Will we bomb Iran, now that Admiral Fallon is gone?

The Internet is our collective mind made visible, more so than print, radio, and television.  It allows us to see the thought processes of our community.  The recent “silly swarm” of blog posts about the “cut cable fever” in February (see here and here) showed the implusive and wild thinking of the broad community of those writing and reading sites about geopolitics (or here, about the rumors in December).  These characteristics were again displayed in the posts following the Admiral Fallon’s resignation as head of U.S. Central Command.

A fun if exaggerated article in Esquire by a star in geopolitical circles proceeded his departure; much far-out speculation followed it.  This is a first-cut at determining “lessons learned” from these events.

Summary

  1. The Esquire article was a box office success by that skilled and brilliant visionary, Thomas Barnett.  Such articles are a staple of People, Fortune, and Forbes.  They describe politicos, CEO’s, actors, and other public figures as brilliant, bold, brave, and beautiful.  As the excerpts below show, they are fun but perhaps should not be taken too seriously.
  2. Admiral Fallon’s resignation following its publication should be no surprise. “Stupid boss, smart subordinate” media reports have gotten many promising executives unceremoniously canned.
  3. Most interesting was the “silly swarm” on the web afterwards, worrying that this meant that an attack on Iran was coming.  Contrast this with more reasonable reports from “establishment” sources such as…

Most important, Barnett’s article has several disturbing aspects about how the long war might be changing America. 

Stand by for action!

Here is a sample of the hot commentary on the Internet following Barnett’s aricle.  This is an excerpt from “Think Long and Hard as You Contemplate What This Means“, posted by Galrahn at Information Dissemination  (11 March 2008) — (hat tip to the Zenpundit).

….I might be mistaken, but I believe we are witness to Bush fire his first General/Admiral of the war. Think long and hard as you contemplate what that means.

There has been a political split in the Pentagon since 2005, when those who wanted to move forward under the cooperative model as opposed to the unilateral model for military action were able to shift the Pentagon position through the release of official strategic papers. Under Gates, the Pentagon has tried to shift to a cooperative phase from what has been a unilateral phase of military action. The cooperative approach is championed by Rice, Gates, and people like Adm. Fallon. Many neo-conservatives, which unfortunately includes a bunch of big blue Navy folks I won’t name specifically, form up the unilateral military action side.

….If you didn’t read the Esquire piece, or didn’t read my earlier response, you may of just missed what could in fact be a signal of war to Iran. I know one thing, if I was Iran, that is the only way to read this. There was a message for Iran in the Barnett article:

Admiral William Fallon shakes his head slowly, and his eyes say, These guys [Iran] have no idea how much worse it could get for them. I am the reasonable one.

Are we assuming the Bush administration can’t read, Barnett is saying that, Barnett makes all the cuts at the Bush administration in the article, not Fallon. Barnett appears to have been dead right though. Reasonable people who do nothing wrong don’t quit because a reporter writes an article bad about a politician, but unreasonable people can make that person quit. I really am stunned, I have never really believed the US was going to strike Iran until today.

Some excerpts from the fun and informative article by Thomas Barnett

The core of the article is Barnett at his best:  solid reporting and analysis, with touches of biographical and geographic color.  What really makes his writing so exception is not what it says about his subject, but what it says about us.  In this case, note the exciting opening and closing sections.

Excerpts from “The Man Between War and Peace“, Thomas P.M. Barnett, 11 March 2008

If, in the dying light of the Bush administration, we go to war with Iran, it’ll all come down to one man. If we do not go to war with Iran, it’ll come down to the same man. He is that rarest of creatures in the Bush universe: the good cop on Iran, and a man of strategic brilliance.

Perhaps a little over the top, but a powerful opening.

… So while Admiral Fallon’s boss, President George W. Bush, regularly trash-talks his way to World War III …

Going for a strong box office, Barnett tosses out red meat for the Bush-hating mob.

