First Casualty Of The Iran War
On Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that CentCom commander Adm. William Fallon, who had been in the position for roughly a year, had submitted his resignation. Fallon's resignation came a week after news first leaked of an article in Esquire magazine by former Naval War College professor Thomas P.M. Barnett that suggested Fallon was the "one man" standing between the Bush administration and war with Iran and that it could cost him his job. "Well-placed observers now say that it will come as no surprise if Fallon is relieved of his command before his time is up next spring," wrote Barnett. Though Fallon publicly rejected the article, he told Gates upon resigning that "the current embarrassing situation, public perception of differences between my views and administration policy, and the distraction this causes from the mission make this the right thing to do." White House aides told the Wall Street Journal that "senior Bush administration officials saw the article as a sign that Adm. Fallon was trying to publicly undercut" President Bush. "It was seen as a form of insubordination," said one White House aide. While Iran has been the focus of much of the commentary surrounding Fallon's exit, Gates called Fallon's resignation "a cumulative kind of thing" that "isn't the result of any one article or any one issue." In fact, Fallon's public disagreements with the administration over Iraq may have had as much influence on his falling out of favor.
A DIFFERENT POINT OF VIEW: "There was no question that the admiral's premature departure stemmed from what were perceived to be policy differences with the administration on Iran and Iraq," writes Thom Shanker in the New York Times. Especially "where his views competed with those of Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq, who is a favorite of the White House." As a nominee for the CentCom position in January 2007, Fallon refused to endorse Bush's surge strategy, saying that he's "always been someone who felt more comfortable in smaller numbers." Since then, he has been a proponent of "developing plans to redefine the U.S. mission and radically draw down troops" in Iraq in order to "balance deployments across the volatile region" he commanded. Last month, after Gates endorsed a "pause" in troop withdrawals this summer, Fallon told the New York Times that it should only be "temporary and brief" and that U.S. strategy should shift focus to a "supporting, sustaining, advising, training and mentoring role." A "senior Pentagon official" told Slate's Fred Kaplan that Fallon's comments were "unauthorized," which Kaplan says amounts to "challenging the president's policy...at his own initiative."
'NOT HELPFUL' WHEN IT COMES TO IRAN: Although Fallon's preference for diplomatic engagement with Iran rather than saber-rattling has been echoed by Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen, Fallon's manner of delivering that message differed considerably from the administration script. In Barnett's Esquire article, Fallon says a narrow focus on Iran is not wise because "in a part of the world with 'five or six pots boiling over, our nation can't afford to be mesmerized by one problem.'" "This constant drumbeat of conflict" with Iran "is not helpful and not useful," Fallon told al Jazeera in September 2007. In December 2007, he told the Financial Times, "Another war is just not where we want to go." Last year, he was quoted as saying an attack on Iran "will not happen on my watch." In November, after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Fallon allowed it to be reported that he had "ruled out a possible strike against Iran and said Washington was mulling nonmilitary options instead." According to Newsweek, Fallon's main mistake was that he never included the caveat "of course, no options are off the table" in order to stay within administration policy.
RIGHT WING REJOICES: Right-wing war hawks are glad to see Fallon go. The Wall Street Journal Editorial board wrote yesterday that Fallon's resignation is "good news" because it will allow Bush to begin "to pay attention to the internal Pentagon dispute" over Iraq withdrawal. The New York Sun editorial board concurred, arguing that the "real news" of Fallon's resignation is that Petraeus might get to take over as CentCom commander. Writing an op-ed titled "Fallon didn't get it" in the Los Angeles Times yesterday, Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Max Boot ridiculed Fallon as one of the "guys who think they're smart" and is "undermining" Bush's Iran strategy. "Fallon makes it more likely, not less, that there will ultimately be an armed confrontation with Iran," wrote Boot. Writing for National Review, conservative hawk Frank Gaffney attacked Fallon as "a military man who has proven himself utterly unserious about the Iranian threat" and "had engaged in serial acts of insubordination and sabotage."