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Fallon's Fall

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Admiral William "Fox" (his flyboy nickname) Fallon, the head of the U.S. Central Command -- which covers most of the Middle East -- was given an unceremonious boot out of the Pentagon today even though for public attribution it was he who submitted his resignation.

Once again, this White House has seen to it that another senior level military commander has been censored with a loss of command for daring to challenge the Bush-Cheney "unconventional wisdom" regarding the Middle East. This was George Bush's going away present to his Vice President on the eve of Cheney's tour of the Middle East... Cheney just did not want this "Fox" around his Middle East henhouse. When assessing the troubled, turbulent Middle East, there is just no seat in the Situation Room for anyone, least of all the likes of an Adm. Fallon, who dares to speak his mind. So much for Bush's willingness to defer to the judgment of his commanders in the field.

Admittedly, Fallon cleared his throat in public often enough, perhaps too much. It was at once refreshing to read/hear what he had to say, but as you carefully read his many statements during his trips around the Middle East, you just had to wonder whether what he was saying or hinting in public was best, for his own career's sake, said in private. Our history is replete with examples of presidents who don't look kindly upon talkative military subordinates. My Pentagon sources who have no dog in this fight tell me that Fallon was warned on more than one prior occasion by SecDef Gates to keep his controversial advice within the proper command channels. That is the dilemma of military officers in this administration. So many knew that "Generals" Bush and Cheney were ill-equipped to overrule common sense military advice on Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. Yet, most decided not to buck their superiors despite their disagreements with the White House and Rumsfeld, just follow orders, and finish out their tours before discarding their uniforms and their inhibitions.

Fallon was different. He expressed unconventional views both privately and publicly that challenged the wisdom of Gen. Petraeus' surge strategy in Iraq, and more than once dismissively contested a policy that promoted conflict over engagement with Iran. He considered his mission to look beyond the immediacy of these crises to provide a more strategic assessment of America's global military challenges and options. Fallon's views also represented inconvenient truths to the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain. Could be that McCain himself made it clear to Bush the other day when they met that he needed Fallon out before Fallon embarrased McCain, given Fallon's positions that were 180 degrees contrary to McCain's -- but that is only my intuition.

I met Fallon in the Middle East a few weeks ago. It was a brief encounter in Qatar. Fallon had been touring the region (CENTCOM is actually based in Tampa, FL). He had been meeting with Qatar's leaders, who share his skepticism that a military solution was the only way to resolve the nuclear stand-off with Iran. As a roving regional military commander, whose empire extended from Pakistan in the east to Egypt and East Africa in the west, and all of the firestorms in between (iraq, Afghanistan, Iran) "Fox" Fallon was an exceptionally credible contrarian who believed that it would be unwise for the U.S. resort to force against Iran just as the White House war drums were beating forcefully before being silencd by the National Intelligence Estimate.

Gen. Petreaeus (who reported through Fallon to the Pentagon) will soon be returning in April to report to Congress and provide his assessment and his recommendations regarding the situation in Iraq. There is little doubt that when he is called to testify, Petreaus will be asked where he and Fallon specifically broke rank on Iraq. The American people deserve to know what Fallon would have recommended, given the stakes for our troops and Petreaus' likely position to call for a time out to any further troop reductions/rotations.

Fallon's coup de grace was a "death wish" interview for Esquire magazine. It is a fascinating read, and Fallon's take on the Middle East mess constitutes an important unclassified read for our two Democratic presidential candidates, one of whom hopefully will have the opportunity, yes, the opportunity, to begin reversing many of the policies that got Fallon into such hot water with his superiors.

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