Are We Closer to War?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, March 12, 2008; 11:51 AM

The abrupt resignation yesterday of the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, Admiral William J. "Fox" Fallon, has sparked a new round of speculation that President Bush and Vice President Cheney have some sort of plan in the works to attack Iran before their time is up.

Fallon's resignation -- or firing -- was apparently precipitated in part by a recent Esquire profile that depicted him as brazenly pushing back against the White House hawks eager to launch another war.

Now it turns out that what Thomas P.M. Barnett, a former Naval War College professor, wrote in that profile was eerily prescient: "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. President Bush is not accustomed to a subordinate who speaks his mind as freely as Fallon does, and the president may have had enough.

"Just as Fallon took over Centcom last spring, the White House was putting itself on a war footing with Iran. Almost instantly, Fallon began to calmly push back against what he saw as an ill-advised action. Over the course of 2007, Fallon's statements in the press grew increasingly dismissive of the possibility of war, creating serious friction with the White House.

"Last December, when the National Intelligence Estimate downgraded the immediate nuclear threat from Iran, it seemed as if Fallon's caution was justified. But still, well-placed observers now say that it will come as no surprise if Fallon is relieved of his command before his time is up next spring, maybe as early as this summer, in favor of a commander the White House considers to be more pliable. If that were to happen, it may well mean that the president and vice-president intend to take military action against Iran before the end of this year and don't want a commander standing in their way.

"And so Fallon, the good cop, may soon be unemployed because he's doing what a generation of young officers in the U. S. military are now openly complaining that their leaders didn't do on their behalf in the run-up to the war in Iraq: He's standing up to the commander in chief, whom he thinks is contemplating a strategically unsound war."

Thom Shanker writes in the New York Times: "Admiral Fallon had rankled senior officials of the Bush administration in recent months with comments that emphasized diplomacy over conflict in dealing with Iran, that endorsed further troop withdrawals from Iraq beyond those already under way and that suggested the United States had taken its eye off the military mission in Afghanistan.

"A senior administration official said that, taken together, the comments 'left the perception he had a different foreign policy than the president.' . . .

"The White House issued a statement from President Bush that, while complimentary, was pale by comparison to other messages of farewell for senior officials with whom Mr. Bush has worked more closely. . . .

"[T]here was no question that the admiral's premature departure stemmed from what were perceived to be policy differences with the administration on Iran and Iraq, where his views competed with those of Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq, who is a favorite of the White House. . . .

"Across the officer corps, a large number of senior military leaders share Admiral Fallon's broad assessment that a war with Iran would bring unexpected and, perhaps, unmanageable, risks elsewhere in the Muslim world and around the globe.


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