Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sandbox Admiral

I normally find some pseudo-witty way to euphemize profanity, but for this piece I felt it was important to reflect the language of the source documents. Thanks for your indulgence.

Admiral William "Fox" Fallon is the first Navy four-star to be put in charge of U.S. Central Command, the Middle East sandbox traditionally assigned to an Army or Marine Corps general. According to a recent Esquire article by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Fallon may also be the only force in global politics keeping Dick Cheney from entangling America in an all out war with Iran.

If that's so, it's another indication of just how broken America's system of government has become under George W. Bush's dysfunctional stewardship.

Bull Run

When Fallon took the CENTCOM helm in March 2007, some observers (including this one) feared he had been given the job for the specific purpose of attacking Iran. Who better, the reasoning went, to preside over the type of air and maritime operation that a conflict with Iran would dictate than a naval aviator, especially one like Fallon who'd already had experience as a four-star theater commander in the Pacific?

Historian and journalist Gareth Porter put that perception to rest in May when he cited Fallon as having said an attack on Iran "will not happen on my watch" and reported that Fallon had identified himself as part of a group of senior officers who were "trying to put the crazies [Cheney's neocon cabal] back in the box."

In September, Porter gave an account of a meeting between Fallon and Mr. Bush's "main man" General David Petraeus in which Fallon called Petraeus "an ass-kissing little chickenshit" to his face. "Fallon had a 'visceral distaste' for what he regarded as Petraeus's sycophantic behavior in general," Porter wrote. Fallon was "strongly opposed to Petraeus's role as pitchman for the surge policy in Iraq" and deemed that Petraeus had put "his own interests ahead of a sound military posture in the Middle East and Southwest Asia."

In Barnett's article, Fallon called Porter's account of his meeting with Petraeus "absolute bullshit," and said the tip-off that the story was bogus was the word "chickenshit." "My kids called me up laughing about that one," Fallon told Barnett, "saying they knew the story wasn't true because I never use that word."

"So put Fallon down as a 'bullshit' and not a 'chickenshit' kind of guy," Barnett wrote.

Heh. I'll tell you what's bullshit: the notion that a hard-boiled character like Fallon could spend forty years in the Navy and rise to the four-star level and never use the word "chickenshit." "Chickenshit" is a keystone of traditional naval jargon. It means something distinctly different from "bullshit," and is the precise word that describes Petraeus and the publicity stunts he pulls like when he challenges enlisted men half his age to one-arm push up contests to dazzle senior Pentagon correspondents who ought to know better than to be taken in by that kind of chickenshit. (Like, is there a private in the Army who doesn’t know he needs to let Petraeus win when Tom Ricks is watching?)

In fact, the more I reread Barnett's article, the more it sounds like a crock of bullshit that somebody's trying to pass off as a bowl of chocolate ice cream.

Looks Like, Feels Like, Smells Like, Tastes Like

Porter wrote an analysis of Barnett's story, and Barnett wrote a blog on Porter's analysis, and pretty soon Barnett's Fallon story turned into a story about Barnett. I guess that sort of thing is an inescapable fact of post-modern journalism. Regardless of their primary media, investigators and pundits alike have to compete with Chris Matthews and Bill O'Reilly for bandwidth, and transparent, objective reportage these days is as rare as a Mel Brooks screenplay that doesn't have a juicy part for Mel Brooks. As a result, journalists of all stripes feel pressure to trade their integrity for access to the high and mighty.

Accordingly, it's hard to ignore the conspicuous indications that, wittingly or not, Barnett told the world the story about Fallon that Fallon wanted the world to hear.

Barnett describes Fallon as "that rarest of creatures in the Bush universe: the good cop on Iran, and a man of strategic brilliance." It's "left to Fallon--and apparently Fallon alone" to "push back" against an "ill advised" attack on Iran. Fallon is "the American at the center of every circle" in the Middle East, and it is "a testament to his skill, and to the failure of American diplomacy, that so much is left for this military man to do himself."

In all, "Desert Fox" Fallon does the entire American hero repertoire: speeding bullets, locomotives, tall buildings, you name it.

It may just be that Barnett is taken with powerful men and can't refrain from gushing about them in print. In 2005 he gave the same lipstick service to then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. ("Rumsfeld pops out of his chair with the speed of the weekly squash player he still is at age seventy-three and strides over to shake my hand." Ick!)

