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JOHN KING, USA

Runaway General

Aired June 22, 2010 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks, Wolf. Good evening. The commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is on his way back to Washington tonight, his command and his career in jeopardy. I'm told tonight by a senior national security official that General Stanley McChrystal is prepared to resign if told the president has lost confidence in him. But the hope by most in the Pentagon brass is that he will be upbraided (ph) by his commander-in-chief, but sent back to continue the mission.

Washington is full of big policy fights and personality clashes, many of them are soon forgotten. This one matters. Quote "the darkest day in a long time around here" is how one Pentagon veteran put it to me this afternoon. Said another key player in the Obama War Council people are disappointed in the general and worried about the war.

At issue, as most of you know already, is this article right there, a profile of McChrystal in the upcoming edition of "Rolling Stone", "Runaway General" is the headline. And in the text there are swipes at the president and the vice president attributed directly to General McChrystal and scathing comments about other key national security officials attributed to McChrystal's inner circle in the Afghan command.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's clear that the article in which he and his team appeared showed a poor -- showed poor judgment and -- but I also want to make sure that I talk to him directly before I make any final decisions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says the president was visibly angry when he read that article and decided to call General McChrystal back for a face-to-face. The president's decision will affect not only McChrystal's service record, but more importantly a war effort that involves nearly 100,000 U.S. troops and at the amount is stalled with casualties on the rise.

Let's discuss the high stakes and the debate over whether General McChrystal should keep his command with CNN contributors James Carville and Mary Matalin, both of whom have advised presidents in crisis. Former Congressman Tom Andrews (ph) who is the national director of the organization "Win without War" and Caroline Wadhams, an Afghanistan expert at the liberal Center for American Progress. A question, first, Mary, you served President Bush, Vice President Cheney and that administration. In the Bush administration, would this general be allowed to keep his job and in this administration should he?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: The president said the right thing today which was let's hear his side of the story. He would not be the first one taken out of context by a reporter, a reporter who is notoriously against the counter insurgency strategy. But he also said that the general's fate will be determined entirely by the mission.

The president reasserted his support for the counter insurgency strategy. It is his policy. He wants to have a draw-down next year of troops which cannot take place safely without a successful counter insurgency strategy. So I personally, as a citizen of America, applaud the president and the commander-in-chief for putting the mission ahead of a personality clash, if that's what it ends up being.

KING: James, when you read this, what goes through your mind? Is it insubordinate? Is it rogue? Is it stupid, all of the above?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Probably all of the above and my favorite thing is, is that the only person who loses his job so far is the civilian press agent who arranged this and that's a perfect metaphor for the 21st century America. It's not that generals you know say things or (INAUDIBLE) generals say things. Look, I just think it's going to be very hard for General McChrystal, who obviously has an outstanding career as a soldier and a general, I think his career, his ability to be effective is pretty much shot by this.

And I, you know I think he and the president are going to have to have a real heart to heart, but it's going to be hard to see him continue. By the way, the big news in the story, I talked to the editor today and he's right, is the fact that there's this huge gulf between what the civilian people want and what General McChrystal wants and there is some sense that they did this on purpose.

This is not very reassuring to combatants in that or families that we have this thing sort of going public. So I just think it's going to be very, very hard. This was a colossal mistake on the part of General McChrystal and his staff and it's going to be very, very hard for them to continue. I'll omit the fact that a distinguished soldier's career is going to end like this, but it looks like that's what's going to happen.

KING: Caroline, you have written extensively about this policy. Is James right? Is this a personality clash? Is it a general blowing off steam, who is exhausted, who maybe has a big ego or is there fundamentally a bigger policy struggle that is at the root of this?

CAROLINE WADHAMS, TERRORISM EXPERT: I think this is a huge gaffe and I believe that General McChrystal has undercut both his strategy in Afghanistan and created even greater distrust among the alliance in NATO and among the U.S. team --

KING: To the point that he can't stay?

WADHAMS: I -- we'll have to see. He has to have a frank conversation with President Obama and Obama has to see whether he still has confidence in this general, but he has to weigh that against the great risks that we have, which are that we are at the peak of fighting season in Afghanistan. The violence has never been greater.

Afghan officials are being killed at unprecedented levels. Suicide bombings are going up. President Obama has to weigh these factors. Does -- can General McChrystal keep the U.S. team together, keep the NATO -- lead the NATO alliance with this kind of gaffe he's just created?

KING: Can he?

