June 22, 2010 — -- In his first comments on the controversy generated by Gen. Stanley McChrystal's comments in a Rolling Stone article, President Obama said the top U.S. general in Afghanistan showed "poor judgment," but that he wanted to meet with McChrystal face to face before making a decision on whether to fire him.
"General McChrystal is on his way here and I am going to meet with him. [Defense Secretary Robery Gates] will meet with him as well," Obama told reporters today. "I think it's clear that the article in which he and his team appeared showed poor judgment. But I also want to make sure I talk to him directly before I make any final decisions."
Sources tell ABC News that Obama administration officials are embroiled in an intense debate about whether to fire McChrystal, the top U.S. general in the war in Afghanistan.
The White House today harshly rebuked the general's blunt comments and said "all options are on the table" when prodded about McChrystal's job prospects. But White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said no decision will be made until President Obama has met with McChrystal.
Obama was more than unhappy after reading the Rolling Stone story Monday night, Gibbs said today. "He was angry," Gibbs said. "You would know it if you saw it."
McChrystal had not called the president, who believed the general had made an "enormous mistake in judgment that he's going to have to answer to," Gibbs said.
Obama recalled McChrystal following the magazine interview in which McChrystal criticized several top U.S. officials and said he felt betrayed by the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. McChrystal on Wednesday will explain his remarks in person to the president and his Cabinet in a monthly meeting that he normally attends via videoconference.
"The president will speak with General McChrystal about his comments and we'll have more to say after the meeting," Gibbs told reporters today, adding that the commander will have the president's "undivided attention tomorrow."
What bothered Obama the most about McChrystal's comments was that "we're distracting from what the president considers to be an enormously vital mission for our country and our forces," Gibbs said.
In a profile by Michael Hastings, published in Rolling Stone, titled "The Runaway General," McChrystal is characterized as an outsider who did not relate well with the administration, and as a military leader who was "disappointed" with his first meeting with the president.
The story has raised questions about the issue of trust between the White House and the man running the show in Afghanistan, which has now become the United States' longest war ever.
The article outlines the disappointment McChrystal felt at Obama and all the key players in Afghanistan.
"I think they were frustrated with how the policy was going, and I think it was an attempt on their part to get the message out on that frustration," Hastings told ABC News' Diane Sawyer today.
A debate has also been spurred about the impact of McChrystal's damaging comments on the morale of troops in Afghanistan.
President Hamid Karzai today threw his support behind McChrystal, painted in the article as one of the very few U.S. leaders on the ground who often sided with Karzai.
"If this results in his departure -- which we hope it will not -- obviously it is an internal United States government issue, but it will have lots of implications here in Afghanistan. The president will be very sad about it," Karzai's spokesman Waheed Omer told ABC News. "The president trusts Gen. McChrystal. He's been working very closely with the Afghan government, and he has won that trust."
Omer said Karzai discussed the issue with Obama in their pre-planned video conference, and "did express his confidence in Gen. McChrystal."
McChrystal's comments have been met with heavy criticism from both sides of the political aisle.
Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wisc., chairman of the House appropriations committee that overseas defense spending, called for McChrystal's removal, saying in a statement that while "anybody, including a U.S. Army general, is entitled to making a damn fool of themselves once," McChrystal "hasn't appeared to learn from his mistakes."
"His repeated contempt for the civilian chain of command demonstrates a bull headed refusal to take other people's judgments into consideration," Obey said. "That is damn dangerous in somebody whose decisions determine life and death for American troops and others in the region."
But outside of Obey, most lawmakers were subdued in their calls for resignation.
The general's comments were "inappropriate and inconsistent with the traditional relationship between Commander-in-Chief and the military," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement, adding that the decision concerning his future should be made by Obama.
Administration officials also skirted away from discussing McChrystal's future job prospects, but did condemn his comments.
