Stop Hyperventilating: Fallon Fired but Iran War Not Back On

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Admiral William “Fox” Fallon — CentCom Commander — has been fired for insubordination, for not stewarding his own views about war and peace privately and in a way that did not embarrass his commander in chief.
By numerous accounts, President Bush was absolutely enraged by an Esquire article — since amended noting Fallon’s demise — that posited that Admiral Fallon was not on the same page as President Bush and that he was the single military man standing between war and peace.
Rumors are running rampant now in the aftermath of Fallon’s resignation today that Bush called a war room gathering on Saturday this past weekend — and launched plans to hatch a strike of some sort on Iran this spring. Internet bulletin boards, listserves, and chatter among many on the left and the right are hyperventilating (and some excited) about the prospects of a hot conflict with Iran.
My sources in the intelligence arena, in various command staff operations, near Defense Secretary Gates, and even in the White House tell me that nothing structural has changed in America’s stance towards Iran. The US is still engaged in an effort to get Iran to the negotiating table if it stops its nuclear enrichment activities. It is continuing to apply UN sanctions pressure via unanimous consent of the UN Security Council to bring Iran into compliance with international obligations. And as Bush, Gates and others have said — other options can be on the table.
But the diplomatic course is still dominant and preferred — and there has been no decision to launch a war despite the opportunistic bravado that will no doubt soon be uttered by Vice President Cheney, John Bolton, Richard Perle and others who have long pined for a conflict with Iran’s mullahs.
But the pieces are not there to support a full conflict with Iran, or even a near term military strike. That is not where Bush is headed — but he felt he needed to remove someone who was undermining his authority and direction.
As one source told me shortly ago, “if there was a real chance we were flipping into war mode, there would be six Fallons commenting — and six fired.”
This source said “Fallon’s real mistake was going public with what was common banter among many of the senior military officials about America’s engagement in the Middle East and with Iran. His views are not atypical — no matter what the Esquire article asserts — but he made the mistake of being publicly vain and indulgent about his own take on this.”
From my reading of the situation, Bush had to fire Fallon for his comments. I admire Fallon’s sense of America’s strategic situation — but the sad thing about this incident is that the combined efforts of Gates, Rice, Hayden, McConnell and others to bring a new direction to America’s national security course had worked. Bush had bought in. Fallon had to brag about it — and that was a mistake.

– Steve Clemons

Comments

25 comments on “Stop Hyperventilating: Fallon Fired but Iran War Not Back On

  1. Batocchio says:

    Stop hyperventilating? Good grief. Hey, if basic sanity is
    reigning, great, but the Bush adminstration cannot receive
    enough scrutiny nor can they be challenged enough. Especially
    when it comes to issues of war, and to Iran (since they lied about
    it last year), they should never be trusted. Additionally, it’s not
    as if the folly of a course of action has ever been reason for
    them not to pursue it. You did read the piece on their little
    disastrous attempted coup in Gaza, didn’t you?

    Reply

  2. Leg Hussein Paine says:

    “But the diplomatic course is still dominant and preferred — and there has been no decision to launch a war despite the opportunistic bravado that will no doubt soon be uttered by Vice President Cheney, John Bolton, Richard Perle and others…”
    Hmmmm, where and when have I heard that before.

    Reply

  3. Tholin says:

    It would appear that Fallon’s very public articulation of troop withdrawal schedules from Iraq, in particular the point at which pre-surge levels are reached this summer, is what’s most troubling to administration and Republican political strategists. Fallon has stated that any pause this summer should be brief enough to allow the “dust to settle”, then resume immediately with the goal of rotating another 30,000 troops out of Iraq by the end of 2008.
    Clearly, troop reductions of that magnitude would be perilously synonymous with the “surrender” and “abrupt pullout” rhetoric being deployed against Democratic contenders, a perception Republican strategists have no intention of abiding.
    Fallon’s departure is a clear sign that Bush intends to undo the Admiral’s schedule for withdrawal; the well-worn stump speech favorite practically rewrites itself: “When it comes to troop levels, I will listen to my Generals on the ground – not my Admiral.”

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  4. Liz Williams says:

    When looking for a reason – never overlook stupidity. I don’t know who said it, but may I add, when looking for a reason – never overlook the concept of delusion.