TOM ANDREWS, NATL. DIR., WIN WITHOUT WAR COALITION: You know it's not just, John, a matter of one general blowing off steam. If you look closely at this article, it's pretty scary. You've got his chief of operations saying that this war is not winnable. It's not going to look, taste, or feel like a victory. It's going to end as an argument, he says.

He's got his senior adviser saying quote and I'm quoting here, "If Americans pull back and started paying attention to this war it would become even less popular." And then, of course, the article describes this chaos with the diplomatic circles, everyone trying to jockey for a position, a corrupt administration in the Karzai government and an impossible situation. So this is just much more than a general just blowing off steam.

And listen, the timing could not be worse not just in terms of Afghanistan itself but, hey, we're in Washington. This Congress is about to consider a $33 billion supplemental appropriation that could happen tomorrow or the next day or next week. And if you're a member of Congress, how are you going to support that $33 billion with -- give this general, hand this general these $33 billion with all of the serious questions now with him?

KING: Well, to that point let's bring in a key voice in the Congress. Byron Dorgan is a senator from North Dakota. He's also a member of the Democratic leadership. He is the one of the people who would have to help round up the votes. The bigger problem would be in the House where anti-war sentiment is higher. But there are some Democrats in the Senate too who question the strategy when it was implemented out of loyalty to their Democratic president, a lot of them muted that.

Here is Byron Dorgan to our Dana Bash earlier today on whether General McChrystal should stay. He said quote, "If he said what was reported, the answer is yes, meaning he should go. We can't have a general calling the national security adviser a clown or whatever had been attributed to him with respect to Vice President Biden, the national security adviser and others. It's just unbelievably inappropriate and just can't be allowed to stand."

But Mary, in the politics of war, if you have Democrats in Congress now saying this guy can't stay, does that impact a president's decision?

MATALIN: Yes, particularly in an election year for a political president. But I will say again, the president at least said the right thing. And your other guest, Ms. Wadhams is right. If taking McChrystal out is going to undermine the president's policy, it's not McChrystal's policy. He's just executing the president's policy which he went way out of his base realm, if you will, took a lot of local hits from his own side for doing the right thing in Afghanistan.

If they replace him with somebody in theater, then they won't -- and there's no delay or they have a seamless transition, that's one thing. If they have a delay of a couple of months, as Ms. Wadhams said, we're at a critical turning point here. He'll never -- obviously will under -- will jeopardize the entire mission and in turn this shouldn't matter but it always seems to, to this White House will be really painful politically for this White House.

KING: We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, the president today was fascinating. Initially he gave a very brief statement saying I want to meet with General McChrystal, then I'll decide. Then the president decided he wanted to explain why this matters. After the break, you'll hear the president's explanation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: I covered the White House for a long time, eight and a half years, and something fascinating happened today. The president was explaining why he wants to sit face-to-face with his commander in Afghanistan and then decide whether that general should keep his job. The president said all right, the press was starting to leave the room, and then the president said wait a second. He wanted to explain in more detail what is at stake. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Actually, let me make one last point about this. Even as General McChrystal is on his way here, I want everybody to keep in mind what our central focus is. And that is success in making sure that al Qaeda and its affiliates cannot attack the United States and its allies. And we've got young men and women who are making enormous sacrifices, families back home who are making enormous sacrifices. And so whatever decision that I make with respect to General McChrystal or any other aspect of Afghan policy is determined entirely on how I can make sure that we have a strategy that justifies the enormous courage and sacrifice that those men and women are making over there and that ultimately makes this country safer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: (INAUDIBLE) agreed, Caroline, was the president saying that the strategy is more important than the person, if he and I can put aside our personality clash, he's the best guy, or was he saying it's not the general. It's the troops that matter?

WADHAMS: I think that he's probably still trying to make up his mind about what to do. I think he'll have to have a frank conversation with General McChrystal and decide whether the strategy, whether success in Afghanistan, however that can be defined, will occur moving forward with General McChrystal. He's going to have to answer that.

I would like to say, though, that one of the things that this article does do, which is unfortunate, is it really does distract from the major problems with the strategy itself. This article is largely about backbiting. It doesn't talk about the serious concerns that people have with the strategy itself. And those are the things that we should be debating, not comments about Biden or national security adviser --

KING: We're going to spend some time I promise you in the program, but we are having this conversation because of these comments, so let me bring some of them into the conversation. Here's what is in here directly from General McChrystal. Some of it is attributed to his aides and one of those aides was fired today, a press aide.

