Admiral William Fallon, 63, the first naval officer to head U.S. Central Command,
has announced his retirement after less than a year on the job. This has prompted
speculation among left-wingers that war with Iran is imminent.
That speculation was fueled by an article by Thomas P.M. Barnett in the current
issue of Esquire magazine, which described Admiral Fallon as the last man standing
against an attack on Iran:
"Well-placed observers say it will come as no surprise if Fallon is relieved of his
command before his time is up next spring, maybe as early as this summer, in favor
of a commander the White House believes to be more pliable," Mr. Barnett wrote. "If
that were to happen, it may well mean that the president and vice president intend
to take military action against Iran before the end of this year and don't want a
commander standing in their way."
But it probably doesn't. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen,
the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are also said to be opposed to military
action against Iran. Mr. Barnett seems to be, at a minimum, overwrought.
Admiral Fallon seemed to think so. The Esquire article was "poison pen stuff" that
was "really disrespectful and ugly," he told Tom Ricks of the Washington Post.
The admiral's difficulties stem less from disagreeing with President Bush's policies
than from expressing his disagreements in public.
"Admiral Fallon had rankled senior officials of the Bush administration with
outspoken comments on such issues as dealing with Iran and setting the pace of troop
reductions from Iraq -- even though his comments were well within the range of views
expressed by Mr. Gates," wrote New York Times reporters Thom Shanker and David
An egregious example is the interview Admiral Fallon gave last fall to al Jazeera
television, which undercut administration efforts to put pressure on Iran. Mr.
Barnett quoted copiously from that interview in his Esquire article.
"What Fallon (and Barnett) don't seem to understand is that Fallon's very public
assurances that America has no plans to use force against Iran embolden the mullahs
to continue developing nuclear weapons and supporting terrorist groups that are
killing Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan," wrote Max Boot in the Los Angeles Times.
Unnamed officials to whom they talked described the Esquire article as the "last
straw," said Mr. Shanker and Mr. Stout.
"The problem wasn't that Fallon was merely pushing back within the administration
against a policy he didn't like," wrote retired Marine Col. Mackubin Owens, now a
professor at the Naval War College. "The problem was that a uniformed officer was
actively working to undermine that policy after the decision had been made -- and
that he was also speaking out against the policy publicly while being charged with
Sens. John Kerry and Ted Kennedy, both Democrats from Massachussetts, said Admiral
Fallon's sudden retirement indicates President Bush is unwilling to listen to his
"The last thing America needs is an echo chamber of top advisers, especially on all
important questions of war and peace," Sen. Kennedy said.
Somehow I suspect that if there were a President Obama, and a senior military leader
publicly criticized his plans for withdrawal from Iraq, Sens. Kennedy and Kerry
would be howling for his head.
The real question is: To which of his military leaders should the president listen?
Admiral Fallon has denied referring to the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David
Petraeus, as "an ass-kissing little chickens**t," but there is no question relations
between them were strained.
"He fought Petraeus every step of the way, creating unrealistic demands and extra
work," the Los Angeles Times quoted a former senior Pentagon official who has worked
for both men as saying.
Gen. Petraeus was right about Iraq. Admiral Fallon was wrong. If one of them had
to go, the choice is clear.
Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute thinks Admiral Fallon fell from
grace for reasons less lofty than a policy dispute:
"I think it's fair to say Admiral Fallon was an object of scorn and sometimes
contempt by a significant number of his immediate subordinates," Mr. Ledeen said.
"It had nothing to do with Iran, or for that matter Iraq. Rather it had to do with
the man himself, his perceived competence, with the way he dealt with his