Puzzling

I’ve been trying to puzzle out the meaning of the apparently imminent promotion of Adm. William Fallon to be the new CENTCOM commander and, as such, in charge of the war in Iraq:

Jan. 5 (Bloomberg) — President George W. Bush is likely to name Admiral William Fallon, the chief of U.S. forces in Asia and the Pacific, as the next commander in the Middle East, part of a personnel shuffle accompanying a review of Iraq war policy, a U.S. official familiar with the deliberations said.

The 62-year-old Fallon, known as “Fox,” his call sign when he was a Navy fighter pilot, made an unannounced trip to Washington to meet yesterday with Defense Department officials at the Pentagon. While Fallon was under serious consideration to head Central Command, Bush hasn’t made a final decision, the official said. The new commander will be announced as early as Jan. 8.

The next Centcom commander faces the task of trying to end sectarian violence that has undermined Iraq’s government and economy and cost thousands of lives. Declining public support for the war, in which about 3,000 U.S. military personnel have died, was reflected in the shift of control over Congress to Democrats in the November mid-term elections.

A naval aviator does seem like an odd choice for the post. Presumably, there are a number of possible explanations for the appointment:

  1. The candidate may have experience relevant to the specific job. Col. Pat Lang, hewing to this explanation, suggests that the appointment may suggest that a sea-based attack on Iran is in the offing.
  2. Despite a lack of specific experience the candidate may have relevant personal qualities or beliefs that suggest that he is the right person for the job. This article by Adm. Fallon, “Understanding the War on Terror”, may cast some light on the choice. In the article, although Adm. Fallon demonstrates an admirable understanding of how the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan fit into the greater War on Terror and notes the importance of intelligence in conducting the GWOT, other things suggest that he may be a high-tech warrior somewhat along the lines of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s vision of the future of the U. S. military.
  3. There’s a possibility that the contacts established by Adm. Fallon in his previous job at PACOM may become relevant to the new job.
  4. It’s possible that no one in the Army or Marines with the relevant experience was seen as suitable for the job.

Or, it may just be an error in judgment. Then again, Adm. Fallon may be the only four star who hasn’t gone on record as opposing the “surge”.

In From the Cold sees Fallon’s apointment as another step in the “new” approach to fighting the war in Iraq and the GWOT:

The nomination of Admiral Fallon may be another harbinger of the “new” approach in Iraq and the wider War on Terror, using a wider range of military assets to fight insurgents on various fronts. Fallon’s appointment also suggests a growing concern with regional issues–namely, Iran’s nuclear program–that may ultimately require some sort of U.S. military action. Fallon’s nomination comes amid reports that the U.S. Navy is planning to increase its presence in the Persian Gulf region, with the addition of another carrier battle group. Given his experience in managing forces across the Pacific, the White House–and new Defense Secretary Robert Gates –may believe that Fallon is better suited for implementing a strategy, particularly as it relates to the Middle East as a whole.

James Joyner finds the appointment as puzzling as I do:

My sense of what the CENTCOM job should be was shaped by Norman Schwartzkopf in Desert Storm. Perhaps what we need now, though, is more akin to Dwight Eisenhower’s role in World War II.

Update

Thomas Barnett points to Fallon’s diplomatic skills and notes:

I think it may serve him well in Centcom, where I think his biggest challenges will be dealing with Iran, Syria and others (Saudi Arabia, Israel) who all have their own agendas and can be counted upon to pursue them no matter what the cost to America. We need a serious diplomat in that job, and I believe Fallon was probably the best available guy for the billet right now.

Update 2

Adm. Fallon has now been nominated formally.

8 comments… add one
  • “Then again, Adm. Fallon may be the only four star who hasn’t gone on record as opposing the “surge”.

    Bingo.

  • ed in texas

    Then again, it may be that he won’t be inclined to get in the way of the incoming centcom groundforces com, Gen Petraeus, formerly of the 101st abn div.

  • J.

    Of course Barnett likes Fallon, Fallon was PACOM working the big China threat, and that’s what Tom sees as the future enemy. Fact is that the administration is focused on Iran, to our detriment, and it looks like a run-up to a naval air attack in the works. As if we didn’t have enough to do.

    BTW your link in #4 (no army/marine GOs) is the same as #3, PACOM link.

  • Thanks, J. Fixed.

    Your comment about Barnett puzzles me. Mostly I’ve seen him pooh-poohing the idea that China is a threat. He persistently refers to China as “New Core” (which I disagree with, BTW).

    My own view of China, FWIW, is that China is no threat but not for the reasons that Barnett advances.  I think I know a bit more about China than Barnett does and I believe that China’s internal contradictions will prevent the 21st century (or, possibly, any other) from being “the Chinese century”.

  • Although interesting, I don’t see this appointment as significant in the reasons that many seem to. Appointments to the nine (soon to be 10) unified commands are a byzantine process and too much should not be read into a nominee’s biography. There is another Admiral (the first, just like this appointment) that just became Commander of SOUTHCOM – yet no one has made a big deal out of that. In addition, a Marine General is in command of STRATCOM (whose assets are primarily with the Air Force and Navy), the TRANSCOM commander (Air Force) spent most of his career in Air Force Special Operations. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

    Frankly, you don’t need a naval aviator as a regional commander in order to plan and execute a campaign consisting primarily of naval and air assets. Regional commanders, while responsible for overall strategy, do not meddle too much in actual war-planning. Their job is the big picture, primarily the coordination between the forces in the joint/coalition environment and diplomacy with regional (primarily military) leaders. In other words, he would provide general guidance for campaign objectives, but the actual war planning would take place at lower echelons.

    Some of the factors mentioned probably played a role, but were not primary ones. Leadership, political connections (including the good-old-boy network) and management style all play prominent roles. Often it comes down to rapport and trust developed on the job. Obviously, Gates and the administration liked what he did at PACOM, which was greater engagement of China’s military as well as dealing with North Korea.

  • Let me know if we should ever cross post any local stories. i write mostly about local politics.

    http://blogs.venturacountystar.com/vcs/dennert/

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