How does Fallon get away with so brazenly challenging his commander in chief?  The answer is that he might not get away with it for much longer. President Bush is not accustomed to a subordinate who speaks his mind as freely as Fallon does, and the president may have had enough.

And his point is?  Outspoken subordinates who contradict their bosses’ policies often get canned.  Corporate, political, or military — it makes no difference.

… 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.

“It may well mean…”  How true.  Equally true it “may well not mean.”

And so Fallon {is} standing up to the commander in chief, whom he thinks is contemplating a strategically unsound war.

Here we get into deep waters concerning civilian control of the military.  Barnett gives us one side of the argument.  There is another side, one which in America’s tradition has usually been given greater weight — but which Barnett ignores.  Perhaps after six years of war, America is ready for more assertive military leaders.

 

Ever since Star Wars hit the big screen, Yoda everyone wants to be.

And Fallon is in no hurry to call Iran’s hand on the nuclear question. He is as patient as the White House is impatient, as methodical as President Bush is mercurial, and simply has, as one aide put it, “other bright ideas about the region.”

A frequent side effect of long wars is the adulation of senior military brass.  First Petronius, now Fallon.  We bask in the reflected radiance of their wisdom.  Perhaps the American people now 9again) want strong leaders to bolster our confidence in an uncertain world.  There will always be skilled craftsman to provide the desired product, media phantasms of men on white horses.

… As the head of U.S. Central Command, his beat is the desert that stretches from East Africa to the Chinese border — a fractious little sandbox with Iraq on one edge and Afghanistan on the other …

Today no geopolitical article for Americans is complete without a touch of colonialism.  Does Esquire have many readers in this “fractious little sandbox”?  Will Esquire print their irate letters?

Where there’s peace in the region, how do you keep it? Where there’s war, how do you contain it or end it? Where there are threats, how do you counter them?

All these things are of course the job for America – the hegemonic power of the age (so long as our creditors allow us to be).

… “They say, ‘Why are you even meeting with Mubarak?'” This seems to utterly mystify Fallon.  “Why?” he says, shrugging with palms extending outward. “Because it’s my job to deal with this region, and it’s all anyone wants to talk about right now…”

Why is this attitude a good thing?  Barnett does not say.  Perhaps a hegemonic power needs viceroys, and those who command Legions are the men for the job — and those striped-pants effetes at State Department exist only to clean up the details.

… He also knows that sometimes his statements on Iran strike the same people as running “counter to stated policy.” “But look,” he says, “yesterday I’m speaking in front of 250 Egyptian businessmen over lunch here in Cairo, and these guys keep holding up newspapers and asking, ‘Is this true and can you explain, please?’ I need to present the threats and capabilities in the appropriate language. That’s one of my duties.”

Self-appointed ambassadors plenipotentiary to the world. Is this the role the Founders had in mind for our military brass?

… Fallon is the American at the center of every circle in this part of the world.

Odd that Barnett sees nothing wrong with this.

… 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.

Perhaps the reason for this is that leaders like Fallon, bold men commanding vast resources, leave little role for State’s poorly-funded and outnumbered diplomats.  They crush their opposition within the US government, and then fill the resulting vacuum.

He was with Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf the day before he declared emergency rule last fall. “I’m not the chief diplomat of this country, and certainly not the secretary of state,” Fallon says in Kabul’s Green Zone the next night. “But I am close to the problems.” So, he says, that leaves him no choice but to work these issues, day in and day out.

Ditto, as above.

… So when, during a press conference in Astana, Kazakhstan, Fallon whispers, “The public behavior of Iran has been unhelpful to the region,” with his pissed-off glare and his slightly hoarse delivery, he is saying, I’m not making you an offer; I’m telling you what your options are right now.  “Iran should be playing a constructive role,” he continues. “I hear this from every country in the region.”  Translation: I’ve got you surrounded.

This is our imperial peace-maker?  No wonder so many folks in the world consider us a bit of a war-monger, not the benign hegemon as we see ourselves.

