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.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?
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.
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.