So as I mentioned yesterday, Rear Admiral William Fallon has retired rather precipitously from the Navy, leaving the key office overseeing Central Command vacant. Immediate speculation was that it had to do with a story last week via Esquire, containing such bits as:
Army General David Petraeus, commanding America’s forces in Iraq, may say, “You cannot win in Iraq solely in Iraq,” but Fox Fallon is Petraeus’s boss, and he is the commander of United States Central Command, and Fallon doesn’t extend Petraeus’s logic to mean war against Iran.
So while Admiral Fallon’s boss, President George W. Bush, regularly trash-talks his way to World War III and his administration casually casts Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as this century’s Hitler (a crown it has awarded once before, to deadly effect), it’s left to Fallon–and apparently Fallon alone–to argue that, as he told Al Jazeera last fall: “This constant drumbeat of conflict . . . is not helpful and not useful. I expect that there will be no war, and that is what we ought to be working for. We ought to try to do our utmost to create different conditions.”
What America needs, Fallon says, is a “combination of strength and willingness to engage.”
Those are fighting words to your average neocon–not to mention your average supporter of Israel, a good many of whom in Washington seem never to have served a minute in uniform. But utter those words for print and you can easily find yourself defending your indifference to “nuclear holocaust.”
How does Fallon get away with so brazenly challenging his commander in chief?
The answer is that he might not get away with it for much longer.
And so, logically, the assumption is that this was a step too far — whether from the point of view the article suggests (that Fallon was inevitably for the chop) or that he rubbed up against a core tent of the American government as designed and evolved, namely that the military is subordinate to but separate from the government. Speculation’s centered on the former point most of all, but the author of the Esquire article, Thomas P. M. Barnett, had this to say in response:
I don’t have any comment on it.
I reported the story as I found it, because I thought it was crucial for readers to understand this officer and his thinking within the context of his incredibly important and high-profile position.
As readers of my blog know, I have expressed a lot of admiration for the admiral over the years. In my 18 years of working for and with military commands, I have met few with the same capacity for strategic vision. I wish him well on whatever he chooses to do next.
I was thinking about all this a bit idly last night but this morning I received an interesting surprise in my inbox via a mailout from Stratfor. Taking the view that Central Command does, after all, cover a lot of ground, they suggest that rather than thinking about Iran, attention should be directed elsewhere. To quote the beginning and conclusion of the piece:
With two wars under way and a crisis looming in the Levant, Fallon either resigned in protest or was forced out. The question is why.
The reason is not Iraq, where responsibility and accountability have been shifted squarely to Gen. David Petraeus. Our eyes fall upon the great failure of Fallon’s tenure and the far eastern reaches of his area of responsibility: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Fallon’s role is largely irrelevant. The underlying issues of Afghanistan and Pakistan predate his tenure. However, the situations in the two countries deteriorated under his supervision.
Stratfor’s strategic perspective does not often fall to individuals; we see larger forces at work in the world. Fallon did not matter. But the empty seat at CENTCOM is likely to be an exception. Not simply because it is one of the most crucial posts in the U.S. military today, but because of the shift in focus Fallon’s removal entails and especially because of the two individuals at the top of the list to replace him: Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis and Petraeus himself.
Petraeus was one of the architects of the “surge” strategy and has overseen its successes thus far. He was also a principal force behind the Army’s new counterinsurgency manual. Mattis is something of a legend in the Marines. Not only did he lead Task Force 58 into Afghanistan in 2001, he commanded the 1st Marine Division in Iraq and later the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force during the surge. Petraeus and Mattis worked closely on the new counterinsurgency manual.
The appointment of either man to the top post at CENTCOM has serious implications for the conduct of operations in Afghanistan and the situation in Pakistan. No two contenders for the job are more likely to forgo the current stalemate in Afghanistan and come at the problem with renewed intensity. Indeed, it is the first real telling potential shift in the command of Afghan operations, perhaps since 2001. And neither contender is likely to sit by and let Pakistan continue to simmer, either.
All of which is, to a relative dabbler in these affairs like myself, more than a little suggestive. Iran, notably, isn’t mentioned at all in Stratfor’s piece, which ties in a little bit to a long-running belief I’ve had regarding Iran and the US that both sides are engaged in an huge battle of bluff that goes nowhere, and will go nowhere. (Based on the past few years, both governments play to their most jingoistic supporters via statements and threats regarding the other and then hunker down and hope nothing much will happen on a concrete scale.)
Stratfor’s instant analysis is just that, but assuming either of the two possible replacements mentioned is appointed, things could get…interesting. In lieu of the recent Pakistani elections, where a coalition government is trying to gel but where a couple of suicide bombings just took place, one wonders what the next few months will bring — and how, ultimately, it will all play in to our own elections.