his command. Neither Holbrooke nor Eikenberry responded to requests for comment on the article.

But State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was compelled to talk about the story when asked about it directly at Tuesday’s briefing. He tried to distance the State Department from the mess altogether.

"I think our focus is on the civilian component of the ongoing strategy," he said, adding that Clinton has read the article but hasn’t even told Crowley what her opinion is.

Crowley also sought to downplay the divisions among the president’s Afghanistan team, another signal that the State Department is not in favor of shaking up the command structure in Kabul, which could be hugely disruptive for civilian efforts there as well.

"In any team of heavyweights, you’re going to have different personalities," Crowley said.
"I just don’t think that this is going to distract us from our focus on the mission."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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