Fallon and Barnett Redux
[A]fter reading Thomas Barnett’s Esquire article on America’s Centcom Commander, I knew that William “Fox” Fallon would be forced into retirement. After reading the article, the men around that table would have thought as I do: that he was lucky he wasn’t fired. In truth, I would have busted him to Seaman Recruit.
Barnett’s piece has to rank as one of the most embarrassing portraits of an American officer in U.S. military history. Both for Barnett, as well as for Fallon. And that’s saying a lot. Written in pseudo Tombstone style — a kind of vague signaling that this is just-between-us tough guys talk — Barnett presents a military commander who is constantly on-the-go, trailing exhausted aides who never rest (oh, what a man he is!): Fallon doesn’t get angry (he gets “pissed off”) he doesn’t have a father (he has an “old man”), he doesn’t spend time (he does a “stint”), he doesn’t walk (he “sidles”) and he doesn’t talk, “he speaks in measured koans.” It’s boorish and, very often, it’s just plain wrong. Thus, Barnett: “If, in the dying light of the Bush administration, we go to war with Iran, it’ll all come down to one man. If we do not go to war with Iran, it’ll come down to the same man. He is that rarest of creatures in the Bush universe: the good cop on Iran, and a man of strategic brilliance. His name is William Fallon.”
Well, actually, yes — and no. The decision to go to war will come down to one man, but his name won’t be Fox Fallon, it will be George Bush. More accurately, the Constitution of the United States places foreign policy in the hands of the President as the Commander-in-Chief and the decision for declaring war is in the hands of the U.S. Congress. Fox Fallon’s role in all of this, as I am sure he must know, is to obey orders and to keep his mouth shut, a point that was undoubtedly made plain to him by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in the immediate aftermath of the publication of this article. And, we might imagine, Bob Gates put his objections to the article in the following terms: “Fox, just what in the hell do you think you were doing talking to Thomas Barrett?”
Fred Kaplan contends that such freelancing was typical of Fallon:
This is nothing like the case of Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff who had his career cut short by Donald Rumsfeld for telling a Senate committee that a few hundred thousand troops would be needed to impose order in postwar Iraq. Shinseki was offering his professional judgment on a strictly military question—how many troops would be needed to perform a mission—in response to a senator’s question. Fallon, by contrast, was challenging the president’s policy—and at his own initiative.
Kevin Drum asks himself a hypothetical question:
Do we really want the commander in Iraq in 2009 telling the press that President Obama’s withdrawal plans are likely to lead to chaos and need to be slowed down? Even if that’s his heartfelt professional opinion?
I don’t think so. Bottom line: I’ll stick with civilian control of the military, even if I don’t happen to like the current civilians.
It’s truly odd to me that Fallon was spouting off to Barnett; certainly, one doesn’t get four stars on one’s shoulders by demonstrating lack of self-restraint. Perhaps he figured he was on the way out, anyway, and his pension was paid in full.