Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

When the Brass Doesn’t Want to Fight

Admiral William Fallon's request last week to resign from his position as head of U.S. Central Command (Centcom) and to retire from the military was...

Admiral William Fallon’s request last week to resign from his position as head of U.S. Central Command (Centcom) and to retire from the military was apparently the result of pressure from the George W. Bush administration.

Announcing the resignation, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he believed it was "the right thing to do," thus indicating the administration wanted it.

On March 10, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell, when asked whether Gates still had full confidence in Fallon, would only say that Fallon "still enjoys a working—a good working relationship with the secretary of defense," and then added, "Admiral Fallon serves at the pleasure of the president."

The resignation came a few days after the publication of an Esquire magazine article profiling Fallon in which he was described as being "in hot water" with the White House and justified public comments departing from the Bush administration’s policy toward Iran. The publicity that followed the article accelerated the pressure on Fallon to resign.

But Fallon almost certainly knew that he would be fired when he agreed to cooperate with the Esquire magazine profile.

On March 11, Fallon issued a statement saying, "Recent press reports suggesting a disconnect between my views and the president’s policy objectives have become a distraction at a critical time and hamper efforts in the Centcom region."

The resignation brings to an end a year during which Fallon clashed with the White House over policy toward Iran and with Gen. David Petraeus and the White House over whether Iraq should continue to be given priority over Afghanistan and Pakistan in U.S. policy.

Fallon’s greatest concern appears to have been preventing war with Iran. He was one of a group of senior military officers, apparently including most of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who were alarmed in late 2006 and early 2007 by indications that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were contemplating a possible attack on Iran.

Gates chose Fallon to replace Gen. John P. Abizaid as Centcom chief shortly after a December 13, 2006 meeting between Bush and the Joint Chiefs in which Bush reportedly asked their views on a possible strike against Iran.

Col. W. Patrick Lang, a former intelligence officer on the Middle East for the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Washington Post last week that Fallon had said privately at the time of his confirmation that an attack on Iran "isn’t going to happen on my watch," When asked how he could avoid such a conflict, Fallon reportedly responded, "I have options, you know." Lang said he interpreted that comment as implying Fallon would step down rather than follow orders to carry out such an attack.

As Inter Press Service (IPS) reported last May, Fallon was also quoted as saying privately at that time, "There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box." That was an apparent reference to the opposition by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to a war against Iran.

Even before assuming his new post at Centcom, Fallon expressed strong opposition in mid-February to a proposal for sending a third U.S. aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf, to overlap with two other carriers, according to knowledgeable sources. The addition of a third carrier was to be part of a broader strategy then being discussed at the Pentagon to intimidate Iran by making a series of military moves suggesting preparations for a military strike.

The plan for a third carrier task force in the Gulf was dropped after Fallon made his views known.

Fallon reportedly made his opposition to a strike against Iran known to the White House early on in his tenure, and his role as Centcom commander would have made it very difficult for the Bush administration to carry out a strike against Iran because he controlled all ground, air, and naval military access to the region.

But Fallon’s role in regional diplomacy proved to be an even greater source of friction with the White House than his position on military policy toward Iran. Personal relations with military and political leaders in the Middle East had already become nearly as important as military planning under Fallon’s predecessors at Centcom.

Fallon clearly relished his diplomatic role and did not hesitate to express views on diplomacy that were at odds with those of the administration. Last summer, as Dick Cheney was maneuvering within the administration to shift U.S. policy toward an attack on bases in Iran allegedly connected to anti-U.S. Shiite forces in Iraq, Fallon declared in an interview, "We have to figure out a way to come to an arrangement" with Iran.

When Sunni Arab regimes in the Middle East became alarmed about the possibility of a U.S. war with Iran, Fallon made statements on three occasions in September and November ruling out a U.S. attack on Iran. Those statements contradicted the Bush administration’s policy of keeping the military option "on the table" and soured relations with the White House.

Fallon also antagonized administration officials by pushing for a faster exit from Iraq than the White House and General Petraeus wanted. Fallon had a highly publicized personal and policy clash with Petraeus, for whom he reportedly expressed a visceral dislike. Sources familiar with reports of his meetings with Petraeus in Baghdad last March told IPS last spring that he called him an "ass-kissing little chickens**t" in their first meeting.

Fallon later denied that he had used such language, suggesting to Esquire that the sources of the report were probably army officers who were indulging in inter-service rivalry with the navy. In fact, however, the sources of the report were supporters of Fallon.

