Chris Gelken - Online Columnist
The sudden resignation of Washington's top military officer in the Middle East is shrouded in claim, counter-claim and denial. Whatever the truth may be behind Admiral William Fallon's decision to quit as Central Commander, with responsibilities covering all of the troubled region, very few pundits are buying the official line.
Since taking up the post about a year ago, Fallon has often been portrayed as being at odds with White House policy on how to conduct the war in Iraq, and of being firmly opposed to any military adventures against Iran. It is no secret that Fallon was in favour of diplomacy and engagement rather than confrontation in dealing with Tehran's nuclear issue.
Once quoted as saying a war with Iran "would not happen on my watch," the former Navy fighter pilot earned the respect of his staff and the men and women in uniform he commanded, but according to Washington insiders, he also earned a bitter enemy in Vice President Dick Cheney. Matters came to a head last week when the American Esquire magazine published an extensive article on Fallon titled, The Man Between War and Peace.
The news feature credited Fallon as being almost solely responsible for thwarting the war-warmongering plans of Vice President Cheney and President George Bush for a pre-emptive strike against Iran. Describing the Esquire feature as "poison-pen journalism", Fallon said the reports of his differences with the White House were wrong, but had become a distraction.
Michele Steinberg, a Washington-based political analyst and Counter-intelligence Editor for the Executive Intelligence Review (EIR), says Fallon's disputes with Bush may have been exaggerated, but she left open the possibility that rather than resigning, Fallon was probably fired.
"I absolutely agree with Admiral Fallon's characterisation of the Tom Barnett piece in Esquire," Steinberg told PressTV News, "It vastly overstated Fallon's role in being part of a very important policy establishment that wants to keep the United States safe, keep the world safe, without war." In an almost prophetic article for the EIR, Iran Warmongers Launch Operation To Oust Admiral Fallon ,Steinberg wrote, "Don't be fooled."
The March 12 article in Esquire magazine by former top policy adviser to warmonger Donald Rumsfeld, Tom Barnett, that pretends to praise Admiral William 'Fox' Fallon, head of the Central Command, is an attempt to get Fallon — a major, clear-headed opponent to a flight-forward war against Iran — kicked out." And that, Steinberg told PressTV, "Is maybe what happened behind the scenes."
If the stories were false or exaggerated, then a simple joint statement would have put the controversy and any of Fallon's "distractions' to rest. Instead, however, Fallon's resignation was quickly accepted and announced by a troubled looking Secretary of Defence Robert Gates at a hastily convened Pentagon press conference.
Steinberg pointed to the most likely culprit behind Fallon's fall. "I think Fallon's differences were with Vice President Dick Cheney," Steinberg said, "who is very displeased with President Bush's Annapolis (Mid-East summit) meeting, he is very displeased with the National Intelligence Estimate which came out in December and pretty much took the wind out of Cheney's sails.
The fact that Cheney wants to go to war with Iran before he leaves office in January 2009, is a well-known fact around Washington and that is really the story behind the resignation of Admiral Fallon." According to Steinberg, Gates and Fallon shared many of the same opinions on how to deal with Iran, and that may account for the downbeat appearance of the Secretary at the press conference. Fallon's departure, she said, has left the region in a more dangerous situation.
"But let's be clear on this, Secretary of Defence Robert Gates is also a strong believer in diplomacy as a tool of foreign policy, and a tool of getting a road to peace in a very unstable region. Bob Gates was a leading member of the Iraq Study Group which said very clearly that if the United States wants to seek a peaceful solution in Iraq and wants to stabilise the region, first of all you have to come to a peace between Israel and Palestine, and secondly, full engagement leading to diplomatic relations with Syria and with Iran," she said, "So that is Gates' view as well. So Fallon was not alone in this.
However, it is a much more dangerous situation with a clear headed thinker like Fallon removed from command." New York-based political analyst Ian Williams was also cautious about accepting the official line that Fallon had simply resigned over a piece of trashy journalism.
"It is quite clear that if you had a rational presidency and a rational White House, then having genuine disagreements with your high military would not necessarily be a bad thing," he told PressTV. He added: "But it is also clear that this administration doesn't brook any discontent and there is a terrible sense of dÃ©jÃ vu."
In the months before the Persian Gulf War, Williams said, the same things were happening. "High military commanders were being forced to resign and being replaced with more pliable, more amenable, less worthy generals and admirals who would do what they were told without raising the issue of sanity or diplomacy," he said.
Many of Fallon's remarks, alleged or otherwise, would not have gone down well at the Pentagon. "Well it depends on which part of the Pentagon," Williams said, "I mean the politically appointed civilian officials and the high ranking officers who have been appointed by the Bush administration would find him very unpopular.
But for many of the more serious US military, they know just how overstretched the forces already are. They know there is no conceivable way the plans that are being hatched by the same dreamers who gave you the disastrous Iraq invasion would work in the case of Iran."
Williams said, however, with his resignation Fallon will now be free to speak his mind in public. "If he feels that with a lame duck president who has no sort of accountability in the short nine months left of his tenure, then perhaps he needs to be in a position to speak out publicly about this, unconstrained by alleged loyalties to his Commander-in-Chief, the President," he said. Steinberg shared the sentiment that as a civilian, Fallon could become even more effective in preventing the Vice President and the White House from embarking on any ill-advised military adventures.
"I certainly hope so," she said, "I would hope that is the case and he would join very outspoken individuals in the military who have been critical of the rush to war. Also it is possible that Congressional committees may call upon him, retired Admiral Fallon, and other retired military and diplomatic officials to give their advice in terms of what direction the United States should take."