Admiral William Fallon — Bush’s nominee to replace Gen. John Abizaid as head of U.S. forces in the Middle East — yesterday refused to endorse Bush’s escalation strategy in Iraq. In questioning during his confirmation hearing, Fallon rebuffed repeated attempts by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) –an avowed proponent of escalation — to solicit his endorsement of the new Iraq plan:
GRAHAM: And you would support sending more troops to accomplish that goal?
FALLON: I don’t know how many troops are going to be necessary to effect the outcome that we want. But General Petraeus, in my conversations with him, indicated that he believes he needs these troops now, to get moving…
GRAHAM: And if he said he needed more, you would support him?
FALLON: I don’t know, sir. I haven’t been there yet, and I’m not in a position to make that judgment.
GRAHAM: Well, it’s his judgment about 21,500, does it make sense to you?
FALLON: I will better be able to give you an informed answer when I understand the situation better.
Moments later, responding to a question from Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Fallon divulged he’s always “felt more comfortable in smaller numbers” rather than a larger force “decorating the landscape”:
FALLON: I cannot tell you with any degree of accuracy what percentage of troops or what the numbers are that are effective. And I believe that this is pretty judgmental. It’s pretty subjective, in my opinion, my experience. And it’s one that I am very anxious to gain an appreciation for from our ground commanders.
I’ve always been someone who felt more comfortable in smaller numbers of very effective capabilities than a large number of — whatevers — decorating the landscape. So we’ll be really interested in trying to find out where we really stand with these forces.
President Bush said of Fallon, “[He] has earned a reputation as one of our country’s foremost military strategists.” And like many other military strategists, he appears to have deep concerns about escalation in Iraq.