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Tilting at Windmills

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March 12, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

MORE ON FALLON....Was CENTCOM commander Adm. William Fallon unfairly forced to resign? Fred Kaplan suggests it was probably inevitable:

Last month, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that after the five "surge" brigades left Iraq this July, there would be a "pause" before any further withdrawals would commence. In a Feb. 27 interview with the New York Times, Fallon said this pause would be brief, just long enough to allow "all the dust to settle," after which the drawdown would resume. Moreover, he said, U.S. strategy would shift — focusing on "supporting, sustaining, advising, training, and mentoring" the Iraqi army, not so much on fighting or providing security ourselves.

In a Slate column the next day, I wondered if Fallon was speaking on behalf of Gates, the administration, or anybody besides himself. I have since learned, from a senior Pentagon official and from a high-ranking Army officer, that he was not. I have also learned that many of Fallon's statements on policy matters have been similarly unauthorized.

There's a limit to how much public freelancing can be tolerated from a regional commander — or any other military officer. Although most liberals are probably sympathetic toward Fallon's views, it's worth keeping in mind that a year from now the shoe is probably going to be on the other foot. Do we really want the commander in Iraq in 2009 telling the press that President Obama's withdrawal plans are likely to lead to chaos and need to be slowed down? Even if that's his heartfelt professional opinion?

I don't think so. Bottom line: I'll stick with civilian control of the military, even if I don't happen to like the current civilians. It sounds like Fallon crossed the line once too often.

Kevin Drum 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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I'll stick with civilian control of the military
In principle, you're absolutely right. But with the current civilian leadership, I fear that we might miss Fallon's bluntness very soon.

Posted by: thersites on March 12, 2008 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Bottom line: I'll stick with civilian control of the military, even if I don't happen to like the current civilians. It sounds like Fallon crossed that line once too often.

Josh Marshall has rather a different view:

But considering the Bush Administration's seven-year effort to put the Pentagon under its thumb, the resignation of a commander like Fallon, who by most accounts was willing to exercise his independent military judgment, is another setback for the professional officer corps as an institution. Make no mistake. None of the Bush Administration's efforts in this regard has been about re-asserting civilian control over the military in some constitutional sense. The effort has been focused on degrading the autonomy, independence, and institutional authority of the Pentagon in order to further the narrow ideological and partisan aims of this particular White House.

www.talkingpointsmemo.com

Posted by: Stefan on March 12, 2008 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

George Bush controls the military as commander-in-chief. That military has been a disaster--

One deluded, Crusading president can put the whole world in flames. ("Aren't we all ready for the end times?")


Civilian control of the military has to include more civilians than the president, don't you think?

Posted by: Dr WU-the last of the big time thinkers on March 12, 2008 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

What Stefan copied. I don't think the principle of civilian control even registered with these guys.

Posted by: Boronx on March 12, 2008 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

"Do we really want the commander in Iraq in 2009 telling the press that President Obama's withdrawal plans are likely to lead to chaos and need to be slowed down? Even if that's his heartfelt professional opinion?"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
What if that is the miltary commander's opinion and it's an INFORMED judgment? Who else but the man (metaphorically) dodging the bullets and picking up the body parts to tell it like it is? Do we want 8 more years of a President and a Perino stating just one or two more FU's and everything will be all right? Why is a military leader publicly at odds with his civilian master guilty of "undermining" anything? He ultimately must carry out orders exactly as they're passed down. Doing otherwise is criminal. The President still gets his war. Do we want the nation on board with an ill-advised hostile action because of a flood of civilians lies about it's neccessity when muzzled military leaders think the venture insane?

Posted by: steve duncan on March 12, 2008 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

When the strategy is so egregiously wrong a commander who puts integrity above career has no other option. I'm sure that closed door methods of persuasion are almost always pursued before any commander takes such steps. If you see several incidents of this nature under an administration, that should be a pretty strong signal that something is seriously amiss.

Posted by: bigTom on March 12, 2008 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Fallon said this pause would be brief, just long enough to allow "all the dust to settle," after which the drawdown would resume.

I thought this in essence was what Petraeus and Gates told everybody publicly what the plan was going to be. If he is just paraphrasing or restating plans that have already been made public, what's the problem? I can see where his candid opinions could be embarrassing to the CIC and SecDef, etc., but if they were concerned with that so much, why did they promote him in the first place? One would think that they would have a good read on his persona beforehand.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on March 12, 2008 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

In principle, Kevin, this son of 4 generations of veterans agrees with you. But this is an administration that has, itself, been actively politicizing the officer corps.

Seems to me that the Admiral has been taking the only honorable course in the face of those particular circumstances.

