Top Military Commander Resigns Adm. William Fallon resigned Tuesday, sparking rumors of a clash with the administration. We explore what his resignation of means for U.S. policy on Iran and Iraq.
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Top Military Commander Resigns

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Top Military Commander Resigns

Top Military Commander Resigns

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ANTHONY BROOKS, host:

This week, Admiral William Fallon resigned as commander of the U.S. Central Command.

That command oversees not only the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also the entire region of the Middle East and Asia.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

An article in this month's Esquire magazine suggests that Admiral Fallon was the only voice opposing war with Iran in the Bush administration.

Slate.com's Fred Kaplan is an expert on the military. I spoke with him earlier.

Fred, is it true, as the article's headline suggests, that he was the only one standing between war and peace with Iran?

Mr. FRED KAPLAN (Slate.com): No, it's not at all true. He had expre4ssed publicly severe misgivings about any possibly, any idea of going to war against Iran. But you know, so has Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. So has the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, so have various people in the diplomatic core.

You know, Admiral Fallon would no have even taken part in a White House meeting to decide whether or not to drop bombs on Iran. So his importance and the uniqueness of his views on this matter are greatly overstated.

BRAND: Any indication at all behind closed doors at the Pentagon that they are actually drawing up plans to strike Iran?

Mr. KAPLAN: Well, you know, there are always plans. I've been told in no uncertain terms by a number of sources that - well, Vice President Cheney or at least people in his office are keen to do this. There really is no support for it anywhere else in the administration.

Now, that doesn't mean that it might not happen, but Gates in particular has held debates in front of the president on this question, and the conclusion - namely that it wouldn't be a very good idea for a lot of reasons - it seems to have come through.

BRAND: Okay. So maybe Admiral Fallon didn't step down because of Iran. Now, he said the reason why he reigned is because the media was portraying his comments and his views in a wrong light, that it was portraying him as opposed to the Bush administration's policies when in fact he wasn't opposed to the Bush administration's policies.

Mr. KAPLAN: In the most limited way possible, that's true. But he also said things - he sort of boasted to the reporter about how he's in hot water with the White House now.

But you know, this was just sort of the last straw for a lot of his superiors. The real reason - to the extent policy has anything to do with his departure, it has to do with Iraq, not with Iran. Remember, a couple of months ago Secretary Gates said that after the final surge brigades leave Iraq this summer there would be a pause before there would be any further withdrawals. Bush has said that it would be fine with him if there were no further withdrawals. Fallon came out with a statement which said, well, the pause will be brief, and then the draw-downs will resume at the same pace.

I've asked around whether Fallon's views reflected those of Gates or anybody else and have heard from various sources that no, they did not. Fallon has also had many conflicts with General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. Petraeus, his responsibility is Iraq, the security of Iraq; Fallon's is of the entire Middle East region. Fallon has thought and said so, that too many of our resources are being wasted on Iraq. He thinks Iraq is a dead end and putting so many resources there crimps our operations in Afghanistan and our preparations for crises elsewhere. Petraeus seems to have won this battle - Fallon, you know, keeps talking in public about it, and I think he was basically considered a case of insubordination.

BRAND: Hmm. Even though he was technically General Petraeus's boss?

Mr. KAPLAN: Well, he was General Petraeus's boss, but on this particular argument President Bush had made his views clear. And after - and most officers I talk to think that after the president has made a decision, if you're a military officer, that's sort of the end of the discussion, at least publicly.

BRAND: And then could it be, as General Petraeus is leaving his job at the end of the year, could it be that he replaces Fallon?

Mr. KAPLAN: He may well be. There are only so many places that a four-star general can go in the military. Some people were talking about having him as European commander. It would make a lot more sense to put him - to leave him in the region.

BRAND: Well, what would that mean then in terms of the American Middle East strategy? Would it mean greater focus on Iraq and not so much on Afghanistan?

Mr. KAPLAN: Well, you know, it's unclear. You know, there is an old adage in the study of bureaucratic politics. You stand where you sit. Petraeus will be coming to this position if he comes there from having been the commander in Iraq, but he will be obligated to take a much broader purview. Maybe his own position will shift by the new position.

BRAND: Fred Kaplan is the author of the new book, "Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power."

Thank you, Fred.

Mr. KAPLAN: Thank you.

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