But here's -- listen to this one. General Stanley McChrystal first encountered Obama a week after he took office. According to sources familiar with the meeting, McChrystal thought Obama looked quote "uncomfortable and intimidated" by the room full of military brass. The first one-on-one meeting took place in the Oval Office four months later.

Quote, "it was a 10-minute photo-op", says an adviser to McChrystal. "Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was, here is the guy who was going to run the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) war but he didn't seem very engaged. The boss was pretty disappointed."

James, this general is not an amateur. He has done public relations. He hires his own staff around him. For this to have happened tells you what?

CARVILLE: It tells me he made a colossal mistake at that nearly end of his career and he's going to be remembered for this more than he's remembered for his great accomplishments as a soldier. And for him this is a kind of a personal tragedy for the country. If you're sitting there and you read this and you look at the sort of backbiting and infighting and disagreements and everything, you're saying gee, you know our troops and the young people over there who are doing such a tremendous job deserve something better than this.

And you know it -- this is at -- they're at a sort of cross road here, if you will. But I think the whole article was pretty depressing, that we're at this state in this. And by the way, you know he took over I think in May 11th, 2009. And it hasn't been -- from the way I see it, and I'm not an expert -- I'll defer to some of the people who are, but considering the U.S. press, it doesn't look like things are going all that well over there.

KING: And here's one more because we know in the ramp-up, the president gave him most of what he wanted. General McChrystal, he gave him more troops. One of those questioning that decision was the vice president, who was raising questions about would this be a quagmire. Here's something General McChrystal said about Vice President Biden.

McChrystal wonders aloud what Biden question he might get today and how he should respond. I never know what is going to pop out until I'm out there. That's the problem he says. Then unable to help themselves, he and his staff imagined the general dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner.

Are you asking what Vice President Biden -- are you asking about Vice President Biden, McChrystal says with a laugh, who is that? Biden, suggest a top aide. Did you say bite me. This is a general, a four-star in the United States military who as brass and brazen that's a quality they say is great because he rips up the old playbooks, but this is still the president and the vice president of the United States.

ANDREWS: That's right, John, and how do you give as your Congress $33 billion to a general that has such contempt for this administration and its policy, such contempt for this strategy. I don't see how you do it. If the president does not give him his walking papers tomorrow, don't even let him resign, but fire him, there's going to be serious questions in Congress about this policy.

This is chaos. Even General McChrystal himself, who was described (INAUDIBLE), the marginal (ph) operation as a model operation, now describes it as a bleeding ulcer. The fact of the matter is this strategy is not working. It's in very big trouble. And the last thing you need if you're an administration going before Congress asking for more money is this kind of debacle to hit the front pages of the newspaper.

KING: Mary, do you think he stays or goes?

MATALIN: I think he goes and it's not just the -- what your guests are saying about the congressional discontent. This is not the first time. It's not just what he said in this article. It's give him the benefit of the doubt that he was taken advantage of by this anti-counter insurgency reporter, but even if that weren't true or weren't the case, he has too often been too verbal in contradiction (INAUDIBLE) administration or getting ahead of the administration as Senator Webb pointed out today. So I don't know how the president could still have confidence in him but I come back to this point of the urgency of the mission and will it be compromised by whatever the president does relative to General McChrystal.

KING: We're about to run out of time, but Caroline, if the president changes commanders, if the mission is so urgent, if he changes commanders does that necessarily mean there a setback? That means you have delays. Everything will take longer?

WADHAMS: I think that it could be very difficult. General McChrystal has the confidence of President Karzai. He has the confidence of a number of the NATO allies. He's done a lot in terms of making the focus be more on protecting the population. But I do believe that the strategy as it is, the (INAUDIBLE) strategy is not producing results and there does need to be a rethink of that strategy regardless of who is in command and we should be talking about that strategy versus the general and what he said about certain individuals. How do we get out of Afghanistan without creating a disaster in its wake? Civil war, regional proxy fighting, and a security threat to the United States, that's where we should be focused.

(CROSSTALK)

ANDREWS: And this could be an opportunity for the administration, not just to dismiss this general but also to change course in Afghanistan. I think this could be a very important point in this war in Afghanistan, to turn around things that are really going quite badly.

KING: We need to end this conversation here, but we will know a lot more tomorrow night. I want to thank all of you for coming in. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation to Caroline's point. We'll go "Wall-to-Wall" and we'll look at the strategy in Afghanistan. We'll break down the numbers, what troops are there, where are they, how is the mission going so far and we'll talk things over with the highest-ranking military official to ever serve in the United States Congress.

