Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Pentagon insurgency

US Admiral William Fallon was forced out of his job as chief of the Pentagon's Central Command because he disagreed with George Bush's policy on Iran and Iraq. The Wall Street Journal ("The Pentagon vs. Petraeus") considers the problem --

A fateful debate is now taking place at the Pentagon that will determine the pace of U.S. military withdrawals for what remains of President Bush's term. Senior Pentagon officials -- including, we hear, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, Army Chief of Staff George Casey and Admiral Fallon -- have been urging deeper troop cuts in Iraq beyond the five "surge" combat brigades already scheduled for redeployment this summer.

Last month Mr. Gates agreed to a pause in these withdrawals, so that General David Petraeus could assess whether the impressive security gains achieved by the surge can be maintained with fewer troops. But now the Pentagon seems to be pushing for a pause of no more than four to six weeks before the drawdowns resume.

So everyone who ranks above Petraeus wants more withdrawals from Iraq as soon as possible. A tricky one for Bush who has always talked about listening to the generals, not one subordinate general. For the WSJ, the way forward is clear: Bush must overrule everyone who doesn't agree with him. And/or force them out of their jobs. It's a strange way to run a country.

Incidentally, the aforementioned Bob Gates was forced into at least one misleading statement at the news conference announcing that Fallon was out --

Q Did you discuss this with the president before you accepted it?
SEC. GATES: I had -- the president has made clear all along that these matters are to be handled strictly within the Department of Defense. I communicated -- the president's traveling today; I communicated this morning, through the national security adviser, what Admiral Fallon had informed me and what I intended to do.

By "these matters", Gates can only mean the specific business about offering to retire and it being accepted. The idea that Bush had no role in Fallon quitting, not least given what the WSJ says about the rampant disagreements within the Pentagon, is preposterous.

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