Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called CENTCOM commander Adm. William Fallon “one of the best strategic thinkers in uniform today.” Fallon opposed the “surge” in Iraq and has consistently battled the Bush administration to avoid a confrontation with Iran, calling officials’ war-mongering “not helpful.” Privately, he has vowed that an attack on Iran “will not happen on my watch.”
Unfortunately, this level-headed thinking and willingness to stand up to President Bush may cost him his job. According to a new article by Thomas P.M. Barnett in the April issue of Esquire magazine (on newsstands March 12), Fallon may be prematurely “relieved of his command” as soon as this summer:
[W]ell-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.
In the Esquire article, Fallon also said that he was in “hot water” with the White House for meeting with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Fallon noted that such meetings are his job, and essential to making sure that regional leaders don’t get “too spun up” by the administration’s war rhetoric.
In today’s White House press briefing, a reporter asked spokeswoman Dana Perino about the Esquire piece. Perino refused to say whether Fallon’s position is secure until the end of his tenure, instead attacking “rumor mills that don’t turn out to be true.” Watch it:
According to Barnett’s piece, Fallon also denied ever calling Petraeus an “ass-kissing little chickenshit.” He called the allegations “[a]bsolute bullshit.”
QUESTION: Dana, I know you have (inaudible), but if you’ll trust me to quote from it, there’s an article in Esquire magazine about Admiral William Fallon that says this: Because of Fallon’s caution on Iran, Fallon may soon be unemployed because he is doing what a generation of young officers in the U.S. military are now openly complaining that their leadership didn’t do on their behalf in the run up to the war in Iraq. He’s standing up to the commander in chief and he thinks he’s contemplating a strategically unsound war.
Is that an accurate portrayal of their relationship?
PERINO: You’re right. But before I came here, I told you I haven’t seen the article. I don’t know who wrote it. I’ve never heard anything of that sort, except for in rumor mills that don’t turn out to be true.
So, I’ll check it out, but I don’t think…
QUESTION: … opposing views on Iran?
PERINO: I don’t know.
QUESTION: … saying that he’s been in hot water with the White House because — even meeting with Mubarak.
PERINO: President Bush’s position on Iran is very clear. It doesn’t mean that other people can’t have other thoughts or positions, but I’m not going to characterize Admiral Fallon.
And let me take a look at the article and then we’ll try to get back to you.