Also tonight on our "Radar" the polls closed about 20 minutes ago in South Carolina. Two other states are holding (INAUDIBLE) runoff elections tonight. We'll bring you the results as we get them.

And a big court ruling today on the president's moratorium on deep water oil drilling, the White House lost on this one. You'll want to hear about that.

And in "Play-by-Play" tonight, watch the president dare Republicans to (INAUDIBLE) repeal, to run on repealing his health care reform bill. And when it comes to General McChrystal, the White House says all options, all options are on the table.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In "Wall-to-Wall" tonight a closer look at the fallout over General McChrystal's daring comments to "Rolling Stone" magazine and a closer look at the stakes because of the Afghan policy (ph). One of the remarkable things about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is because of Internet technology. Troops in the field can get the latest news instantaneously if the went to the Department of Defense Web site, for example, they would see right here Secretary Gates' statement on the McChrystal profile story.

Secretary Gates saying that McChrystal has a lot to explain. If you go to "The Marine Times" (ph) right here, tell us what you think. They are reaching out as we often do. Asking troops in the field what you do you think of this big controversy? If you move over to Military.com McChrystal's job at risk after article flap. Any troop in the field in Iraq and Afghanistan who gets a computer could read this as well.

And finally "Stars and Stripes", a very familiar name in terms of the military press right here, McChrystal forces Obama into a no-win situation. That is the coverage in the military press, what the troops see. Let's go back and take a look at Afghan policy right here. I'll start off on the top here about President Obama and Afghanistan.

In July 2008, when still a candidate he first traveled to Afghanistan; he was a Senator of course. In May 2009, President Obama replaced the commanding general, General David McKiernan with General Stanley McChrystal who is now in such hot water. And then back in December, you remember this, President Obama pledged an extra 30,000 troops to the Afghan war effort. Who is General Stanley McChrystal?

He's been in the Army since 1976. He is a four-star. Before Afghanistan he was the commander of the Joints Special Operations from 2003 to 2008, also directed the Joint Staff from August 2008 to June 2009 when he headed to Afghanistan. Importantly, as the president makes this decision, look at this -- 2002, 2003, you come all the way through 2007, then you had the spike from President Obama, troop levels in Afghanistan.

There are more troops in Afghanistan now, 92,000, than in Iraq, 85,000 as the troops there start to come home. And sadly, of late, as you see, you go back to 2002 and 2003, spikes in violence back there. Of late, since 2008 with the surge in troops, casualties have gone up as well. As you can see right here, it's a very tough time in the war effort as the president makes his decision.

Let's take a closer look now and have a conversation. Joe Sestak is a member of the House. He's a Democrat. He is running for the United States Senate. He also happens to be a retired three-star admiral. Excuse me, sir, for crossing in front of you, the highest- ranking military officer ever elected to either branch of Congress.

Let me ask you a simple question before I go to the map. In your view, can this general keep this command?

REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: He can if the president believes that he's necessary for the success of this mission. And that's what he's going to have to make his decision upon.

KING: Let's zoom in and look at the mission. As you see it play out, the green dots are the major stations for U.S. and other coalition troops, but this is largely. They call it a coalition effort. This is a U.S. military effort in Afghanistan right now, almost exclusively. You can see the June deaths, they're going up 38 U.S. deaths, 68 coalition, why is there a stall in Afghanistan right now? What is the problem?

SESTAK: Well, the real issue for it and I think at times we tend to forget, the speech that the president made a year ago in March, he actually said it's really about Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Secretary Gates in a closed hearing said part of the reason we have this and a major reason and increase in these troops is to help seal this border. So that as Pakistan goes from south to north Waziristan and after the al Qaeda up there, they will feel as though they are in a partnership for us because our challenge is not Afghanistan. It's al Qaeda and the safe haven there.

KING: But when you read this article, General McChrystal, is he just venting steam? Do you see major personality issues? Or more importantly do you see a policy disagreement with the civilians? Whether it's Ambassador Eikenberry (ph) or President Obama or someone in between? Is there a major policy clash that you see right now that is a fundamental problem?

SESTAK: First off, he broke a military code. You go into a commander's in chief's room and if you disagree you keep it there and that means the same for the men and women who work for you. You don't go out and say I don't like the cut of his jib. That said the general has by and large the policy support that this president -- by the president. There are some personality conflicts going on up there. People know that.

But the general should be able to rise well above that. General Eisenhower did it with General Montgomery (ph) as we went into Normandy. So the issue is not the policy difference. This general has been over there fighting both in Iraq and this war. It gets pretty tough at times and there is some venting that shouldn't have been done. It calls for dismissal, without a question, but this president, this commander-in-chief who supported this policy that this general wanted, has to make his decision.

