Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fallon Gone

The head of US Central Command, which controls the theatre of operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, resigned overnight after a dispute with the White House. 63 year old Admiral William Fallon Long was long critical of the administration’s hardline stance on Iran, and matters came to head last week in a magazine article portrayed him as challenging President George W. Bush’s Iranian policy. Defence Secretary Robert Gates mentioned the magazine article and quoted a letter from Fallon announcing his resignation which blamed it on “public perception of differences between my views and administration policy”.

Fallon resigned after a 41 year career in the military which also included head of Pacific Command. He began as a fighter pilot and flew missions in Vietnam. Appointed to his current role this time last year, he told his confirmation hearing by Senate Armed Service Committee that the US might have to lower expectations in Iraq. Fallon’s career ended publicly by what Time called “jumping onto a hand grenade to take the explosion and save his buddies' lives” when a magazine article portrayed him as the one man standing in the way of Bush in the escalating tension about Iran.

That public cause of Fallon’s resignation was Thomas P.M. Barnett’s 11 March article in Esquire magazine. The article claimed Fallon talked down conflict with Iran while his political bosses talked it up. Barnett, a former professor at the Naval War College, called him the “good cop on Iran” who has openly disagreed with the hawkish sentiments on Iraq from Bush and Cheney. They quoted his speech to Al Jazeera last year "This constant drumbeat of not helpful and not useful,” he said. “I expect that there will be no war, and that is what we ought to be working for.”

Fallon was picked out to head Central Command as one of the first acts of Secretary of Defence Robert Gates when he replaced Donald Rumsfeld. At the time Gates described Fallon as “one of the most brilliant strategic minds in the military.” Fallon’s previous role was as head of Pacific Command where he earned a reputation as a peacemaker with China. While Gates now denies Fallon was acting against the president, he acknowledged that the mere talk of a rift had made his job impossible.

Gates has also dismissed as “ridiculous” the suggestion that Fallon’s departure is a signal the US is planning to go to war with Iran. However, he did not expand on why he thought it was ridiculous. While the Bush administration accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons, Fallon talked up dialogue and resolution but also said the US would be prepared to enforce the Carter Doctrine and would “take steps” if Tehran were to attempt to block the Strait of Hormuz, the outlet of the Persian Gulf and much of the world's oil. Meanwhile, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Fallon's resignation showed that independent views "are not welcomed in this administration."

The resignation comes in the wake of news that violence in neighbouring Iraq has picked up sharply in 2008. The rise follows a significant decline in attacks in the previous six months of 2007. Tuesday was the deadliest day in Iraq for six months with 42 people killed. Eight US troops were killed on Monday, the worst single day for the military since 10 September. Morale on the ground may be shaky following the latest events. "I guess it will never end," one US soldier in Baghdad told the Washington Post. "Such evil." Fallon’s resignation may spread that evil next door.

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