But Barnett's Fallon story contains more shape charged messages than a schoolboy crush alone can account for.

We have a major magazine telling a global audience that Fallon might get fired for standing up to Bush. That pretty much guarantees Bush can't fire him. For good measure, we get the horseshit where Fallon calls the chickenshit story total bullshit. That's in case anybody gets the bright idea of shit canning him for letting the chickenshit story get out; he couldn't have leaked the story if it never happened, right? Tee hee, wink. I bet that just about drives Dick Cheney snakeshit.

The world hears Fallon's private message to the leaders of Iran. When Barnett asks what will happen if it comes to war with that country, Fallon answers, "Get serious. These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them." Sounds like these ant guys need to straighten up and fly right on the wing of their biggest, bestest buddy Fox Fallon, doesn't it?

"I'm not the chief diplomat of this country, and certainly not the secretary of state," Fallon just happens to say one night in Pakistan within earshot of Barnett. But pages later, when Barnett is again around to bear witness, Fallon eviscerates the U.S. embassy deputy chief of mission for not knowing about one of a provincial governor's long standing problems. No, Fallon is not the chief diplomat in these parts. He is far more. Douglas McArthur, Dwight Eisenhower and Chester Nimitz each served a wartime tour of duty as commander of a theater of operations. Fox Fallon is on his second such tour. He is God.

Here's the piece of resistance. Shortly after Barnett's story hit the web, Fallon got on the horn to Tom Ricks at the Washington Post and cried like a girl about how what everyone else described as a "glowing" and "admiring" profile of him was "poison pen stuff" that was "really disrespectful and ugly."

What kind of shit do you call that, huh? I mean, what sort of animal's rear end did that busload of whiff drop out of?

The only things in Barnett's article Fallon might possibly have to complain about are the pictures of him that make him look like the title character in a 50s horror flick. At first glance, you'd guess that Esquire Photoshopped a couple of his official photos. But they're both credited to Peter Yang, a high profile photographer who shoots rock stars and other cool people. The second picture appears to show Fallon sitting on a stool and relaxing for a moment, suggesting that Fallon sat for Yang in a studio and approved of the bizarre lighting effects. Hence, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Fallon, for reasons we may appreciate but never fully understand, wanted to look like a monster.

Whatever went on with the Barnett article, it was a lot more than meets the eye. It's difficult to imagine that Barnett got the kind of access to Fallon he had without granting Fallon a major say about what got hung on the clothesline. Fallon's never been one to hog the media spotlight, but he didn't get where he is by being a dip shit about handling the press.

To be honest though, I mostly agree with Barnett's fawning assessment of Fallon. The Fox may well be the most brilliant strategic thinker and player of the 21st century, and we should probably thank our Maker that the right guy is in the right place at the right time to keep our civilian leaders from turning the disaster they've created into an even bigger one.

On the other hand, it scares the living shit out of me that an admiral who's supposed to be a general is most likely dictating foreign policy to elected officials in our executive and legislative branches who are supposed to dictate foreign policy to him. You expect squirrelly shit like that to go on in one of Fallon's bananastans, but it's not supposed to happen in the United States of America.

"So we can play war…"

"Populated by outrageous characters and fueled with pompous outrage, Huber’s irreverent broadside will pummel the funny bone of anyone who’s served." — Publishers Weekly

"A remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight." — Booklist


  1. Anonymous2:17 AM

    I never served with Fallon. And apologies in advance if this offends, it must be said.

    From what I have observed so far, Fallon is a flag officer who appears to both "give a shit" and "knows his shit".


  2. Jeff,

    Wow, that's a brilliant piece of writing! What you say is what I suspected was true. I believe Porter a lot easier than I believe Barnett, who is a credulous enthusiast. Admiral Fox sure doesn't like the press, does he? In my Army ROTC days, I'd always heard that Admirals were a high-handed lot. Guess it's true.

  3. Anonymous8:11 AM

    From the Civilian again, Commander.

    I used to watch C-Span.

    Every time we had a hearing on Iraq, we had Patreus. Nobody ever wanted to talk to Fallon.
    And, I quit watching any of that b.s. when the Congress found it necessary to pass a stupid resolution against a 527 for "not enough respect" for the chickenshit General."

    If Fallon is "doing" foreign policy, (like I read the other day he's meeting with the Egyptians, more on the diplomatic, than military level --- or maybe a combination of both.)

