WASHINGTON — A salute is due Adm. William Fallon, who tried to prevent a wider war with Iran.
After serving one year as commander of U.S. Central Command, Fallon has resigned, saying he was quitting because his differences with official U.S. policy had become a "distraction."
But there is a widespread perception that he was pushed out by the neo-conservatives among President Bush's aides, especially Vice President Dick Cheney, because of Fallon's reluctance to go along with the administration's hawkish moves toward Iran.
Cheney, who took five consecutive draft deferments to stay out of the Vietnam War, does not mind keeping the U.S. in the Iraqi quagmire he helped create. The same goes for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the presumptive GOP presidential candidate, who said that leaving Iraq is not a U.S. option.
McCain once said the U.S. could stay in Iraq for 100 years.
As head of Centcom, Fallon's command ran from the Mediterranean to South Asia and included Iraq, where he ran afoul of Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander there.
Petraeus would maintain the 130,000 pre-surge U.S. troop-level in Iraq, probably till the end of the Bush presidency. Fallon was concerned that keeping so many troops in Iraq could leave the U.S. unprepared for any new crises that might occur elsewhere.
Petraeus is scheduled to report on the war in Iraq to Bush in early April and, in view of the lessened violence there, is expected to present his usual upbeat assessment of how things are going. Petraeus plays ball and gives the president the answers he wants.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, also on the team, indicated Fallon was right to quit.
"Admiral Fallon reached this difficult decision on his own, said Gates. "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," Gates added.
The Pentagon chief, who has held top jobs in government for years, is a survivor who learned long ago to ride the right horse.
He praised Fallon, saying he was "enormously talented and very experienced, and he does have a strategic vision that is rare."
While the differences between Fallon and the bellicose White House were well known, they came to a head in an article in the April issue of Esquire Magazine written by Thomas Barnett, a former professor at the Army War College.
Barnett wrote that if Fallon left his job anytime soon, it could signal that Bush intends to go to war with Iran.
Gates called that assertion "just ridiculous."
"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. He said it would be "best to step aside and let our military leaders move beyond this distraction."
Fallon appears to be a military man with peaceful intentions. The Esquire article quoted him: "What America needs is a combination of strength and willingness to engage."
The change of command in the Persian Gulf also comes as a time when the U.S. is marking the fifth year in a mindless war with no end in sight.
Fallon was a rarity in the top military ranks. To tell the truth to the commander-in-chief often has a price.
Ask Gen. Colin Powell, former secretary of state, who sacrificed his credibility when he spoke to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, and delivered a pack of falsehoods to justify the U.S. attack on Iraq.
Powell later called it a "blot" on his career.
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