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  5. Jack Radey says:

    I think the hyperventilating comment is somewhat premature. It suggests the unease over Admiral Fallon’s departure is excessive. I don’t think it is, but of course we don’t know. And won’t, unless in fact something happens, such as a mushroom cloud over Teheran, by which point it will be a bit late to start breathing hard, the manure will be in the air conditioning and it will be a bit late to get it out.
    Consider. Last 30 August, six nuclear tipped cruise missiles were flown across the US. The official story is that it was an accident, a coincidence of incompetence, sloppiness, and unprofessional conduct of so many officers that the only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn is that if the story is true, the Air Force should not have been stood down for the day. It should be disarmed, in the interests of national security.
    But the amount of disbelief that must be suspended to believe the official story is so monumental that some of us may be excused for just having a suspicion that what may have actually happened was a bit different. It may be that in keeping with the incredibly strict standards for handling nuclear munitions, procedures WERE followed, orders WERE issued. And from a very high source indeed. But that officers in the Air Force and elsewhere, with sufficient credibility to be listened to by the Military Times (think four stars), learned of it, and blew the whistle. The most likely explanation is that Bush and Cheney wanted six nukes in the Middle East off the books. There are plenty there now, but cannot be used without the knowledge and cooperation of CENTCOM and the Joint Chiefs.
    It is quite possible that things are happening behind the curtain, a struggle between elements of the top military brass and CIA versus the Oval Office, that go way beyond differences of opinion. Admiral Fallon played a key role in all this, and being one smart fellow, knew what he was doing when he ran his mouth for attribution.
    Watch for a third carrier deploying to the Gulf. According to some, it was Fallon who stood in the door and prevented this from happening earlier. If it happens, well, hold onto your hats.

    Reply

  6. Ross Taylor says:

    Dear Sir:
    Your comment:
    >
    What alternate universe have you been inhabiting the last six years? This was what the Administration was telling Congress and the public about Iraq long after Bush had already declared that “we’re going to take Sadaam out.”
    So if some of us are hyperventilating, it is because — unlike you, apparently — we remember all that this Administration has said and done before.
    Ross Taylor
    Tacoma, Waashington

    Reply

  7. Blynn says:

    I have no illusions about the wisdom or intent about the administration, but this article squares with my belief in the unlikelihood of an imminent attack on Iran.
    In the run-up to war with Iraq, offical statements about the use of diplomacy were far outnumbered by hyperbole about the alleged threats from Saddam and blatant mobilization of our forces and “coalition”. Dissenting opinions about the “mushroom cloud” were squelched, and the media awere 1000% on board, the Democrats, 998%. Even the anti-invasion New York Times gave above-the-fold voice to incompetant and mendacious WMD fearmongers like Judith Miller. This time, only the folks at Fox believe any of it. I wonder if the intelligence estimate of a few months ago wasn’t released deliberately to give the administration a graceful way of saying, “Never mind.”
    Also, people’s major concern is now the economy. Perhaps a cynic might note that they should be more worried about the dying and the injured, but a $3,000,000,000,000 price tag and $100 per barrel of oil for what’s happened so far has got to attract some notice to budgeters mighty and small.
    An attack on Iran would almost be a family annihilation/suicide by a Republican president. What would McCain do if Iraq’s currently quiescent Shi’ites retaliate for the massacre of their co-religionists, ending the myth of the successful surge? What will Hezbollah, the victor in the recent conflict with Israel, do? How will congressional Republicans face voters (Denny Hastert’s seat, safe from time immemorial, just went to the Dems)? Bush still thinks he can “replenish the ol’ coffers” and be baseball commissioner. (Cheney’s already a corpse, but he is said to have lost influence over the mistakes of the last five years.)
    We may see and hear from Admiral Fallon again. . . Someone has to help Obama pick up the pieces.

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  8. jason says:

    steve,
    i think your post-title is hyperbole
    you may have very important sources, but it is highly rational to
    be extremely suspicious about our current government and their
    motives.
    They have proven to be highly irrational themselves, that could
    be the game they are playing or they could be that crazy.
    Their stategic and tactical judgement is proven to be very bad
    (very, very bad)
    frankly you are ‘high the good stuff’ if you are at least not a little
    concerned about prospects of action of this administration
    cheers,
    -jsf

    Reply

  9. Tom Murphy says:

    The military people think basically that Admiral Fallon was PUSHED OUT” – Mark Thompson Time Magazine National Security Correspondent
    SEE VIDEO:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRdf4GpFzlM

    Reply

  10. Babak Talebi says:

    Steve,
    Although I see your point about looking at this Firing as a insubordination issue- Mark Perry argued this well in his AsiaTimes piece yesterday- I am more inclined to look at the fact that Adm. Fallon has made these public comments for over 11 months now, (New Security Network has a good list of them: http://www.nsnetwork.org/node/255) and conclude that the Esquire piece was more of an excuse.
    Don’t you think being quoted as “opposing the surge” before Petraeus’ Congressional testimony was more important then being quoted about his discussion with Mubarak?
    I guess what I’m asking is, why do you feel the Esquire quotes were so much more damning then his earlier ones. And Do you think a 41-year veteran of the Military would cross some sort of “quatable” boundary by accident?
    One last, maybe small, question. Where is Cheney today?
    “His goal is to reassure people that the United States is committed to a vision of peace in the Middle East,” U.S. President George W. Bush said
    I don’t think I am ‘reassured’.

