"Reluctance and Regret Strikes Again--Purging the Pentagon Best--Admiral Fallon Retires Rather Than Bend
March 12, 2008
Mideast Commander Retires After Irking Bosses
By THOM SHANKER
WASHINGTON — Adm. William J. Fallon, the commander of American forces in the Middle East whose outspoken public statements on Iran and other issues had seemed to put him at odds with the Bush administration, is retiring early, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.
Admiral Fallon had rankled senior officials of the Bush administration in recent months with comments that emphasized diplomacy over conflict in dealing with Iran, that endorsed further troop withdrawals from Iraq beyond those already under way and that suggested the United States had taken its eye off the military mission in Afghanistan.
A senior administration official said that, taken together, the comments “left the perception he had a different foreign policy than the president.”
Admiral Fallon, 63, took over the Central Command only a year ago, becoming the first admiral to become the top officer there. In a statement issued by his headquarters, he acknowledged that “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” across his region.
His premature retirement was announced by his civilian boss, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who said he accepted the admiral’s request to retire “with reluctance and regret.”
Four Star Admiral William J. Fallon has been forced into early retirement. The United States military is subordinate to its civilian leaders, as Harry Truman proved so shockingly (but correctly) in firing Five Star General Douglas MacArthur.
Yet the controversy persists over the proper degree of straight talk that is appropriate between the military and its Commander in Chief. It's a hard time to judge that, but judgments are best made in hard times--Truman's move during the Korean War was hardly a walk in the park.
Arrogance, hubris and inexperience are the occasional ingredients of wars we had better not fought and the current gang who took us to Iraq certainly evidenced those regrettable character flaws in spades. Now, the man who accepted Fallon's retirement with 'reluctance and regret' probably really means it. Bob Gates walks a tightrope between a loose-cannon administration and a terribly demoralized Pentagon.
General Eric Shinseki, Army Chief of Staff famously told Don Rumsfeld he was a hundred thousand troops short in his Iraqi battle plan, was belittled, retired and then proven right. The die was cast.
General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs from 2001 to 2005, learned quickly to keep his head down and his mouth shut--which may not be the most useful posture for the top military guy. Yes or no, the war did not go well (or even according to plan, if one assumes there was a plan).
Military advice fell to an all-time low when Marine General Peter Pace oozed into the chair Myers had vacated. His was the saddest tenure in memory. One would hardly have expected so supine a performance from a Marine.
All of which merely serves to illuminate the heroic and brave job done by William Fallon in the brief year that he stood upon a principled command. Now he is standing down and the young officers who declared they would never allow another Vietnam are either silenced or retired. One can only wonder what will be the resolve of this year's graduating classes at the service academies.
Fallon is a giant and will be missed. Petraeus has won the day for all the wrong reasons, but you gotta love a guy who said General David Petraeus "is an ass-kissing, little chickenshit and I hate people like that."
So much for nuance.
That is exactly the kind of man a president must listen to very carefully (and didn't), when shaping his military plans.