Administration should heed Fallon’s wisdom
The commander of U.S. Middle East forces has retired after publicly voicing his policy differences with the Bush administration.
The premature retirement of Adm. William Fallon as top commander of American forces in the Middle East hardens the characterization of the Bush administration as disinclined to tolerate dissent.
Even though Defense Secretary Robert Gates attempted to squelch speculation that Fallon was being pushed out because of his views as expressed in an Esquire magazine interview (reprinted on pages E1 and E6 of this section), clearly Fallon's public statements about Iran and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan he has overseen for a year had strained relations with his civilian bosses.
Fallon, who spent two years in Hawaii as head of the U.S. Pacific Command, apparently broke form by voicing his differing opinions, in addition to butting heads with Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq who is his subordinate, but who enjoys great favor at the White House.
The administration has shown little tolerance for independent thought among its military advisers even when expressed reluctantly.
Gen. Eric Shinseki found this to be true. When questioned during a hearing before the Senate in 2003, the Kauai-born West Point graduate gave a straightforward assessment that several hundred thousand soldiers would be needed to stabilize Iraq after an invasion. His prescient judgment was ridiculed by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, among others. The general then found himself marginalized until he retired.
Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, a Wahiawa High School graduate, was forced into retirement after civilian Pentagon officials deemed "overzealous" his investigation of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and because he had questioned statements by Rumsfeld that he was unaware of the scope of mistreatment at the facility.
Gates said Fallon's calls for patience and diplomacy had created a "misperception" about U.S. policy toward Iran, but dismissing the admiral's judgment would be a mistake. That his views are largely shared by many of his senior military colleagues give them weight.
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