    Regardless, and again, maybe I'm wrong -- I'm not a "military" person, but I figure all we have right now between us and "Bomb --- Bomb --- Bomb --- Iran" is Admiral Fallon. Lord knows somebody needs to dictate foreign policy to this bunch in office now. They don't have one. Except war.

  4. Real quick:


    I'm with you. Fallon gives a shit and knows his shit as well. I hope I made that clear with "may well be the most brilliant strategic thinker and player of the 21st century."


    Nobody in the military really likes he press. But the most successful flag officers learn how to handle it.

  5. Anonymous6:19 PM

    There I was, about to give up on ever reading anything above moderately good on your site, and you come up with this. Well done.

  6. You have a nice day too, H.S.

  7. Anonymous3:34 PM

    So - what is the back story behind his resignation???

  8. Anonymous3:35 PM

    Jeff, just saw this:

    Fallon Resigns
    Admiral William Fallon is out as CENTCOM commander.

    Fallon has resigned, according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in a press conference at the Pentagon.

  9. Anonymous4:01 PM

    Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that Admiral William Fallon, the top U.S. military commander for the Middle East, is resigning.

    Gates said Fallon had asked Gates for permission to retire and that Gates agreed.

    Fallon was the subject of an article published last week in Esquire magazine that portrayed him as opposed to President Bush's Iran policy. It described Fallon as a lone voice against taking military action to stop the Iranian nuclear program.

    In one passage, the magazine said:

    So while Admiral Fallon's boss, President George W. Bush, regularly trash-talks his way to World War III and his administration casually casts Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as this century's Hitler (a crown it has awarded once before, to deadly effect), it's left to Fallon--and apparently Fallon alone--to argue that, as he told Al Jazeera last fall: "This constant drumbeat of conflict . . . is not helpful and not useful. I expect that there will be no war, and that is what we ought to be working for. We ought to try to do our utmost to create different conditions."
    Gates described as "ridiculous" any notion that Fallon's departure signals the United States is planning to go to war with Iran. And he said "there is a misperception" that Fallon disagrees with the administration's approach to Iran.

    "I don't think there were differences at all," Gates added.

    Fallon told the Washington Post that the Esquire article was "poison pen stuff" that is "really disrespectful and ugly." He didn't note any specific objections, though.

    Retiring after a 41-year Navy career, Fallon took the Central Command post on March 16, 2007, succeeding Army Gen. John Abizaid, who retired. Fallon previously served as commander of U.S. Pacific Command.

    Gates said that until a permanent replacement is nominated and confirmed by the Senate, Fallon's place will be taken by his top deputy, Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey.

    The secretary called Fallon a very able military strategist and said his advice will be missed at the Pentagon.

    "I think this is a cumulative kind of thing," said Gates, speaking of the circumstances leading up to Fallon's decision. "It isn't the result of any one article or any one issue."

    "As I say, the notion that this decision portends anything in terms of change in Iran policy is, to quote myself, 'ridiculous,' " he said.

    (with wire reports)

    Raw Story via MeMyselfEye

  10. Anonymous4:46 PM

    Oh crap! And Cheney is on his way to Israel. Last time he did that Lebanon went up in flames


  11. Anonymous1:03 PM

    I love it when you talk dirty.

    Great piece.

    Can I nitpick over using "girl" as a slur, though? ("cried like a girl") Please. No need to disrespect us girls! Fallon whined like a whiny ass titty baby.

    And I hope you will soon follow up with a more in-depth post about his resignation. I'd love to hear your thoughts about that.

  12. GH,

    I would have used "titty boy," but was already out of the envelope with all the poop talk. (Seriously. and Aviation Week wouldn't pick it up.)

    It will be interesting to see what Fallon does now. I just heard an interview with Gareth, he says he expects Fallon to be very outspoken when he takes off the uniform.

    We shall see. I'm not sure the veep thing is entirely off the table.


  13. Anonymous4:08 PM

    Jeff, is it your opinion he actually resigned, or was he forced out?

    On the one hand, I'm sorry if the only seemingly sane person left in command is now gone (that can't bode well for us) but on the other hand, for better or for worse, the military must remain under civilian control, not the other way around. A real dilemma with our current civilian overlords....

  14. Oh, he had to go and he knew it. And he knew the game he was playing all the time.