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).
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.
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.