ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
The Naval officer nominated to become the head of U.S. Central Command told the Senate panel today that the military ought to lower its expectations for success in Iraq. Admiral William Fallon was speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Admiral WILLIAM FALLON (U.S. Navy): Maybe we ought to redefine of the goals here a bit and do something that's more realistic in terms of getting some progress, and then maybe take on the other things later.
SIEGEL: The Senate is expected to confirm Fallon as chief of Central Command. He will succeed the retiring General John Abizaid and become commander of U.S. forces in the world's most volatile region.
As NPR's Guy Raz reports, Fallon's strength could have a lot to do with what he doesn't know.
GUY RAZ: By his title, admiral, you've probably figured out that William Fallon is a Navy man, and a Navy man who is about to take command of two ground wars, one in Afghanistan and the other Iraq. Now, it may seem unusual for a seafarer to oversee land-based battle, but think again. The machinery of the global economy depends on three key choke points in the area called CENTCOM. And all of these choke points are sea-lanes: -the Straits of Tehran and Hormuz, and the Suez Canal. And through these lanes, tankers carry a crucial portion of the world's oil. So it's probably why Michigan Senator Carl Levin describes Central Command as -
Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): The U.S. military's most challenging combatant command.
RAZ: The U.S. military basically divides the world into five areas of responsibility. The military calls them Unified Combatant Commands. And right now, Fallon is in charge of Pacific Command, or PACCOM, the area that includes most of Asia. It makes him one of the five most important field commanders in the U.S. military. But Central Command, or CENTCOM, where he's headed, is the most high profile, the most glamorous.
This is where the celebrity general is born. Tommy Franks, Anthony Zinni, Norman Schwarzkopf, all of these men CENTCOM commanders. Now, in his testimony today, Fallon proved he's got a lot to learn about his new patch of the Earth's surface. Here's a question he got from Senator Carl Levin.
Senator LEVIN: What do you understand the policy to be? Could this flow change? Could it be slowed down, stopped, if the Iraqis do not carry out the commitment? And my operative word is there could it be slowed down?
Admiral FALLON: Senator, I have not gotten into the details of these plans.
RAZ: Senator Hillary Clinton had several questions as well.
Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Could you briefly respond to those please?
Admiral FALLON: Senator, very interesting area, wouldn't presumed to dive deeply into this pool yet because I don't know enough detail.
RAZ: And here's Senator John McCain.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): What's your degree of confidence that the Iraqi government and military are up to the task that we're now embarking on in this new strategy?
Admiral FALLON: Critical question, particularly in the political arena. And I don't have an assessment of that.
RAZ: And here's Senator Jack Reed.
Senator JACK REED (Democrat, Rhode Island): How many real extra bodies are going out to accompany these 20,000 extra troops and civilians agencies?
Admiral FALLON: Senator, I don't know.
Senator REED: Isn't that important for you to know, sir?
Admiral FALLON: I intend to find out.
RAZ: But he's only got until early March to bone up. Fallon's predecessor, John Abizaid, retires in a month.
Guy Raz, NPR News, Washington.
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