While serving as CentCom commander between March 2007 and March 2008, Adm. William Fallon consistently pressed the Bush administration for more engagement with Iran and criticized the calls for another war. “This constant drumbeat of conflict is what strikes me which is not helpful and not useful,” Fallon told al Jazeera last year.
In his new book “The War Within,” Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward details a telling White House meeting on Iran in spring 2007 (p. 334):
“I think we need to do something to get engaged with these guys,” Fallon said. Iraq shared a 900-mile border with Iran, and he needed guidance and a strategy for dealing with the Iranians.
“Well,” Bush said, “these are assholes.”
Fallon was stunned. Declaring them “assholes” was not a strategy. Lots of words and ideas were thrown around at the meeting, especially about the Iranian leaders. They were bad, evil, out of touch with their people. But no one offered a real approach.
Fallon’s advocacy for diplomatic engagement irritated administration officials, who were enamored with Gen. David Petraeus. Fallon — a “fan of transition” in Iraq — repeatedly challenged Petraeus’s personnel requests. According to Woodward, the commander was trying to ensure that the United States didn’t “send any more than necessary to the war zone” (p. 343).
In a March interview with Esquire, Fallon said that he was in “hot water” with the White House for meeting with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Fallon noted that such meetings were essential to making sure that regional leaders don’t get “too spun up” by the administration’s war rhetoric. In “The War Within,” Woodward writes that as soon as that article came out, Fallon offered his resignation (pp. 408–9):
Fallon was in Baghdad on March 11 when the article was made public. He realized instantly the uproar it would case. Fallon knew he already was on shaky ground. Days earlier, he had warned Gates that the article was coming. But now he called again.
“I think I need to be gone,” Fallon said.
“Okay,” Gates said.
Fallon said he would have stayed if Gates had “offered a vote of confidence and backed his commander”; that, however, never happened.