Adm. William Fallon's request to quit his position
as head of the U.S. 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 M. Gates said he believed
it was "the right thing to do," thus indicating the administration
On Monday, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell, asked whether Gates still
had full confidence in Fallon, would only say that Fallon "still enjoys
a working a good working relationship with the secretary of defense,"
and then added, "Admiral Fallon serves at the pleasure of the president."
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 accelerated the pressure on Fallon to resign.
But Fallon almost certainly knew that he would be fired when he agreed to cooperate
with the Esquire magazine profile in late 2006.
On Tuesday, Fallon issued a statement saying, "Recent press reports suggesting
a disconnect between my views and the president's policy objectives have become
a distraction at a critical time and hamper efforts in the Centcom region."
The resignation brings to an end a year, during which time Fallon clashed with
the White House over policy toward Iran and with Gen. David Petraeus and the
White House over whether Iraq should continue to be given priority over Afghanistan
and Pakistan in U.S. policy.
Fallon's greatest concern appears to have been preventing war with Iran. He
was one of 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
Gates chose Fallon to replace Gen. John P. Abizaid as Centcom chief shortly
after a Dec. 13, 2006, meeting between Bush and the Joint Chiefs at which Bush
reportedly asked their views on a possible strike against Iran.
Col. 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 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.
Even before assuming his new post at Centcom, Fallon expressed strong opposition
in mid-February to a proposal for sending a third U.S. aircraft carrier to the
Persian Gulf, to overlap with two other carriers, according to knowledgeable
sources. The addition of a third carrier was to part of a broader strategy then
being discussed at the Pentagon to intimidate Iran by making a series of military
moves suggesting preparations for a military strike.
The plan for a third carrier task force in the Gulf was dropped after Fallon
made his views known.
Fallon reportedly made his opposition to a strike against Iran known to the
White House early on in his tenure, and his role as Centcom commander would
have made it very difficult for the Bush administration to carry out a strike
against Iran, because he controlled all ground, air, and naval military access
to the region.
But Fallon's role in regional diplomacy proved to be an even greater source
of friction with the White House than his position on military policy toward
Iran. Personal relations with military and political leaders in the Middle East
had already become nearly as important as military planning under Fallon's predecessors
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 Dick Cheney was maneuvering within the administration to shift U.S.
policy toward an attack on bases in Iran allegedly connected to anti-U.S. 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 U.S. war with Iran, Fallon made statements on three occasions in September
and November ruling out a U.S. 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 Gen. Petraeus wanted. Fallon had a highly
publicized personal and policy clash with Petraeus, for whom he reportedly expressed
a visceral dislike. Sources familiar with reports of his meetings with Petraeus
in Baghdad last March told IPS last spring that he called him an "ass-kissing
little chickens**t" in their first meeting.
Fallon later denied that he had used such language, suggesting to Esquire
that the sources of the report were probably army officers who were indulging
in inter-service rivalry with the Navy. In fact, however, the sources of the
report were supporters of Fallon.
Fallon's quarrel with Petraeus was also related to the latter's insistence
on keeping U.S. troops in Iraq, even while the NATO position in Afghanistan
was growing more tenuous. Fallon was strongly committed to a strategy that gave
priority to Afghanistan and Pakistan as the central security challenges to the
United States in the Middle East and Asia.
Fallon made his distaste for a long war in Iraq very clear from the beginning.
He ordered subordinates to stop using the term "long war," which had
been favored by the Bush administration. He was reported to be concerned that
the concept would alienate people across the Middle East by suggesting a U.S.
intention to maintain troops indefinitely in Muslim countries.
Fallon's policy positions made him unpopular among neoconservative supporters
of the administration. One neoconservative pundit, military specialist Max Boot,
criticized Fallon last November for his public comment ruling out a strike against
Iran and then suggested in January that Petraeus should replace the "unimpressive"
Fallon at Centcom.
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.
IPS has learned that Fallon agreed to sit for celebrity photographer Peter
Yang at Centcom headquarters in Tampa Dec. 26 for the Esquire spread,
despite the near-certainty that it exacerbate his relations with White House.
That may have been a signal that he already knew that he would not be able to
continue to play the game much longer and was ready to bring his stormy tenure
at Centcom to an end.