Fallon Resigns CENTCOM Post

Admiral William Fallon has resigned his post as commander of CENTCOM in the wake of a controversial Thomas Barnett piece in the current Esquire (see Bush to Replace Fallon on Route to Iran War? for background).

Fallon Resigns CENTCOM Post Adm. William Fallon had been serving as chief of U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia since 2007. Adm. William Fallon has resigned as chief of U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia after more than a year in the post, citing what he called an inaccurate perception that he is at odds with the Bush administration over Iran.

Fallon, the head of U.S. Central Command, was the subject of a recent Esquire magazine profile that portrayed him as resisting pressure for military action against Iran, which the Bush administration accuses of trying to develop nuclear weapons. In a written statement, he said the article’s “disrespect for the president” and “resulting embarrassment” have become a distraction. “Although I don’t believe there have ever been any differences about the objectives of our policy in the Central Command area of responsibility, the simple perception that there is makes it difficult for me to effectively serve America’s interests there,” he said.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters at the Pentagon that he accepted Fallon’s resignation “with reluctance and regret.” But he added, “I think it’s the right decision.” “We have tried between us to put this misperception behind us over a period of months, and, frankly, just have not been successful in doing so,” he said.

Wow.

Gates is likely right that the perception that one of our combatant commanders is actively undermining the president’s foreign policy is dangerous. I’d rather have had Fallon, Gates, and company more strongly make it clear that it wasn’t the case before taking such drastic measures.

While I ultimately disagree with many of his recommendations, I’m a fan of Barnett’s work and think he’s among the most important thinkers in the international security space. I truly hope that the truth comes out quickly on this controversy and that it turns out to be an honest difference of emphasis. Otherwise, the reputation of one or both of these men will be seriously harmed.

UPDATE: More from Thom Shanker and David Stout at NYT, who are terming this an “early retirement.”

Despite the warm words, there was no question that the admiral’s premature departure stemmed from policy differences with the administration, and with Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq.

Mr. Gates acknowledged as much when he said that Admiral Fallon, in asking permission on Tuesday morning to retire, had expressed concerns that the controversy over his views were becoming “a distraction.” But the secretary labeled as “ridiculous” any speculation that the admiral’s retirement portends a more bellicose American approach toward Iran.

[…]

Mr. Gates said on Tuesday that Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey would take Admiral Fallon’s place until a permanent replacement is nominated and confirmed by the Senate.

I’m sure more details will be forthcoming over the next few days once Fallon is free to speak his mind.

UPDATE: Some bloggers note a postmodern strangeness to the explanation proffered for Fallon’s resignation. Spencer Ackerman: “According to the tidbit I just saw on CNN, apparently Secretary Bob Gates said that Fallon quit for the most postmodern of reasons: Fallon thought a recent, highly-controversial Esquire article portrayed him as in opposition to Bush’s bellicosity over Iran.” Matt Yglesias adds, “[T]here seems to be a mobius-strip like quality where it’s awkward for people to think Fallon is dissenting from the administration’s Iran policy, so he’s on his way out, though the administration and Fallon both deny that there is any such dissent or that any Iran policy changes are in the works.”

On the merits, Ackerman observes that “knowledgeable people on military listservs I’m on generally believe that the Esquire piece was overblown but generally accurate.” Further, “The Iranians will consider Fallon’s resignation to indicate that the bombing begins in the next five minutes. If the new Central Command chief is General Stanley McChrystal, who ran special operations in Iraq until recently (read: responses to Iranian activities), that’ll be a pretty solid indicator that Bush is going to make the most of his last months in office.”

UPDATE: Blackfive‘s Matt Burden, whom I met this evening, offers some interesting scuttlebutt: The resignation was prompted “not for disagreements with the administration about a looming war with Iran, but for some other internal ‘issues’ that have nothing to do with policy or the administration.”

And David Petraeus is indeed the obvious successor.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Cernig says:

    So Tom said Fallon was to quit (by being pushed) for his differences with the administration on Iran…and then Fallon quits, ostensibly because Tom said he had differences that supposedly don’t exist.

    Damn, that’s some fast spin. Now Tom Barnett gets the blame instead of Cheney.

    Regards, C

  2. Tlaloc says:

    I truly hope that the truth comes out quickly on this controversy and that it turns out to be an honest difference of emphasis. Otherwise, the reputation of one or both of these men will be seriously harmed.

    As I see it either both or neither will have a problem.

    Either Fallon did have problems with Bush’s stance on Iran- in which case he isn’t a complete retard and Barnett was right, OR
    Fallon is on board with the warmongering in which case Barnett was wrong and Fallon should be publically pilloried for incompetence.

