Centcom Gig Was “Career Detonating”

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In his statement announcing his resignation today, Adm. William Fallon “cited the disrespect of the President in a recent magazine article, the resulting embarrassment, perceptions of differences between his views and Administration Policies and the resulting distraction from CENTCOM missions.”

That article, of course, was Thomas P.M. Barnett’s 7,500-word hagiographical profile of Fallon in this issue of Esquire. Below are the key excerpts to give you an idea of why Fallon might have been so uncomfortable with it:

[W]hile Admiral Fallon’s boss, President George W. Bush, regularly trash-talks his way to World War III and his administration casually casts Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as this century’s Hitler (a crown it has awarded once before, to deadly effect), it’s left to Fallon-and apparently Fallon alone-to argue that, as he told Al Jazeera last fall: “This constant drumbeat of conflict . . . is not helpful and not useful. I expect that there will be no war, and that is what we ought to be working for. We ought to try to do our utmost to create different conditions.”

What America needs, Fallon says, is a “combination of strength and willingness to engage.”

Those are fighting words to your average neocon-not to mention your average supporter of Israel, a good many of whom in Washington seem never to have served a minute in uniform. But utter those words for print and you can easily find yourself defending your indifference to “nuclear holocaust.”

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….

…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 later in the piece:

Judging by Fallon’s grimace as his official party passes, I can tell that the cover story in this morning’s Egyptian Gazette landed hard on somebody’s desk at the White House. U.S. RULES OUT STRIKE AGAINST IRAN, read the banner headline, and the accompanying photo showed Fallon in deep consultation with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

Fallon sidles up to me during a morning coffee break. “I’m in hot water again,” he says.

“The White House?”

The admiral slowly nods his head.

“They say, ‘Why are you even meeting with Mubarak?’ ” This seems to utterly mystify Fallon.

Why?” he says, shrugging with palms extending outward. “Because it’s my job to deal with this region, and it’s all anyone wants to talk about right now. People here hear what I’m saying and understand. I don’t want to get them too spun up. Washington interprets this as all aimed at them. Instead, it’s aimed at governments and media in this region. I’m not talking about the White House.” He points to the ground, getting exercised. “This is my center of gravity. This is my job.”

And:

Let the president pop off. Fallon won’t. No bravado here, nor sound-bite-sized threats, but rather a calm, leathery presence. Fallon is comfortable risking peace because he’s comfortable waging war. And when he conveys messages to the enemies of the United States, he does it not in the provocative cowboy style that has prevailed in Washington so far this century, but with the opposite-a studied quiet that makes it seem as if he is trying to bend them to his will with nothing but the sound of his voice.

And:

Sitting in his Tampa headquarters office last fall, I asked Fallon if he considered the Centcom assignment to be the same career-capping job that it’d been for his predecessors. He just laughed and said, “Career capping? How about career detonating?”