Do we need him to be successful for the mission here? So if he keeps him, I think without a question the general is going to keep his mouth shut but that's the decision he has to make. Is there still a chance that this strategy of the president can work for our security?

KING: And if he replaces him, how much drift? How long would the drift be even if you found a fine commander to come in as soon as possible, how much drift would there be?

SESTAK: I think there would be a step that would be missed because Kandahar, as you know, we're going into this offensive right here; it's a very important moment. There are other generals that I knew, General Mattis (ph), for example, that could step in. But this is also a general who actually has changed the tables over there. Where the men and women know they've been asked not just to think about taking down an adversary but winning the hearts and minds of those who are here and I think the general has by and large the right strategy.

The question is, is it necessary to be successful to keep him there today. Look, other things have happened that have been worse. You remember I mean reading about General McArthur (ph); he circled over Guam and stayed up in the air until Truman actually landed, so the president would have to greet McArthur. But the general was wrong in what he did. This is all about, however, is this strategy going to help us destroy al Qaeda.

KING: (INAUDIBLE) Sestak appreciate your time tonight. We'll keep in touch as this goes forward. When we come back, today's most important person you don't know just lost his job because of this McChrystal story. And on my "Radar" tonight there's a big runoff election in South Carolina, the race for governor is getting the most attention. When we have results, you will get them.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Today's "Most Important Person That You Don't Know," well, he's the only person so far who's definitely lost his job over the General McChrystal story.

Duncan Boothby used to be the general's press guy -- emphasis on used to be. Officials confirmed to CNN he was forced to resign today. No wonder. He set up McChrystal's "Rolling Stone" interview.

Boothby is a civilian. The "Washington Post" says he worked for the general for roughly a year and hey, there are a few people around here who remember him, too. Boothby used to work for our one-time financial network, CNN FN.

The "Rolling Stone's" executive editor sums it up this way. The PR person always the first to go.

Let's continue our conversation about this controversy with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, and our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

Barbara, a lot I want to get to, but first, I just wanted you to take us through what had to be a dark and interesting day at the Pentagon.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think people's jaws dropped to the floor earlier this morning and they really haven't picked up off the floor since.

As I've been saying throughout the day, the most polite way you can describe any of this is, what the heck? What was Stan McChrystal thinking, allowing "Rolling Stone" into his inner circle?

It might be an innovative media strategy but it wasn't likely to be very successful. One of the things a general never wants to do, John, is cause the president of the United States a problem and he has caused Barack Obama one very big problem. And tomorrow will be the day we find out how it all sorts out.

KING: It will be the day. Let's listen to a little bit of the White House briefing, because Robert Gibbs was up at the podium and this familiar question kept coming.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How can the president keep someone in his job who offers that level of insubordination? Does he plan to fire him?

JAKE TAPPER, ABC NEWS: Does the president consider the remarks in the story from General McChrystal and his aides insubordination? (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's an interesting point, because I was having a conversation -- and Barbara, I know you could jump up on this as well because you know it so much better than I do. But someone in the military said look, you people -- you civilians' insubordination means one thing to you, it means something very different to us. Because it is part of their military code.

So I just want to show the definition of insubordinate conduct. "Treats with contempt or is disrespectful in language or deportment towards a warrant officer, noncommissioned officer or petty officer such officer is in the execution of his office shall be punished as a court-martial may direct."

And elsewhere in the military code, there are other references, Barbara, that if you are insubordinate to the president or to the vice president, you can have a court-martial as well.

STARR: Look, Stan McChrystal is not going to be court-martialed. The worst and pretty bad if it happens is he will be asked to resign. If he stays, the people that may next be shown the door, however, are going to be some of his senior staff.

These are the men that have been around him across the front lines of Iraq, Afghanistan, for years now. The very small close group of guys around him. The one who engage in that locker room chatter but made a fatal flaw of disrespecting the president of the United States.

Anonymously or not in that article, Stan McChrystal sure knows who they are and what they said. And it's going to be very hard to see how some of them can keep their jobs.

KING: And the whole town was buzzing about this today. Barbara at the Pentagon, we showed you some of the questions for Robert Gibbs.

Dana, you were on Capitol Hill. Some people were saying hold your fire. Some people were saying he should quit. What was interesting is, the Republicans who were the ones who -- more than most Democrats supported the president in his Afghan troop surge, they were a little reluctant to go very far.

