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ANALYSIS-McChrystal is the talk of Washington
(For more on Afghanistan, click on [ID:nAFPAK])
* Publicly chided by Pentagon's Gates, Obama adviser Jones
* Open airing of internal debate on Afghanistan strategy
* Republicans backing McChrystal, Democrats critical
By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON, Oct 6 (Reuters) - Nothing gets Washington's attention like a loud public debate among powerful figures, which is why U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal is the talk of the town.
The 55-year-old top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan has ruffled feathers at the Obama White House for making an open appeal for more U.S. troops in Afghanistan and criticizing an alternative plan floated by Vice President Joe Biden that would rely heavily on airstrikes against al Qaeda targets.
"The short answer is no," McChrystal said last week in London when asked whether the Biden approach was a good idea. "A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy."
Since then, McChrystal has met privately with President Barack Obama during Obama's quick trip to Copenhagen last Friday, a session White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said was constructive.
He has been publicly flogged by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who on Monday without mentioning his name said it was best for civilian and military leaders to "provide our best advice to the president candidly but privately."
And the White House national security adviser, retired General Jim Jones, scolded McChrystal, telling CBS' "Face the Nation" program that McChrystal's Afghan assessment was his "opinion" and that, "The president should be presented with options, not just one fait accompli."
'WAR OF NECESSITY'
All this is part of what has been a remarkably open airing of the internal debate on how Obama should proceed in Afghanistan. The president in August called Afghanistan a "war of necessity" but is facing opposition from fellow Democrats about sending a large infusion of U.S. troops there.
Differing opinions that have been discussed privately are finding their way quickly into the news media, weeks after McChrystal's own confidential assessment that the war will be lost without more troops was leaked to The Washington Post's famed Watergate scandal reporter, Bob Woodward.
"All the options are being considered and the underlying assumptions are being challenged," said an administration official.
And support or disdain for McChrystal's public stance appears to be falling along party lines.
Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said that earlier public input from generals in the Iraq and Vietnam wars would have helped turn around those conflicts.
"We have to turn it around and as far as General McChrystal speaking out, you know, we wish they had spoken out earlier in the Iraq war. We certainly wish they had spoken out during the Vietnam War," he told NBC's "Today" show.
Democratic Senator Jim Webb, a Vietnam War veteran, said McChrystal was out of line talking about war strategy in London a day after Obama and his advisers met privately about Afghanistan.
"I thought that was pretty odd," Webb told MSNBC. "He should've been one of two places. He either should have been in that meeting sharing his views inside a collaborative process or he should have been back in Afghanistan running the war."
The fact is McChrystal did participate in the White House meeting last Wednesday via video link the day before he addressed the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
Norm Ornstein, a political expert at the American Enterprise Institute, doubted Obama would sack McChrystal because Obama only put him in place several months ago and "you don't want to create the waves that would come with removing him."
"You want to continue the process, ignoring the breach of etiquette, ignoring the fallout, and systematically go through the options, and you want to do this in a way that doesn't in the process make it look like you're penalizing McChrystal for the point of view that he has," Ornstein said.
The last general who was in a position remotely similar to that of McChrystal was Eric Shinseki, who as the U.S. Army's chief of staff told the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2003 that several hundred thousand troops would be needed for postwar Iraq, a figure at odds with that of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Shinseki's influence waned in the Bush administration until his retirement from the military. Now he is Obama's secretary of veterans affairs.
Presidential scholar Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution said McChrystal will probably fall into line.
"We have one commander-in-chief at a time, and generals report to their commander-in-chief," he said. (Editing by Eric Beech) (http:/graphics.thomsonreuters.com/RNGS/OCT/AFGHAN.jpg) (For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: http:/www.reuters.com/news/globalcoverage/afghanistanpakistan) (If you have a query or comment about this story, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org)
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