Posted by: Brautigan on March 12, 2008 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

I'm going to go out on a limb here, I am basing this prediction on the tenancy in today's Military for the Officer class to lead hard right Republican and for many of them to be hard core Evangelicals, "There WILL be a commander in Iraq in 2009 telling the press that President Obama's withdrawal plans are likely to lead to chaos..." No doubt about it. Its something that he should be prepared for.

Posted by: Henk on March 12, 2008 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Civilian control of the military is an excellent principle. But it's just a general principle. Personally, I'm convinced that the civilians currently in control of the military are guilty of war crimes. In which case, I want military commanders to have the courage to stand up to the shrub.

Posted by: Amit Joshi on March 12, 2008 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

...and there will be plenty of very vocal (Loud mouthed) Republican Congress critters to back them up...count on it.

Posted by: henk on March 12, 2008 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

In order to act with Principles in mind, doesn't everyone dealing with an issue have to have some?

Admiral Fallon, what ever his faults, wanted what was best for our Armed Forces. The same can not be said of the bush43 Administration. Some of us question whether they have any principles at all other than lining their own pockets.

Posted by: kindness on March 12, 2008 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

I don't agree that a regional military commander speaking their mind represents a threat to civilian control of the military.

Now if he refuses to obey commands from the president that's another matter.

Posted by: Tlaloc on March 12, 2008 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

Amit Joshi >"...I'm convinced that the civilians currently in control of the military are guilty of war crimes. In which case, I want military commanders to have the courage to stand up to the shrub."

This veteran totally agrees. Thanks.

The complete link to the TPM item. And here is a followup, "...too sane for the Bush White House...." indeed.

"...This is not a game." - Lorie Van Auken (2001.09.11 widow)

Posted by: daCascadian on March 12, 2008 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

Well considering we are restraining madmen, in all probability, literal MAD MEN I'm going to come down on the other side.

Your way eventually leads to King Bush ordering the military to kill me because I oppose him. And them doing it.

Posted by: MNPundit on March 12, 2008 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

And Drum goes up a point. Wait was that a pig going past the window?

Posted by: 1SG on March 12, 2008 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know, Kevin, I still think there is something really fishy about the whole thing.

I also feel, and I hope you'll understand the need to be frank, an almost inexcusably naive tendency on the part of the media and bloggers to do things like accept without scrutiny statements in the media that people like Fallon- military leaders during a contentious war- made statements that were 'unauthorized' or 'off the record' or 'rumors' or 'leaks.' You should know better than to think that what's said is a leak or looks like a leak has to be an independent move by one individual, and not part of a camouflaged, intentional strategy to manipulate perception. Every time I read / hear 'the CIA said...' or 'the CIA did...' in the mainstream media or on a blog nowadays, I just feel like gritting my teeth-- hey, how can any of us (if the CIA are really any good at the type of things they work on) be sure that anything we've heard about what the CIA does, says it thinks, or says it does, is accurate at all? Just food for thought.

Posted by: Swan on March 12, 2008 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

In contrast to many of the comments upthread, I agree 100% with Kevin. Even military commanders "speaking their minds" or going public with "professional judgment" is the first step on an extremely dangerous and slippery slope.

Look at what happened with Truman and MacArthur. A popular military figure, even without overtly disobeying orders, can serve as a political focus for a nascent defacto military coup, simply by speaking his mind.

The political branch controls the military, and the military must not be allowed even to enter politics.

Posted by: bleh on March 12, 2008 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

>"Civilian control of the military has to include more civilians than the president, don't you think?"

The founding fathers thought so... they knew an idiot might eventually become president.

Wisely, they saw the power to declare war as a most grave and formal act and put in the hands of Congress, and only in the hands of Congress.

Today, our Congress in it's cowardice has punted this power over to the executive in the form of broad and vague 'blank check' resolutions.

Look where that's taken us. War is now an act that can basically be taken at the whim of the president. We are in grave danger... and it's not from Iraq, Iran or ... (fill in blanks)

Posted by: Buford on March 12, 2008 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

I also feel, and I hope you'll understand the need to be frank, an almost inexcusably naive tendency on the part of the media and bloggers to do things like accept without scrutiny statements in the media that people like Fallon- military leaders during a contentious war- made statements that were 'unauthorized' or 'off the record' or 'rumors' or 'leaks.' You should know better than to think that what's said is a leak or looks like a leak has to be an independent move by one individual, and not part of a camouflaged, intentional strategy to manipulate perception.

Oh, do tell, you little turd! Do tell!

Thank the Creator you're here to explain all of this to a befuddled and confused people! Thank goodness you're here to school everyone as to how to be "sophisticated" enough to recognize what I like to call "bullshit."

The only one spewing bullshit here is you, sir. Take your schoolboy ways and your cheap haircut and buzz off. I am sick of you, too.

Go away kid--ya bother me. And it's not because you're young. It's because you're so stupid, you walked into a Wallgreens and said "Hey! These walls aren't green!"