I want to play a little bit of a Q and A you tried with the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: And I hope we can keep our eye on the ball here, which is to win in Afghanistan, and not get diverted off of -- off of that on these other issues that seemed to have developed.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator, you're suggesting by saying that -- that you want the president to think twice before firing the man in charge of that -- MCCONNELL: Well, what I'm suggesting, Dana, is that no matter how many different ways you ask the question, I'm going to give you the same answer.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So there -- some Democrats were willing to say, fire him. Others were willing to say, let's wait for the meeting. General McConnell -- Senator McConnell -- I just promoted him, I think.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Was saying, go away.

BASH: Yes, what was interesting about Senator McConnell and several other Republicans, how they reacted, is it's almost like they were intentionally vague and they wanted their response would be a roar shack test.

You just heard Senator McConnell talking about the fact that we shouldn't lose sight of what's happening. Well, you could read that as well -- you know, that means that we should get rid of General McChrystal because that could force us to lose sight.

You could also read it as, you know, we shouldn't get rid of him. So that was very fascinating because if you could see the politics and the political wheels turning.

But with regard to the Democrats, I talked to almost the entire Democratic caucus in the Senate today and almost nobody was willing to say publicly we want him to resign because they are reluctant to get in front of the president.

One senator did go ahead and say that. But what I'm told is that privately, most at least, Democrat senators, they think this is too much. They wanted him to go because they were worried about the president and looking strong. And they think that he does not look strong unless he fires him.

KING: Gloria, you've covered a lot of Washington dramas, and a lot of them are meaningless. A lot of them, a week later or two weeks later, you've forgotten about them. But this one really matters.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it does matter. Because first of all, this whole controversy is really not worthy of the risk that the troops are taking on the ground right now, and that's what this story is about.

And what the president was saying today is that -- that the United States cannot afford to have any ambiguity in its policy.

And the question I have, as a political journalist, is this symptomatic of something that's going on behind the scenes about our policy in Afghanistan? Is there a division right now between those who are saying OK, we're going to start the drawdown in July 2011, and those -- perhaps General McChrystal -- saying, you know what? Maybe we have to come back to the table and re-evaluate that.

So what the president is going to say to him tomorrow is, are you on board with this policy? This is my policy, and by the way, this was the policy you advocated.

KING: But, Barbara, you know this general. Which is it? Is this -- he blowing off team, made a big mistake, maybe his ego is -- you know, he tripped over his ego or his mouth? Or is this him airing a fundamental policy disagreement with the civilians all the way up to the White House?

STARR: You know, I take it first and foremost a terrible mistake by General McChrystal. Terrible judgment. Goodness knows what on earth he was thinking. But there is an underlying issue here.

One of the things not really discussed fully today was the part of this article where McChrystal goes down into southern Afghanistan, meets with some troops who have taken a lot of hits, a lot casualties. He tries to explain counterinsurgency to them and why he's asked them to fight the way he is.

Basically with one hand tied behind their back and they just stare at him. He -- the way the article recounts it, the way the author recounts it, basically, they don't applaud him. He gets up and leaves and that's it.

This is very telling. If the troops are not supporting the strategy of the White House, if they are not supporting the strategy of the war, if the troops are concerned about this, that's a much more fundamental problem, a problem for General McChrystal, a problem for the president, a problem for the Pentagon, that goes far beyond these salacious comments, if you will.

KING: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

Dan and Gloria are going to stay with for a minute.

When we come back, the South Carolina runoff. The results are starting to come in. Watch your screen. We'll bring them to you as soon as we get them. That's Nikki Haley. She's the Republican favorite in the race for governor. But got to count the votes first.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: More stories "On My Radar" tonight. Let's continue the conversation. Our senior political analyst Gloria Borger is with us. Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

We want to show some results -- some very earlier results coming in from South Carolina. The polls closed at the top of the house. South Carolina's Republican runoff for governor is the big race there.

Very early numbers from the Associated Press showed state representative Nikki Haley who nearly won the primary outright a couple of weeks ago is leading the fourth term congressman Gresham Barrett, 58 percent to 42 percent.

But, but, but, that's just 1 percent of the vote in. We'll watch that race throughout the night.

And Gloria and Dana, how significant is it?

BORGER: Well, it's really an interesting race to watch as a woman, first of all, because this is a woman who was accused of marital infidelity. And the man pushed the story and it backfired against the woman which was kind of interesting to me because I don't ever remember a woman in politics accused of this.

