WASHINGTON — Adm. William J. Fallon, the top American commander in the Middle East whose views on Iran and other issues have seemed to put him at odds with the Bush administration, is retiring early, the Pentagon said Tuesday afternoon.
The retirement of Admiral Fallon, 63, who only a year ago became the first Navy man to be named the commander of the United States Central Command, was announced by his civilian boss, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who said that he accepted the admiral’s request to retire “with reluctance and regret.”
Update: Charlie, here. Check out the (fawning) profile by Thomas Barnett that served as the last straw.
As head of U. S. Central Command, Admiral William "Fox" Fallon is in charge of American military strategy for the most troubled parts of the world.
Actually, turns out, we here in the United States do still have something called "civilian control of the military." Looks like Fox found that out the hard way...though Charlie might be persuaded to give him a medal for avoiding another ill-fated invasion.
Update II: AM here. Just found the statement by Gates on Small Wars Journal. At two points in the press conference, Sec. Gates points his finger in Abu Muqawama's direction and judges the speculation that Adm. Fallon's departure signals some kind of shift in strategy toward Iran "ridiculous." If Abu Muqawama were at the press conference, though, he would have dusted himself off and asked what role tensions between Gen. Petraeus and Adm. Fallon might have played in all this. We hear the good general and the admiral aren't going to be taking any vacations together anytime soon.
Update III: Kip has a different take on this: I think it has little to do with Iran and only some to do with General Petraeus.
Admiral Fallon has become a vocal critic of the administration, and he is/was also the Commander of Central Command. As such, I have no angst with his resignation--it is an appropriate end when such a high level leader no longer feels himself able to act as spokesperson and executor of the policy of the Administration which he serves. It is the kind of end that would have led General Sanchez to a profile in courage rather than a date with buffoonville.
I also believe that Fallon's resignation reveals a fundamental tension that he was unable to resolve and led to the fighting with Petraeus...how important is Iraq compared to other imperatives in the Middle East?
Admiral Fallon is correct that we don't have a grand strategy for defeating extremist Islam nor for dealing with overall destabilizing conflict in the Middle East. He is also correct that our saber-rattling is not helpful when our saber is otherwise occupied.
In the end, however, he has been himself unable to articulate the strategic answers required to still unanswered questions.
For example, Iraq may be diminishing our ability to win in Afghanistan or to develop a larger framework for the Middle East. However, if we leave Iraq, does it devolve into a genocidal (as opposed to low grade) civil war used by various players (Saudi Arabia and Iran in particular) as a proxy conflict against one another? If so, do additional resources help us accomplish anything in the Middle East or does Iraq remain the ultimate distraction? Are we even able to keep out troops out in such a scenario?
In uniform, Admiral Fallon has been unable to provide a convincing strategy to the Secretary of Defense or the President beyond general opposition. If he indeed has the wherewithal to do so, he will now have both the stage and the moral authority to tell the American people and the next President how we can do better.
Update IV: AM here again. Great comments, Kip. Everyone be sure to read this staff editorial in the Wall Street Journal. The gang at the WSJ think folks in the Pentagon are undermining Petraeus, but they just don't get it. No where in the editorial is the word "Afghanistan" mentioned. Not once! Yet I suspect some of the concerns in the puzzle palace revolve around the other war, the one in Central Asia. It's not a matter of back-stabbing generals refusing to support Petraeus and the war in Iraq. It's as Kip argued, where you have a variety of national-security needs in the region and limited resources. Some flag officers favor a different balance than the administration (not without reason).