Mr. President, meet General McChrystal. General, meet your commander-in-chief.
President Obama huddled privately with his entire national security team for three hours this afternoon -- and spoke directly for only the second time with the top US commander in Afghanistan. And even this time, Stanley McChrystal wasn't be there in person, but via a secure videoconference link.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs tonight issued this report of the private session:
"In todayís meeting, the President engaged his national security team in a candid assessment of the progress that has been made and the challenges we still face in Afghanistan and Pakistan since the President's strategy was announced in March. As a part of this review, the President will consult with his national security team, including his military commanders, civilian leadership, and Ambassadors in the region. He will also consult closely with our Allies and with the United States Congress.
"As the U.S. aggressively confronts al Qaeda and its leadership around the world, the President has set a clear goal in Afghanistan: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and their extremist allies. When it come to decisions as important as keeping this country safe and putting our troops into harmís way, the President has made it clear that he will rigorously assess our progress. That is why he held this meeting today and will take the next several weeks to review our strategy.
"This was the second of five scheduled intensive sessions with National Security Council as well as field commanders and regional ambassadors. The President has also directed his inter-agency team to provide regular consultation sessions with Congress, during this period, starting with Gen. Jonesí briefing of all US senators this evening."
Gibbs said Obama will meet again with his national security team to discuss Afghanistan and Pakistan on Oct. 7.
The Associated Press reports that Obama made no decisions during the meeting.
The AP quotes a senior administration official saying that the president pushed for specifics and details, focusing on what the goals of the US strategy should be. The official, who was involved in the session, said no decisions about increased troop levels were discussed.
The other top officials who were supposed to be in attendance, either in person or via video hookup: Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, special envoy Richard Holbrooke, Joint Chiefs chairman Michael Mullen, Central Command General David Petraeus, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, CIA Director Leon Panetta, National Security Adviser James Jones,
US ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, and US ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson.
It was an unusual gathering in the White House situation room -- the top-secret retreat seen only in movies and TV, where the president is responding to one world crisis or another.
Obama is trying to find the right US strategy after eight years of war in Afghanistan -- even as he is buffeted from the left and the right over a pending request from McChrystal for thousands more US troops, on top of the 21,000 the president has already dispatched.
Senator John F. Kerry, a fellow Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is trying to prevail on Obama to take as long as it takes for the review of the Afghanistan mission.
"I am arguing that the president has the time and we have the time," Kerry told the Globe Tuesday.
But Senator John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, urged Obama today to quickly approve the request for additional troops.
"Time is not on our side so we need a decision pretty quickly," McCain, who is likening the request to the troop surge that turned around the situation in Iraq, said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "I think history is pretty clear that when the Taliban took over, it became a base for attacks on the United States and our allies."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.