Mar 15, 2008 1:52 pm


In Fallon's Fall, Michael Baron writes:

Barnett paints Fallon as a seasoned officer who coolly and wisely has been frustrating George W. Bush’s desire to invade Iran. He points out that Fallon opposed the surge in Iraq ordered by Bush in January 2007 and that he has tried to rein in Gen. David Petraeus, whose leadership of the surge has produced such impressive results. He seems to take it for granted that readers will applaud Fallon for opposing a move that converted likely defeat to a high chance of success.

Fallon also made it plain that he wants to withdraw troops from Iraq, as soon as possible — even though Defense Secretary Robert Gates has approved Petraeus’s request for a pause after currently scheduled troop withdrawals end in July.

Finally, Bush followed in Truman's footsteps. The question is whether his inexperience has made him so diffident in the past as to encourage growing subordination which led to the publication of the disastrous NIE. I believe so. That is the reason that it is advantageous in wartime to have a president comfortable in their knowledge of the military during wartime. Eisenhower comes to mind and so does John McCain.

One of the firmest principles of American public life, established with great deliberateness by George Washington, is civilian control of the military. The vast majority of American military officers over our history have honored and cherished that principle. Fallon, as portrayed by Barnett, seemed to relish brushing it aside.

My guess is that Gates, who was a career professional and whose memoir stresses the continuity of U.S. government policy in different administrations, decided that enough was enough.

Tough questions remain about how civilian commanders should choose and interact with military professionals. Bush’s record, in my view, has been far from ideal. He has seemed content with letting others choose military commanders and then accepting their advice with little of the abrasive interaction recommended by Eliot Cohen in his 2002 book Supreme Command. Only after the debacle of the 2006 elections did he call on David Petraeus.

One wonders how much he pondered the installation at Central Command of Petraeus’s critic Fallon. It is surely a difficult thing for civilian presidents to choose able and apt military commanders — looking back in our history Franklin Roosevelt seems to have been the only commander-in-chief who had a consistent record of doing so early on. But at least Bush — and Gates — have rectified what they must now consider a mistake. And they have reaffirmed the ancient principle of civilian control.

Of course, rectifying the mistake also signals that the military option against Iran HAS NOT been taken of the table. I am sure this message was not lost on either the Iranians nor on the lest of our friends and foes. If we are lucky, it along with the emergence of McCain as the Republic nominee may go some way towards rectify at least in part the damage done by the NIE.

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