    Reply

  11. Jumpinin says:

    I think Kim is saying no one believes the US is “engaged in an effort to get Iran to the negotiating table” anymore than we were trying to negotiate a settlement with Saddam. They were going to attack because he wouldn’t let the weapons inspectors in, so he let the inspectors in. They were going to attack because he was lying about his weapons programs, only we know now he wasn’t lying about his weapons programs. And in the background was always regime change – “do what we demand and once you’ve met all our demand you’ve gotta go”. That’s not really negotiating. The US doesn’t even claim Iran has violated its treaty obligations. And its going to keep moving the target so Iran so no government in its right mind could possibly agree to their demands. And call for regime change.

    Reply

  12. Jim Dawson says:

    This article does little to assure me about the Administration’s intentions towards Iran. Our present negotiating efforts are so unimaginative, small and stingy that they have very little chance of success.
    For instance, we want to talk to them about shutting down their nuclear program. But they have to stop it before we can begin to talk. In other words, we insist they give us what we want before we sit down to talk. This all but garuntees that they will not come to the table.
    Beyond that, the US needs to consider our long term interests in the region and act accordingly. We are not clear about what we want to achieve in any war with Iran and we are likely to push them into the arms of China and Russia, not to mention putting our soldiers at risk in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    The payback could be large while the payoff is close to nile.

    Reply

  13. Tom Murphy says:

    See video: Why Fallon’s Resignation is Frightening Defense Secretary Robert Gates did not have to accept Admiral Fallon’s resignation. “The military people think basically that Admiral Fallon was PUSHED OUT” – Mark Thompson Time Magazine National Security Correspondent
    Fallon is described as “the one person in the military or Pentagon standing between the White House and war with Iran.”

    Reply

  14. Paul Norheim says:

    Everything said here at the moment is, of course, speculation.
    Perhaps we`ll get to know more details next week, next year (or
    in a decade or two) about why Fallon resignated or was fired.
    But the potential implications seem a lot more interesting than
    the implications of some politician paying for sex while he
    publicly fights prostitution/corruption etc. Hypocracy and
    human vices are well known facts of life – especially among
    politicians with a moral agenda.
    So forgive me for speculating a bit as well.
    This is not the first time in history when a military commander
    may be the moderating force in a conflict, while the politicians
    are the war mongerers. However, as a principle: if the generals
    are openly in conflict with the policy of the elected political
    leader, the generals should resign.
    But what if the elected political leader not only puts some of his
    enemies in a legal limbo, but also himself – as someone who is
    only acting on behalf of God, History – or simply obeying his
    gut?
    When John Yoo, Addington and others helped creating a
    permanent emergency situation where the President was placed
    above the law, I believe that they also created a challenge for
    even the most democratic and clear minded general or admiral
    If the President in a democracy does not obey anyone or
    anything except his God or his guts – and not the people and
    the law – should the Military Commander in a crisis obey the
    gut of the President or his born again faith, or should he feel
    free to believe that his judgement is more in accordance with
    the people and the Constitution? When does a President cross
    that line where the Generals have to consider acting on behalf
    of something above the President and his God?
    Yes, this is a dangerous question in an American context (more
    common in dictatorships and fragile democracies), and I will
    comment more on it a bit later.
    Steve Clemons seems to be confident that the President has not
    decided, and will probably not decide to attack Iran. Some
    people are less confident about that. They have seen that the
    gut of the President of USA has mislead him in every critical
    step during more than seven years. I would guess that Mr.
    Clemons` warning against “hyperventilating” is a tactical
    attempt to support the Gates/Rice wing against the Cheney wing
    in how to deal with Iran. But I am not sure if he is confident that
    Bush in the end does not intend to make a deal with Israel, as
    mentioned by commentators on this thread, and thus
    legitimating an American military involvement with Iran.
    However, I am absolutely confident that Mr. Clemons is aware of
    the potential catastophic consequenses of such a scenario.
    My point is that the legal advisors of President Bush has created
    a problem for (some of) the morally responsible military
    commanders. It is NOT their duty to solve that problem. But I
    think the issue discussed in this thread may illustrate the
    dilemma. And I also believe that this dilemma may be
    accentuated if the US crisis (domestical as well as international,
    and on a social, economical, military, and political level) gets
    worse during the next few years. As a European, I have for a
    long time been more worried about what harm a weakened USA
    may cause in the world, and to it self, than a strong USA.
    And of course, generals with clear, but un-democratic minds
    may – since someone has created a permanent emergency
    situation – seriously start to study Carl Schmitt.