So it was -- it was interesting to watch it play out because it's never been done before.

BASH: And it's also fascinating to watch in terms of southern politics. You're talking about a 38-year-old female who is of Indian descent who is -- if you look at the polls, unless something extraordinary happens -- poised to be the next Republican governor of the state of South Carolina.

I mean who would have thought that this was even possible, I guess, just a few years ago. And that is the reason I think why -- one of the many reasons why people are so fascinated with a governor's race.

KING: Fascinating race to watch. Other interesting races in that state, too. Here's another one, though. A big legal decision. Can Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal says he's, quote, "very pleased" with the judge's ruling today that would block the Obama administration's six-month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling.

The White House isn't pleased.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We will immediately appeal to the Fifth Circuit. The president strongly believes, as the Department of Interior and the Department of Justice argued yesterday, that continuing to drill at these depths without knowing what happened is -- does not make any sense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So they'll likely -- in most cases you can get a stay of the district court pending your appeal. So anyone thinking the moratorium is going to be lifted tomorrow, wishful thinking?

BASH: Right. Not going to happen at all. As you heard, they're going to appeal right away. But, look, you know this because you were down in the Gulf. This has -- this has become such a huge issue, not just a policy issue, what we all discuss here in Washington about whether it's good or bad but it is genuinely a real economic issue for people down there.

They cannot work. Those are the people who made their livelihoods.

BORGER: You know, and it's -- the president has a commission now looking into this. And the commission can't go and study this for the next six months. The commission has to make an early decision about what the administration ought to be thinking on this issue because it is a matter of jobs, jobs, jobs. And this is a real problem for them.

KING: And yet the commission hasn't had its first real meeting.

BORGER: Exactly.

KING: Because they're still vetting and putting together all the people. That's one of the reasons people in the Gulf are so frustrated.

BORGER: The bureaucracy --

KING: They think, we want a decision now.

All right, we're going to take a quick break. When we come back, "Play-by-Play." In Washington, there's no such thing -- no such thing as a simple answer.

When we come back we'll breakdown the tape. The responses to this question. Should General McChrystal lose his job?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: If you're just joining us, here's what you need to know right now. I'm told by a senior national security official tonight that General Stanley McChrystal is prepared to resign if told the president has lost confidence in him.

McChrystal meets with the president at the White House tomorrow.

Two Senate leadership aides tell CNN the White House has just abruptly postponed tomorrow's scheduled meeting with bipartisan senators to discuss energy and climate legislation.

ANNOUNCER: Here comes the "Play-by-Play."

KING: In "Play-by-Play" tonight, let's continue on the question. Will General Stanley McChrystal be able to keep his job? It dominated today's White House briefing. Still with us to talk it over, our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash and our senior political analyst Gloria Borger.

You know, we've all been in the White House briefing room. Some days the one subject carries the day. Today it was, should General McChrystal get to keep his job. And Robert Gibbs was, shall we say, asked a lot? And his answers were interesting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Does the president consider the remarks in the story from General McChrystal and his aides insubordination? GIBBS: I think the president is looking forward to speaking with General McChrystal about those remarks.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is McChrystal's job safe?

GIBBS: We'll have more to say after that meeting.

TAPPER: But the president still have confidence that General McChrystal could run this war?

GIBBS: We should wait and see what the outcome of that meeting is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're waiting to see what the outcome of that meeting is. But he also said -- Mr. Mr. Gibbs said that there's a question as to whether he's capable as a commander, mature enough as a commander.

You know there's a great moment in the Clinton White House days where Mike McCurry at the podium said, the president was in a conflict with Louie Freeh, then the FBI director. He said I believe Director Freeh is doing the best job he is capable of doing, which is a --

BORGER: Yes, look, these were immature frat boy kind of comments. And it was very clear as Gibbs also went out of his way to say the president was angry. You know we've heard a lot about -- is the president tough enough? Does he get angry enough in the context of the oil spill?

Today Gibbs said to us, yes, the president was angry. And I think there is a question of whether his judgment was so flawed in bringing in this journalist, and speaking the way they did, and whether his aides were really parodying what McChrystal thinks and has said to then, that's clearly going to be a topic the president needs to talk to him about tomorrow.

BASH: And we were talking about the politics of this just like we were saying --

BORGER: Yes.

BASH: -- that, you know, I've heard so many times today on the Hill from Democrats is that they -- privately -- is that they do want the president to look strong, and however he thinks he can best play that, they're OK with that.