The next section, well worth reading but omitted here, is the core of Barnett’s story — brilliantly told and well-supported.  Then we get the finale.

… {about the Iran – US naval confrontation}Fallon’s eyes narrow and his voice becomes that whisper: “This is not how a country that wants to be a big boy in the neighborhood behaves. How are we supposed to take these guys seriously as players in the region? You’d like to deal with them as big-league players, but when they do this, it’s very tough.” … Admiral William Fallon shakes his head slowly, and his eyes say, These guys have no idea how much worse it could get for them. I am the reasonable one.  And time will tell whether being reasonable will cost Admiral William Fallon his command.

Is this analysis, prophecy, or fun speculation for the box-office?  Not much substance here by which to decide.  I suspect the prize is behind door #3:  no war with Iran.  Bush has neither the political capital nor laid a sufficient foundation with either the American people or our allies.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Update:  The Rise and Fall of Admiral Fallon

Gareth Porter of the Inter Press Serviceclosely covered this story; here are links to his major articles on this subject..  (Hat tip to Oldskeptic).

Porter’s Bio:

Dr. Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist on U.S. national security policy who has been independent since a brief period of university teaching in the 1980s. Dr. Porter is the author of four books, the latest of which is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam (University of California Press, 2005). He has written regularly for Inter Press Service on U.S. policy toward Iraq and Iran since 2005.

Dr. Porter was both a Vietnam specialist and an anti-war activist during the Vietnam War and was Co-Director of Indochina Resource Center in Washington. Dr. Porter taught international studies at City College of New York and American University. He was the first Academic Director for Peace and Conflict Resolution in the Washington Semester program at American University.

 Other posts in this series about the Internet:  does it make us smarter or dumber?

  1. Will Israel commit suicide? More rumors of a strike at Iran.  (22 December 2007)
  2. Three blind men examine the Iraq Elephant  (6 February 2008)
  3. Cable Cut Fever grips the conspiracy-hungry fringes of the web  (7 February 2008)
  4. Resolution of the Great Submarine Cable Crisis — and some lessons learned  (8 February 2008)
  5. What do blogs do for America?  (26 February)
  6. The oddity of reports about the Iraq War  (13 March 2008)
  7. Will we bomb Iran, now that Admiral Fallon is gone?  (17 March 2008)
  8. More post-Fallon overheating: “6 signs the US may be headed for war in Iran”  (18 March 2008)
  9. Euphoria about the Bakken Formation  (10 April 2008)
  10. The Internet makes us dumber: the Bakken euphoria, a case study  (15 April 2008)

For more information about Iran

9 thoughts on “Will we bomb Iran, now that Admiral Fallon is gone?

  1. I enjoy the way you “play” with this article. I too vote for “door #3.” But I continue to have a nagging worry that this view may be too rational for the waning days of the Bush administration.

    I find the ascendancy of the military in the US very troubling. State, and diplomacy, are not even in the back seat (perhaps the rumble seat) anymore. Maybe we grew up on too many westerns. The cavalry came to the rescue and the gun-toting, fast-drawing sheriff tamed the town. False views of history but brave images for an America that wants to believe that it’s the city-on-a-hill and the savior of the world.

  2. A very good source for data and analysis about the US/Iran situation is by Gareth Porter. He also covers the Fallon issue in detail. Well read and with experience in the nuclear arms issue he is worth reading and listening to (via podcasts). He’s available in many sources but a good one that covers many articles and podcasts is Antiwar.com (which despite its name is actually a Libertarian Conservative area).

    One example is a podcast: http://antiwar.com/radio/2008/03/12/gareth-porter-23/. You can use the site to pull up many of his past articles and podcasts. Well worth having a look (listen) to.

    The big worries are, if the balloon goes up with Iran, which once was a 70/30 odds in favour, but is probably only 30/70 now are:

    (1) The economic affects, which given the latest news doesn’t even bear thinking about. This would probabaly tip everything over into the worst case scenario worldwide.
    (2) The, very small, but still there, probability of a ‘Sarajevo’ scenario (ref WW1).
    (3) The impact on Iraq .. definately bad and just possibly horrific (Bill Lind has warned of this one).