    Reply

  15. Steven Clemons says:

    Kim — I don’t think I understand your comment. My comments
    didn’t tell me the same things about our Iran course that they did
    about Iraq. I always wrote that we would likely invade Iraq — and I
    completely opposed that invasion. That’s completely different than
    what I’m hearing on Iran. best regards, Steve Clemons

    Reply

  16. Kim says:

    In other words your sources are telling you the same thing now about Iran that they told you then about Iraq….. not at all comforting.

    Reply

  17. Carroll says:

    “”but the sad thing about this incident is that the combined efforts of Gates, Rice, Hayden, McConnell and others to bring a new direction to America’s national security course had worked. Bush had bought in.””
    What’s the new direction they brought? Cracking down on Israel-Pal? Secret talks and sanctions on Iran? Gates has done something but Rice is still floundering around…at George’s direction I suppose.
    I don’t think Bush has “bought in” to anything I think Bush was introduced to a bit of reality…and said in true Duyba fashion..”ah shucks,just let it go, the next guy can handle it. I going back to the ranch.”

    Reply

  18. Mr.Murder says:

    His oath is to uphold the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic. Admiral Fallon decided to oppose extra Constitutional efforts set at undermining the people’s will as the Exectuive is bound to uphold.
    Bush is the one who deserves closer scrutiny, that a man would talk against the code being deemed suitable for the task for CentCom.

    Reply

  19. Greg P says:

    I’d urge everyone to go read the full article in Esquire before passing judgement:
    http://www.esquire.com/features/fox-fallon
    Given the amount of access and collaboration on the article which Admiral Fallon gave the author, it’s hard to see how he _wouldn’t_ be fired.
    There are always internal policy debates, but for a serving military officer to facilitate an article like this wouldn’t have been tolerated in any administration.

    Reply

  20. Mr.Murder says:

    Gates is still there. To the best it can be determined he has been pretty stellar with working to see ther NIE helped repudiate Bush policy.
    Admiral Fallon fell on his sword. If you think Bush ever gave a care about military respect, then I’ve got a wrecked plane, AWOL DUI sprees, and Presidential Pardon from Jimmy Carter to those not showing up for Viet Nam to sell you.

    Reply

  21. Benjamin says:

    No military leader should expect to upbraid the CIC in print and keep his job. No CIC should expect a military leader to upbraid him and keep the military’s respect.
    Fallon, by all accounts an intelligent leader, should never have done something so stupid. He knew better — and now a real check against dumb Iranian policy lost his job.
    We’re all worse off because of it.

    Reply

  22. JohnH says:

    Oil prices are the real check on warmongering against Iran. If you think oil prices are high now, try and imagine them the day after an attack on the country with the world’s second largest store of oil reserves. And try to imagine the economic depression that would follow.
    Bush attacked Iraq only after the 2001 recession had brought down prices, and only after he was assured that Putin would increase supplies and Saudi Arabia would make its spare capacity available. He miscalculated on being able to count on Venezuelan supplies. The coup and economic stoppage failed to overthrow Chavez, which resulted in Venezuela’s oil company being offline during the run-up to the war, and setting off the unprecedented oil price spiral which continues unabated to this day.
    Were Chavez to implement his threat to stop oil shipments after an attack on Iran (recognizing that Venezuela was certain to be next on Bush’s sights even if Chavez continued to export at capacity), oil prices would be truly unimaginable.
    The foreign policy establishment, including Steve, absolutely refuse to publicly discuss the role of oil in foreign policy. But it’s pretty obvious that tight oil supplies reduce the threat of US aggression, while temporarily ample supplies invite it.

    Reply

  23. Steve Clemons says:

    Thom – Fallon had no intention of resigning before the Esquire article. Bush was furious with him. He was fired — pushed out the door for the appearance of insubordination. Thanks for the digby article.
    steve clemons

    Reply

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