Fallon’s quarrel with Petraeus was also related to the latter’s insistence on keeping U.S. troops in Iraq, even while the NATO position in Afghanistan was growing more tenuous. Fallon was strongly committed to a strategy that gave priority to Afghanistan and Pakistan as the central security challenges to the United States in the Middle East and Asia.

Fallon made his distaste for a long war in Iraq very clear from the beginning. He ordered subordinates to stop using the term "long war," which had been favored by the Bush administration. He was reported to be concerned that the concept would alienate people across the Middle East by suggesting a U.S. intention to maintain troops indefinitely in Muslim countries.

Fallon’s policy positions made him unpopular among neoconservative supporters of the administration. One neoconservative pundit, military specialist Max Boot, criticized Fallon last November for his public comment ruling out a strike against Iran and then suggested in January that Petraeus should replace the "unimpressive" Fallon at Centcom.

Fallon was playing a complex political game at Centcom by crossing the White House on the two most politically sensitive issues in Middle East policy. As a veteran bureaucratic infighter, he knew that he was politically vulnerable. Nevertheless, he chose late last year not to lower his profile but to raise it by cooperating fully with the Esquire article.

IPS has learned that Fallon agreed to sit for celebrity photographer Peter Yang at Centcom headquarters in Tampa on December 26 for the Esquire spread, despite the near-certainty that it would exacerbate his relations with the White House. That may have been a signal that he already knew that he would not be able to continue to play the game much longer and was ready to bring his stormy tenure at Centcom to an end.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist, writes for the Inter Press Service. His latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in June 2005.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Update was slow, but still no lag in the editor window, and footnotes are intact.     This has been updated – Bernard Lewis, who passed away in May 2018, was a renowned British-American historian of Islam and the Middle East. A former British intelligence officer, Foreign Office staffer, and Princeton University professor, Lewis was…


Bernard Lewis was a renowned historian of Islam and the Middle East who stirred controversy with his often chauvinistic attitude towards the Muslim world and his associations with high-profile neoconservatives and foreign policy hawks.


John Bolton, the controversial former U.S. ambassador to the UN and dyed-in the-wool foreign policy hawk, is President Trump’s National Security Adviser McMaster, reflecting a sharp move to the hawkish extreme by the administration.


Michael Joyce, who passed away in 2006, was once described by neoconservative guru Irving Kristol as the “godfather of modern philanthropy.”


Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration’s second secretary of state, is a long time foreign policy hawk and has led the public charge for an aggressive policy toward Iran.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Michael Flynn is a former Trump administration National Security Advisor who was forced to step down only weeks on the job because of his controversial contacts with Russian officials before Trump took office.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Trump is not the problem. Think of him instead as a summons to address the real problem, which in a nation ostensibly of, by, and for the people is the collective responsibility of the people themselves. For Americans to shirk that responsibility further will almost surely pave the way for more Trumps — or someone worse — to come.


The United Nations has once again turn into a battleground between the United States and Iran, which are experiencing one of the darkest moments in their bilateral relations.


In many ways, Donald Trump’s bellicosity, his militarism, his hectoring cant about American exceptionalism and national greatness, his bullying of allies—all of it makes him not an opponent of neoconservatism but its apotheosis. Trump is a logical culmination of the Bush era as consolidated by Obama.


For the past few decades the vast majority of private security companies like Blackwater and DynCorp operating internationally have come from a relatively small number of countries: the United States, Great Britain and other European countries, and Russia. But that seeming monopoly is opening up to new players, like DeWe Group, China Security and Protection Group, and Huaxin Zhongan Group. What they all have in common is that they are from China.


The Trump administration’s massive sales of tanks, helicopters, and fighter aircraft are indeed a grim wonder of the modern world and never receive the attention they truly deserve. However, a potentially deadlier aspect of the U.S. weapons trade receives even less attention than the sale of big-ticket items: the export of firearms, ammunition, and related equipment.


Soon after a Saudi-led coalition strike on a bus killed 40 children on August 9, a CENTCOM spokesperson stated to Vox, “We may never know if the munition [used] was one that the U.S. sold to them.”


The West has dominated the post-war narrative with its doctrine of liberal values, arguing that not only were they right in themselves but that economic success itself depended on their application. Two developments have challenged those claims. The first was the West’s own betrayal of its principles: on too many occasions the self interest of the powerful, and disdain for the victims of collateral damage, has showed through. The second dates from more recently: the growth of Chinese capitalism owes nothing to a democratic system of government, let alone liberal values.


RightWeb
share