    Looks like the former based on the update. Naturally being competent and working for Bush are mutually exclusive, so once Fallon’s secret got out…

  3. legion says:

    Does anybody know yet who the likely replacement will be? Aside from the SpecOps guy mentioned above, I haven’t seen anything in the regular press even speculating yet. It’s clear that Bush considers this a “my way or the highway” kind of position, but it’s also one that’s got to go through confirmation, so expect a lot of fireworks (and a lot of first-choice candidates saying “thanks, but no thanks” to that kind of scrutiny).

  4. Anderson says:

    Katherine at ObWi:

    Ackerman mentions McChrystal as a potential replacement. If he is nominated, the Senate should not confirm him without knowing more about his involvement in prisoner torture. He was the head of Special Operations Command while special forces task forces that did not answer to CJTF-7 were torturing prisoners in Iraq, & a former interrogator has told Human Rights Watch that he saw McChrystal at Camp NAMA.

    Lovely.

  5. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Anderson, do you mean torturing like waterboarding, or do you mean torturing like the kind your friend Saddam did. You know, applying electrodes to sensitive parts of the body or feeding one into a wood chipper. You know, that painful sort of torture. All who want to see a nuclear armed Iran, raise your hands. Which of you on the left think anyone can talk these suicidal maniacs out of their goals go stand in the corner.

  6. Ugh says:

    Apparently they think that the Iraq war, the subprime mess, and $110/barrel oil is not a big enough clusterfnck to leave the incoming Democratic administration. So let’s add Iran to the mix and up price of oil to $200/barrel.

  7. Anderson says:

    Apparently they think that the Iraq war, the subprime mess, and $110/barrel oil is not a big enough clusterfnck to leave the incoming Democratic administration. So let’s add Iran to the mix and up price of oil to $200/barrel.

    That would work! The subprime fiasco would totally vanish from the front pages!

  8. Tlaloc says:

    If the new Central Command chief is General Stanley McChrystal, who ran special operations in Iraq until recently (read: responses to Iranian activities), that’ll be a pretty solid indicator that Bush is going to make the most of his last months in office.

    Six months to take on a large mountainous country with a big standing army and established paramilitary groups, as well as an advanced air defence system, located in a geopolitical hotspot, with easy access to two of our armies that currently have their hands full, possibly in possession of supercavitating torpoedos our carrier groups are vulnerable to, in control of enormous oil resources, and with a strategic position in command of a key waterways we absolutely depend upon?

    Yeah, that sounds like bush-think to me.

  9. Triumph says:

    What has been the reaction of McCain?

    If he is pushing his candidacy as both supportive of Bush’s general foreign policy ideology but against Bush’s failed management of it, surely he has some views on this resignation.

  10. tom p says:

    New verb here:

    Can you say “Shinseckied”?

    (sorry for my horrible spelling… I am too tired tonight to make my searches more accurate)

  11. anjin-san says:

    For years now, I keep thinking Bush can’t possibly screw things up worse than he already has… and I keep turning out to be wrong.

  12. davod says:

    Golly:

    Bush Derrangement Syndrome is in full force this morning. I do not know why Fallon resigned. I do not even know what his role is in advising the president.

    I will say that he has been quoted as opposing any action in Iran for some time, not just in the article quoted. He has also been quoted as opposing the surge.

    I would suggest that his role in the military does not extend to publicly opposing US foreign policy.

  13. Triumph says:

    UPDATE: Blackfive’s Matt Burden, whom I met this evening, offers some interesting scuttlebutt: The resignation was prompted “not for disagreements with the administration about a looming war with Iran, but for some other internal ‘issues’ that have nothing to do with policy or the administration.”

    I don’t even know why you mention this–This Burden character offers absolutely no evidence for this claim or any insight as to what the “issues” might be.

    He must be the same “well placed source” who told you that Spitzer was going to resign on Monday at 7pm.

    Actually, I have heard that Fallon resigned because he is actually “Client 4” in the Emperors Club complaint. Like Burden, that is all I can say about it right now.

  14. Bob says:

    The BDS syndrome is in full force. The simple reason that many wish to overlook is that Fallon and Petraeus clashed over strategy and Bush clearly sided with Petraeus. The Prez wasn’t listening to him & He was facing another year of this and possibility of being pulled up to the Hill to testify on his thoughts where Iraq manning should be. Its clear he doesn’t agree with Petraeus. And so he did the right thing and resigned rather than testify.

    Plus there is the whole tensions from having an Admiral with no mid-east experience running CENTCOM, which is overwhelming Army staffed.

  15. Barry says:

    “Six months to take on a large mountainous country with a big standing army and established paramilitary groups, as well as an advanced air defence system, located in a geopolitical hotspot, with easy access to two of our armies that currently have their hands full, possibly in possession of supercavitating torpoedos our carrier groups are vulnerable to, in control of enormous oil resources, and with a strategic position in command of a key waterways we absolutely depend upon?

    Yeah, that sounds like bush-think to me.”

    Posted by Tlaloc

    Remember, it gets easier if one’s goal is not to *win* such a war, but to merely start one.