But the policy is something we cannot forget. Barbara was talking about that one part of the article that talks about troops worried that they're fighting with one hand tied behind their backs. Remember the context of this in terms of Democratic politics and policy.

The Democrats from the beginning has based, do not want to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. And already you're hearing, I mean, look, I mean this is just proof that, you know, maybe we were right. This is the wrong policy.

BORGER: And I heard from a senior administration official today who said to me, look, General McChrystal, one reason not to fire General McChrystal is that he has to own this policy because this was his policy that the president adopted.

He didn't send as many troops as McChrystal wanted but almost as many troops.

KING: In this article, somebody in McChrystal -- not McChrystal -- refers to the National Security adviser Jim Jones, who happens to be a retired Marine general, a former battlefield commander, as a clown.

I had Jim Jones as a guest back when I was hosting "STATE OF THE UNION" and another time when General McChrystal was in hot water in the build-up for the president's decision about sending more troops. Many thought General McChrystal was way too public in advocating his position, essentially, putting the president in a box.

I asked General Jones about that. He said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. JAMES JONES (RET.), NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Ideally it's better for military advice to come up through the chain of command and I think that General McChrystal and the others in the chain of command will present the president with not just one option which does, in fact, tend to have a, you know, forcing function but a range of options that the president can consider.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: And that's part of the reason, John, why this is -- this has really affected people so -- like it has -- not only because of the gravity of what the content of this article shows, but also, as Senator Jim Webb, I came up -- went up to him today, and I said, what do you think?

And he -- the first thing he said is this is the third bite at the apple for General McChrystal. One is what General Jones was talking about, the fact that he gave a speech in London before the policy came out and several -- a few other things. That is why there's no reservoir of goodwill for him.

BORGER: How many times can you take him to the woodshed? That's the question. He's been there once before. He'll be there again tomorrow.

KING: We'll find out tomorrow if this is his last time or if he buys himself one more chance.

Ever trash your boss and got back to him or her? Stay with us. "Pete on the Street" when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: A few minutes away from the top of the hour. John Roberts sitting in for Campbell Brown tonight. Let's get a preview.

Hi, John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, John. How are you tonight?

We're going to more on the fallout from that McChrystal interview. Also with the president going to battle for his offshore drilling moratorium, we ask whether the looming court fight pits the president against the same victims that he's trying to protect.

We'll talk with T. Boone Pickens about all that.

Plus the immigration battle now moves to Nebraska of all places. How one small town is protecting their jobs from illegal immigrants.

All that coming your way beginning, John, at the top of the hour.

KING: Time now for our offbeat reporter Pete Dominick. He is in New York.

And, Pete, this is usually where you take over but I was walking the halls this morning, our the question of the day is, you know, like General McChrystal, what can you say about your boss and get away with it?

I walked into an edit bay and found a little bit of what I will call insubordination.

PETE DOMINICK, JOHN KING, USA OFFBEAT REPORTER: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOMINICK: Is that your boss right there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's my boss.

DOMINICK: Wait, hold on a second.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you want me to tell you he's (EXPLETIVE DELETED)?

DOMINICK: He's a --

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOMINICK: John King, your hair's too perfect.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOMINICK: Follow me over to the magic wall. Look what we have here. And when we come back, the most important person -- you don't know. Never gives me enough time to talk at the end of our segment, too. I need more time to talk to talk with him, you know? I always get interrupted by the next show.

He's a Boston fan which has just got to stink. Your whole life, rooting for Boston fans. Celtics just lost. He was down in Florida and the wind was blowing like 70 miles an hour. He's got hair is like barely moving.

Steve, you're not rolling, are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

DOMINICK: Don't get any of this. I don't want to get in trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you -- trashes on your boss?

DOMINICK: Well, my boss is John King.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

DOMINICK: And I think he's the best reporter and journalist and host on all of television and I would never -- I mean I really respect him. I would never say anything about him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did you just now told me something else over there, but not --

DOMINICK: I don't know what you're -- what are you talking about?

(CROSSTALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Anything to say for yourself, young man?

DOMINICK: I'd like to tender my resignation?

KING: I'm not sure I'll accept it. I'm going to summon you to Washington for a meeting. I'm going to see if there may be a more painful outcome for this for you than your resignation.

(LAUGHTER)

DOMINICK: I don't know how -- I -- I was just joking around, you know, John. You got great hair. And you're really good. I got nothing.

KING: That's not going to get you out of this, Pete. But smile and go home and laugh. Say hi to the family. That's all for us. John Roberts standing by right now.

ANNOUNCER: CNN Primetime begins right now.