The news that should - but probably won't - dominate the headlines today is the sudden and premature "retirement" of Admiral William J. Fallon. In case you didn't know, Fallon is the commander of the United States Central Command (known as CentCom). As such, he is effectively David Petraeus's boss. You'll know who Petraeus is, of course: he's the guy spear-heading the war in Iraq.
Fallon retired? Now that's the sort of news that makes me feel a little queasy.
Why? Well because, simply put, Fallon is generally seen as being the top brass that's been calmly and quietly attempting to edge Bush away from what could be an international catastrophe on a scale to actually eclipse the Iraq invasion: a war against Iran.
Now, however, he's been fired. Yes, fired (the "retired" thing is, I am sure, a smoke screen). The reason is clear enough: it was an article published last week in Esquire, appropriately called "The Man Between War and Peace". In it, the author, Thomas P.M. Barnett, writes:
Just as Fallon took over Centcom last spring, the White House was putting itself on a war footing with Iran. Almost instantly, Fallon began to calmly push back against what he saw as an ill-advised action. Over the course of 2007, Fallon's statements in the press grew increasingly dismissive of the possibility of war, creating serious friction with the White House.
Last December, when the National Intelligence Estimate downgraded the immediate nuclear threat from Iran, it seemed as if Fallon's caution was justified. But still, well-placed observers now say that it will come as no surprise if Fallon is relieved of his command before his time is up next spring, maybe as early as this summer, in favor of a commander the White House considers to be more pliable. If that were to happen, it may well mean that the president and vice-president intend to take military action against Iran before the end of this year and don't want a commander standing in their way.
And so Fallon, the good cop, may soon be unemployed because he's doing what a generation of young officers in the U. S. military are now openly complaining that their leaders didn't do on their behalf in the run-up to the war in Iraq: He's standing up to the commander in chief, whom he thinks is contemplating a strategically unsound war.
A war against Iran? Now? Surely that's unthinkable... Yes, but most reasonable people felt more or less the same way shortly before March 20, 2003. And look where that got us.