WASHINGTON – Admiral William Fallon’s request to quit his position as head of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) and to retire from the military was apparently the result of a George W Bush administration decision to pressure him to resign.
Announcing the resignation, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he believed it was “the right thing to do”, thus indicating the administration wanted it. Gates added that it would be “ridiculous” to suggest that Fallon’s resignation signaled that the US planned to go to war with Iran.
Gates said Fallon’s position would be filled by his top deputy, Army Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey, until a permanent replacement was confirmed by the Senate.
The resignation came a few days after the publication of an Esquire magazine article profiling Fallon in which he was described as being “in hot water” with the White House and justified public comments departing from the Bush administration’s policy toward Iran. The publicity that followed the article – titled The Man Between War and Peace – accelerated the pressure on Fallon to resign.
But “Fox” Fallon almost certainly knew that he would be fired when he agreed to cooperate with the Esquire magazine profile.
The resignation brings to an end a year during which Fallon clashed with the White House over policy toward Iran and with General David Petraeus and the White House over whether Iraq should continue to be given priority over Afghanistan and Pakistan in US policy.
Fallon’s greatest concern appears to have been preventing war with Iran. He was one a group of senior military officers, apparently including most of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who were alarmed in late 2006 and early 2007 by indications that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were contemplating a possible attack on Iran.
Colonel W Patrick Lang, a former intelligence officer on the Middle East for the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Washington Post last week that Fallon had said privately at the time of his confirmation that an attack on Iran “isn’t going to happen on my watch”. When asked how he could avoid such a conflict, Fallon reportedly responded, “I have options, you know.” Lang said he interpreted that comment as implying Fallon would step down rather than follow orders to carry out such an attack.
As Inter Press Service (IPS) reported last May, Fallon was also quoted as saying privately at that time, “There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box.” That was an apparent reference to the opposition by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to an aggressive war against Iran.
Fallon clearly relished his diplomatic role and did not hesitate to express views on diplomacy that were at odds with those of the administration. Last summer, as Cheney was maneuvering within the administration to shift US policy toward an attack on bases in Iran allegedly connected to anti-US Shi’ite forces in Iraq, Fallon declared in an interview, “We have to figure out a way to come to an arrangement [with Iran].”
When Sunni Arab regimes in the Middle East became alarmed about the possibility of a US war with Iran, Fallon made statements on three occasions in September and November ruling out a US attack on Iran. Those statements contradicted the Bush administration’s policy of keeping the military option “on the table” and soured relations with the White House.
Fallon also antagonized administration officials by pushing for a faster exit from Iraq than the White House and Petraeus wanted.
Fallon was playing a complex political game at CENTCOM by crossing the White House on the two most politically sensitive issues in Middle East policy. As a veteran bureaucratic infighter, he knew that he was politically vulnerable. Nevertheless, he chose late last year not to lower his profile but to raise it by cooperating fully with the Esquire article.
Here’s a bit of the Esquire article:
Past American governments have used saber rattling as a useful tactic to get some bad actor on the world stage to fall in line. This government hasn’t mastered that kind of subtlety. When Dick Cheney has rattled his saber, it has generally meant that he intends to use it. And in spite of recent war spasms aimed at Iran from this sclerotic administration, Fallon is in no hurry to pick up any campaign medals for Iran. And therein lies the rub for the hard-liners led by Cheney. Army General David Petraeus, commanding America’s forces in Iraq, may say, “You cannot win in Iraq solely in Iraq,” but Fox Fallon is Petraeus’s boss, and he is the commander of United States Central Command, and Fallon doesn’t extend Petraeus’s logic to mean war against Iran.
So while Admiral Fallon’s boss, President George W. Bush, regularly trash-talks his way to World War III and his administration casually casts Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as this century’s Hitler (a crown it has awarded once before, to deadly effect), it’s left to Fallon–and apparently Fallon alone–to argue that, as he told Al Jazeera last fall: “This constant drumbeat of conflict . . . is not helpful and not useful. I expect that there will be no war, and that is what we ought to be working for. We ought to try to do our utmost to create different conditions.”
What America needs, Fallon says, is a “combination of strength and willingness to engage.”
Was this the straw that broke the Chimp’s back? Is there something else afoot? A hand? An arm? From Ambassador Marc Ginsberg at The Huffington Post:
Fallon was different. He expressed unconventional views both privately and publicly that challenged the wisdom of Gen. Petraeus’ surge strategy in Iraq, and more than once dismissively contested a policy that promoted conflict over engagement with Iran. He considered his mission to look beyond the immediacy of these crises to provide a more strategic assessment of America’s global military challenges and options. Fallon’s views also represented inconvenient truths to the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain. Could be that McCain himself made it clear to Bush the other day when they met that he needed Fallon out before Fallon embarrased McCain, given Fallon’s positions that were 180 degrees contrary to McCain’s — but that is only my intuition.