Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fallon Down

Democratic demagoguery is in full screech mode, but Admiral Fallon had to go. Before Hillary seriously presses her calls for an Armed Svcs. Committee hearing on this matter, she might wish to consult our historical record.


According to news reports, Admiral William J. Fallon, Centcom commander for the past year, disagreed with administration policy on Iraq and Iran and with General Petraeus on the surge of troops into Iraq. Last week, Fallon was interviewed for an article in Esquire magazine by Thomas Barnett. The interview includes some highly incendiary and caustic observations about members of the Bush administration, administration policies, conservatives in general and General Petraeus, though the article is written in such a way that it is unclear to the extent these are the thoughts of the author, Mr. Barnett, rather than those of Admiral Fallon.

Regardless, as a result of the article and the furor it has raised, Admiral Fallon has chosen to resign. This from the Washington Post:

The top U.S. commander in the Middle East, whose views on strategy in the region have put him at odds with the Bush administration, abruptly announced his resignation yesterday, calling reports of such disagreements an untenable "distraction."

. . . Fallon, 63, had made several comments reflecting disagreement with the administration's stance on Iran, most recently in an Esquire magazine article last week that portrayed him as the only person who might stop Bush from going to war with the Islamic republic.

"Recent press reports suggesting a disconnect between my views and the president's policy objectives have become a distraction at a critical time," Fallon said in a statement. Though he denied that any discrepancies exist, he said "it would be best to step aside and allow" Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates "and our military leaders to move beyond this distraction."

. . . "Admiral Fallon reached this difficult decision entirely on his own," Gates said yesterday in an unscheduled news conference. He added: "I believe it was the right thing to do, even though I do not believe there are, in fact, significant differences between his views and administration policy." . . .

Read the entire article. Predictably, this led to howls of protest from the utterly ridiculous demagogues on the left:

Several Democrats were quick to accuse the administration of not tolerating dissent. "It's distressing that Admiral Fallon feels he had to step down," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.). "President Bush's oft-repeated claim that he follows the advice of his commanders on the ground rings hollow if our commanders don't feel free to disagree with the president." Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) asked whether Fallon's resignation is a reflection that the administration is hostile to "the frank, open airing of experts' views."

Likewise is the fawning idiocy of David Ignatius in his column today. Similar comments have come from Obama and Hillary. And Hillary has gone one further, asking the Armed Service's Committee to convene a hearing on this matter.

There are many things unclear about Admiral Fallon’s alleged disagreements with the administration. Two things are clear, however. The first is that an executive cannot function by appointing to critical positions people who will not support his positions or who will undercut the executive at every point. Any argument to the contrary is a dangerous canard. We have seen this truism played out time and again throughout this administration as career people in the CIA and State Department have attempted to thwart the President seemingly at every turn, with the publication of the NIE on Iran’s nuclear weapon’s program being the penultimate example of this mindset. You can see another example, this concerning the Justice Department's brief on the 2nd Amendment case before the Supreme Court, here.

Two, if the concept of civilian control of the military is to have any meaning, than it is not permissible to allow military personnel to criticize political decisions outside normal channels. One can argue decisions behind closed doors, and that goes on all the time. But once the doors open, if you are in the military, public criticism or disagreement is not allowed. We, unlike most other countries, have yet to have a military coup in our history books. One thing that has been critical to insuring our military never cross the Rubicon is the muzzle we place on our commanders while they are on active duty in the service.

Examples of this abound. Lincoln fired McClellan for, among other things, McClellan's public comments disparaging the President. Truman fired General MacArthur over the general’s criticism of his Korean policy. Thirty years later, Carter fired Major General Singlaub for publicly speaking out on Carter’s intention to withdraw forces from South Korea. I happened to agree with the latter two generals, but the Presidents' decisions to sack them was completely correct.

If you are in the military, you have an option if you wish to publicly criticize the administration. You must retire or resign from the service. A few do. Maj. Gen. John Batiste retired from the Army so that he could speak out against the Iraq war, though he has now changed his opinion and supports the counterinsurgency and continued operations there. Whether Admiral Fallon is choosing that option now is unclear, but his resignation at this point is wholly appropriate.

If Admiral Fallon wishes to speak out against Bush and others, he will have every right to do so once the words "U.S.N., ret." appear under his signature block. I have no doubt that he will soon be getting phone calls from Teddy, Harry and Nancy to do just that. But to claim he should have the right to do so while in uniform and in command is another matter entirely.

Update: Mackubin Thomas Owens, writing in the Daily Standard, makes the same arguments that I do above.

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