    The reality is now that ‘its the economy stupid’ that should be grabbing everyone’s focus now.

  3. From another point of view, the adulation of the Military Leader.

    Not a new phenomenon (e.g. US adulation of MacArthur and Eisenhower). Britain used to do the same until it finally tired of war as a Society (not as a State though). The outstanding Alanbrook (arguably the greatest Strategist of WW2) and Montgomery (arguably the greatest Tactician and fighting General) are forgotten in the UK now.

    Most European countries, with their long, long, (far too long) histories of war may occasionally reminisce about past, long dead military leaders, but have no idea and no interest (and a lot of disrespect) about more recent ones. A sign of, eventual, maturity perhaps?

    {Note: I continue my theoretical argument about splitting Society and the State, which I think may prove to have some insights into a true 4GW general theoretical framework}.

  4. You know, it’s interesting that the DoD doesn’t much like doing everyone else’s jobs, they’re just the only service with any funding. Recently SecDef Gates was carping that the State Department was critically underfunded, they should be doing most of these jobs, and so on. Of course, SecState Rice is no where to be found. Telling, no?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: “Interesting” is not the word I’d use. “Interesting” would be DoD’s reaction if Congress skimmed off a small fraction of DoD’s bloated budget to rebuild State.

  5. Just in case anyone missed the above… The real Long War has recently come to an end, with total victory for one side. By that I mean DoD’s campaign since WWII to become the dominant voice on National Security within the US govt — waged against State and CIA. The tragic ending is that DoD has won, just as we enter a new era in which its skills and tools are ineffective — in which 4GW and economics are the modalities for geopolitical conflict. And DoD’s senior elements understand netiher of these.

  6. Well, Bear Stearn just sunk, the economy is going down is a basket… I guess that the american public need some diversion before the election. So, what better than start a war with a foreign enemy?
    João Carlos

    sorry the bad english, my native language is portuguese
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    Fabius Maximus replies: glad to have your comments, offering a different perspective on these events!

  7. USNews gave 6 reasons for seeing an attack on Iran coming:
    1. Fallon’s resignation
    2. Vice President Cheney’s peace trip
    3. Israeli airstrike on Syria
    4. Warships off Lebanon
    5. Israeli comments
    6. Israel’s war with Hezbollah
    For the full article go to “6 Signs the U.S. May Be Headed for War in Iran“, US News and World Report (11 March 2008).
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    Fabius Maximus replies: thank you for the referral to this bit of nonsense. I will post a note about this.

  8. “Perhaps the reason for this is that leaders like Fallon, bold men commanding vast resources, leave little role for State’s poorly-funded and outnumbered diplomats. They crush their opposition within the US government, and then fill the resulting vacuum…

    “Just in case anyone missed the above… The real Long War has recently come to an end, with total victory for one side. By that I mean DoD’s campaign since WWII to become the dominant voice on National Security within the US govt — waged against State and CIA. The tragic ending is that DoD has won, just as we enter a new era in which its skills and tools are ineffective — in which 4GW and economics are the modalities for geopolitical conflict. And DoD’s senior elements understand netiher of these.”

    Interesting pair of comments. The issue in my mind is the reliance by civilian leadership on the Joint Combatant Commanders for diplomacy since about 1992. Before Fallon came along, Wesley Clark is a good example, General Zinni is as well. Doesn’t political leadership pick winners and losers in struggles between Agencies? In other words, isn’t it because successive administrations have picked DoD over State and CIA that puts DoD up as the declared winner?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I see the US government as a multi-polar system, in which various centers of influence ally with one another while seeking greater power. DoD is one of the big winners in the 20th century, gaining a bigger share of the rapidly growing US government budget. Our political leadership represents many power centers, but is neither a consistent or cohesive center in its own right.

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