Posted by: Norman Rogers on March 12, 2008 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

We're in a cleft stick here. What Kevin is saying is essentially, "It's important for sane, nonpartisan generals to keep their mouths shut because otherwise crazy partisan generals will feel entitled to blather when we don't want them to."

Guess what: crazy partisan generals have been shooting their mouths off for at least the past 60 years. Some of them have been fired for their temerity, as have some of the sane, nonpartisan ones. Some haven't.

But as we've also seen, even generals who stay quiet can get fired. So blaming him for the freelancing doesn't really get anyone anywhere.

Posted by: paul on March 12, 2008 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

absolutely agree. it's dismaying to see the comments from kenney and reid, cause you can bet your ass when a democrat is in the white house, you're gonna hear all kinds of commentary from those uniforms -- and democrats won't be able to do a damn thing about it. "how dare clinton/obama demand admiral/general's resignation! they were only exercising their freedom of speech" -- and the media will only be too happy to propel the disinformation.

Posted by: linda on March 12, 2008 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

The political branch controls the military, and the military must not be allowed even to enter politics.

True in general, but that's not what happened in this case. Let's face it, the Bush regime could give a fuck about civilian control of the military as a constitutional principle. What's happening here isn't their attempt to take politics out of the military, but the exact opposite -- it's to politicize the military, to make it yet one more subservient arm of the Republican Party spouting GOP talking points. They don't want "civilian" control of the military -- they want Republican control. There's the difference.

Posted by: Stefan on March 12, 2008 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

NBC Nightly News reported last night that Gates has been refusing to take Fallon's calls. That doesn't sound much like "reluctance and regret" to me unless it means Gate's hands were tied and he got his orders to shut up and get Fallon out from the WH.

The WH spin factory is massaging this story like crazy, Kevin.

Regards, C

Posted by: Cernig on March 12, 2008 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

Meanwhile, Clinton, Kerry and Webb have called for Senate investigation and hearings. Want to bet the WH won't let Fallon testify?

Regards, C

Posted by: Cernig on March 12, 2008 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin is absolutely right on this. Fallon is well within his rights to push his beliefs through the chain of command: he is not within his rights to publicly question the CinC's directives.

Posted by: Bob on March 12, 2008 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

To you civilians with relatively little historical knowledge of the Military let me just say one thing:

General of the Army Douglas MacArthur and Korea.

'Nuff said.

Posted by: Rick B on March 12, 2008 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

Well, Rick B., thanks for letting us know how smart you are and how stupid the rest of us are.

'Nuff said?

Posted by: thersites on March 12, 2008 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

So...letting a general speak candidly like this MIGHT bite Democrats later if we get a Dem prez and have generals speak up against them?

Um....aren't we going to get this regardless? Considering many military brass are likely to persist in the idea that Democrats = Miltiary Cuts = Bad for Military, I'm sure we're going to get bitching regardless. So let it happen, because right now, someone with real operational power DOES need to speak up against this Administration.

Posted by: Kryptik on March 12, 2008 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

Do we really want the commander in Iraq in 2009 telling the press that President Obama's withdrawal plans are likely to lead to chaos and need to be slowed down? Even if that's his heartfelt professional opinion?

Yes.

Posted by: ogmb on March 12, 2008 at 6:47 PM | PERMALINK

I think there is a big difference between Fallon and Shinseki. Shinseki truthfully answered a question during required testimony to Congress; no way he should have been retired early.

Fallon, as much as I agree with his views, seems to me to have sought out occasions to publicly question policy and political matters. If by doing so he loses the confidence of his superiors then he has to go, period. The point is, his superiors would no longer have confidence that he would carry out orders, which is the first and last duty of a soldier.

Personally, I think he deliberately fell on his sword. It was an act of courage, in that he sacrificed the end of his career to publicly object to policy. His right and his duty to the country, but he also pays the price, as he knew he would.

Posted by: searp on March 13, 2008 at 12:52 AM | PERMALINK

So, after several years of beating up the military for not speaking up about invading Iraq, we're going to beat up on a military leader for expressing an opinion firmly grounded in tactical reality? I think not.

I do not expect military commanders to be politicians. The Bush administration selected him based on his expertise. He spoke based on his expertise. He willingly paid the consequences with his career. All respect to this officer. I deeply appreciate his frankness, and hope that a Democratic president will also have to put up with the informed opinions of his own chosen specialists.

Posted by: J. Myers on March 13, 2008 at 12:52 AM | PERMALINK

And Fallon no longer has to bear the risk that the Green Zone, Camp Victory, etc. will be inundated with Scud missiles, an American aircraft carrier sunk on his watch when we belligerently blunder into war with Iran.

Posted by: bob h on March 13, 2008 at 7:29 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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