When Admiral William Fallon resigned his post as commander of CENTCOM and retired from the Navy, the media assumed that he had a major conflict with George Bush over Iran — and couldn’t wait for him to talk publicly. With his reputation for bluntness and nothing left to protect, journalists assumed that Fallon would unload on Bush, reveal plans for reckless war with Iran, and maybe take a few potshots at his successor, General David Petraeus. CNN had the first interview with him this morning, and indeed Fallon gave a shocking interview — but not in the way one might think:
Q&O has the transcript:
PHILLIPS: Do you feel you were pushed out?
ADM. FALLON: I think the real story here is what’s important. What was important was not me. It wasn’t some discussion about where I was with issues. It was the fact that we have a war in progress. We had a couple hundred thousand people whose lives were at stake in Iraq and Afghanistan and we needed to be focused on that and not a discussion on me and what I might have said or thought or someone perceived I said. That’s the motivation.
PHILLIPS: Let’s talk about this article. It was the catalyst. It was the last straw. Tom Barnett made it appear that you were the only man standing between the president and a war with Iran. Is that true?
ADM. FALLON: I don’t believe for a second president bush wants a war with Iran. The situation with Iran is very complex. People sometimes portray it or try to portray it in very simplistic terms we’re against Iran, we want to go to war with Iran, we want to be close to them, the reality is in international politics that many aspects to many of these situations and I believe in our relationship with Iran we need to be strong and firm and convey the principles on which this country stands and upon which our policies are based. At the same time demonstrate a willingness and openness to engage in dialogue because there are things we can find in common.
Fallon refuses to take the Scott McClellan route in this interview. He could easily have thrown in with the conspiracy theorists, especially if he plans on selling a book later, but instead contradicts what everyone supposedly “knows” about Bush and the situation in Iran. Fallon states the obvious, instead: no one wants to go to war in Iran, but they need to keep pressure on Tehran in order to advance American interests. Those interests will not get advanced by dialogue alone, but by gaining enough leverage to force the Iranians into concessions, especially on nuclear weapons and terrorism.
On Iraq, Fallon will prove an even bigger disappointment. Rumors had Petraeus and Fallon at loggerheads on the counterinsurgency strategies Petraeus implemented, and that Fallon preferred a British-style return to bases approach. If so, Fallon doesn’t mention it. Instead, he praises Petraeus and urges the US to stick with the plan:
I believe the best course is to retain the high confidence we have in General Petraeus and his team out there. Dave has done a magnificent job in leading our people in that country. Again, this situation is quite complex. Many angles. There’s a very, very important military role here in providing stability and security in this country but that’s not going to be successful as we know without lots of other people playing a hand. The political side of things in Iraq has got to move forward. That appears to be improving. People have to have confidence in their futures. They want to have stability. They would like to be able to raise their families in peace. They would like to have a job. They would like to look to tomorrow as better than today. It takes more than the military but the military is the one that provides stability and security. The idea we would walk away from Iraq strikes me as not appropriate. We all want to bring our troops home. We want to have the majority of our people back and we want the war ended. Given where we are today, the progress that they’ve made particularly in the last couple months, I think it’s very, very heartening to see what’s really happened here. The right course of action is to continue to work with the Iraqis and let them take over the majority of the tasks for ensuring security for the country and have our people come out on a timetable that’s appropriate with conditions on the ground.
Everyone likes to say that Iraq has no military solution, but Fallon gets this right. The military has to provide the stability and security for political solutions to take hold. Some imagine that a political solution should take a few days to reach, but that’s even less realistic than declaring that the military can’t provide the solution. It takes time to rebuild a national army and security forces to provide stability, and we’ve seen the fruits of that patience now in Basra, Sadr City, and Mosul. Fallon understands this, and he knows that pulling out too soon will destabilize Iraq and its security forces, which could bring a collapse just when we’ve reached the point where victory can be seen.
Finally, it appears that Fallon got pushed out his job — by Esquire, not the Bush administration. Fallon rejects the notion that he got pushed out of CENTCOM by Gates or Bush, but by his own concern over the idea that he would operate in defiance of his commanders. He talks about how detrimental that allegation by Esquire would be to the chain of command, and he felt that CENTCOM needed to be more focused on the men and women in the theater and to ensure the confidence among them in their command.
Fallon’s perspective on Iran, Iraq, and the war in general has much more relevance than a memoir by a press secretary. Which do you think will get more attention?