"I believe that Gen. McChrystal made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment in this case. We are fighting a war against al Qaeda and its extremist allies, who directly threaten the United States, Afghanistan, and our friends and allies around the world. Going forward, we must pursue this mission with a unity of purpose," Gates said in a statement today, adding that McChrystal apologized to him.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen talked to McChrystal about the article Monday night. In a 10-minute conversation, the chairman "expressed his deep disappointment in the piece and the comments" in it, said Capt. John Kirby, Mullen's spokesman.
Vice President Joe Biden -- who one McChrystal adviser referred to as "Bite Me" -- did not comment, except to say he will have "plenty of time to talk about Afghanistan."
After news of the comments stunned the political and military circles from D.C. to Afghanistan, McChrystal quickly issued an apology for his "bad judgment."
"I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened," McChrystal said in a statement. "Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honor and professional integrity. What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard."
McChrystal has been reportedly calling nearly every figure mentioned in the article to apologize, including NATO allies, to apologize personally for his comments.
Duncan Boothby, a civilian press official in Afghanistan, resigned in the aftermath of the scandal. McChrystal's top press aide Adm. Greg Smith will be traveling with McChrystal back to Washington, D.C.
One of the article's most disparaging remarks comes from an unnamed adviser to McChrystal, who described the general's first meeting with Obama.
"Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was," the aide said. "Here's the guy who's going to run his [expletive] war, but he didn't seem very engaged. The boss was pretty disappointed."
In his apology, McChrystal said he had "enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team, and for the civilian leaders and troops fighting this war" and said he remains "committed to ensuring its successful outcome."
In the article, McChrystal said the president criticized him for speaking too bluntly about needing more troops last fall.
"I found that time painful," McChrystal said in the article. "I was selling an unsellable position."
NATO Calls Comments 'Unfortunate'
McChyrstal said he felt betrayed by U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry for the ambassador's criticism of Afghan president Hamid Karzai in a leaked cable.
Eikenberry would not comment when asked about the story. In a written statement, the U.S. embassy would only say they have seen the article, and that Eikenberry and "McChrystal are both are fully committed to the President's strategy and to working together as one civilian-military team to implement it."
A U.S. embassy spokesperson said McChrystal called Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, "to apologize for this story and accept full responsibility for it."
"Ambassador Holbrooke values his close and productive relationship with General McChrystal and the International Security Assistance Force," the statement read.
Hastings' story details the tense relationship between Holbrooke and McChrystal. On a trip to Paris, when McChrystal saw on his Blackberry that he had received an e-mail from Holbrooke, he groaned: "I don't even want to open it."
"The Boss says he's like a wounded animal," an unnamed member of McChrystal's team is quoted as saying.
Democratic Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee who was criticized in the article by one of McChrystal's aides, said today he has "tremendous respect" for McChrystal and that it will be up to President Obama to decide whether the general can continue to serve effectively in his position.
"Everyone needs to take a deep breath and give the President and his national security team the space to decide what is in the best interest of our mission, and to have their face-to-face discussion tomorrow without a premature Washington feeding frenzy," Kerry said in a statement.
An unnamed aide was quoted in the story, saying politicians like McCain and Kerry "turn up, have a meeting with Karzai, criticize him at the airport press conference, then get back for the Sunday talk shows. Frankly, it's not very helpful."
NATO officials were quick with their own response, noting that while "unfortunate," "it is just an article."
"We are in the middle of a very real conflict, and the Secretary General has full confidence in Gen. McChrystal as the NATO commander, and in his strategy," NATO said in a statement.
The nature of the comments to the magazine has rankled the administration because it's not about policy but about personal gossip at a time when the country is in the middle of a war.
Hastings said McChrystal was fully aware of the notebook and taperecorder that the freelance journalist always had in his interviews.
"It was a sort of natural kind of recklessness that General McCrystal had, that has been with him through his entire career, as I understand it, I hear from the special forces community," Hastings told ABC News. "Their willingness to take a risk is a part of their whole persona. And inviting me in, was a obviously a risk, as it always is when you invite a journalist in."
ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf, Jason Ryan, Ann Compton, Jake Tapper and Luis Martinez contributed to this report.