Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Fallon fallout: It wasn't over Iran

When Admiral William Fallon announced his resignation yesterday, many speculated that he was sacked. Thomas Barnett, a professor at the Naval War College, wrote a glowing piece in Esquire where it was mentioned that he might be the only man standing in the way of our engagement with Iran. Today Fred Kaplan claims that's a load of bull, and says it goes more toward his apparent insubordination:

It's a shame that Adm. William "Fox" Fallon has resigned, or been ousted, as commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East. But he brought it entirely on himself.

Contrary to the charges of some Democratic
lawmakers, this is not another case of an officer's dissent being stifled. Nor does Fallon's departure herald a tilt in U.S. policy toward war with Iran.

To the extent that policy disputes are behind the move, they are much more about Iraq.

Last month, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that after the five "surge" brigades left Iraq this July, there would be a "pause" before any further withdrawals would commence. In a Feb. 27 interview with the New York Times, Fallon said this pause would be brief, just long enough to allow "all the dust to settle," after which the drawdown would resume. Moreover, he said, U.S. strategy would shift—focusing on "supporting, sustaining, advising, training, and mentoring" the Iraqi army, not so much on fighting or providing security ourselves.

In a Slate
column the next day, I wondered if Fallon was speaking on behalf of Gates, the administration, or anybody besides himself. I have since learned, from a senior Pentagon official and from a high-ranking Army officer, that he was not. I have also learned that many of Fallon's statements on policy matters have been similarly unauthorized.

This is nothing like the case of Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff who had his career cut short by Donald Rumsfeld for telling a Senate committee that a few hundred thousand troops would be needed to impose order in postwar Iraq. Shinseki was offering his professional judgment on a strictly military question—how many troops would be needed to perform a mission—in response to a senator's question. Fallon, by contrast, was challenging the president's policy—and at his own initiative.

Fallon, who is one of the military's finest strategic minds, may well be right. Certainly his views match those of many senior officers. But they are contrary to the president's views, and Fallon knew this. There is
much debate within military circles these days over how far, and in what forums, a general or admiral should take his disagreements with political leaders. By most standards, Fallon probably went too far, too publicly. The U.S. Constitution does call for civilian control of the military, and generally, we should be thankful for that.

Let me be perfectly clear on this. A serving line officer has the right to their own opinions. They can, like Shinseki, offer up their expert opinion to Congress. But they aren't allowed to blow off the administration in the white House because they don't like their ideas, and then state those opinions, on the record, as though they are speaking for the administration. This is where Fallon crossed the line.

Insubordination isn't to be tolerated by anyone. It's a crime in the UCMJ. Some have compared Fallon to MacArthur when MacArthur publicly and deliberately criticized President Truman's Korean War Policy. This has nothing to do with disagreements over Iran. If it were, Gates would be gone, too. He has stated that he would dislike the idea of us going to war with Iran, but he has also stated he would follow the orders the president would give him. Fallon's mistakes came in the Iraq strategy, and his idiocy in speaking as though he had approval to on such matters. It's come to light that he didn't have permission. Therefore, his resignation was requested.

It's a shame that this had to happen. Fallon is known as a sound officer with strategical prowess on par with General David Petraeus. (It should be noted that it's claimed that Fallon disliked Petraeus, though Fallon has flatly denied the innuendo.) But when it comes down to insubordination, no exceptions can be made.

Publius II


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