Fallon Gets Bashful

Apparently Centcom commander Admiral William Fallon has distanced himself from Thomas Barnett’s glowing Esquire profile. That’s probably because by contrasting Fallon’s clear-sighted strategic vision with the war goggles through which the Bush adminstration is viewing the region, it probably raised the temperature a few degrees on the Admiral’s hot seat.

Too bad, because Fallon really does seem to have a folk wisdom about how to handle some of the region’s trouble spots that in its simplicity offers more substance than some of the more soaring diplomatic initiatives I’ve seen proposed elsewhere. Here he is on Iran:

“Tehran’s feeling pretty cocky right now because they’ve been able to inflict pain on us in Iraq and Afghanistan.” So the trick, in Fallon’s mind, is “to try to figure out what it is they really want and then, maybe–not that we’re going to play Santa Claus here or the Good Humor Man–but the fact is that everyone needs something in this world, and so most countries that are functional and are contributing to the world have found a way to trade off their strengths for other strengths to help them out. These guys are trying to go it alone in this respect, and it’s a bad gene pool right now. It’s not one with much longevity. So they play that card pretty regularly, and at some point you just kind of run out of games, it seems to me. You’ve got to play a real card.”

Compare that view of engagement with this one offered by former ambassador (and former Iran hostage) John Limbert, or this one by Thomas Pickering & Co. and you’ll see what I mean.

Fallon has been widely portrayed as pushing back against elements in the Bush administration who are itching for war with Tehran, and the article locates his appointment as part of a broader Bob Gates effort to that effect. But his strategic cost-to-benefit analysis shouldn’t be confused with being cowed by the threat of Iranian reprisals:

And if it comes to war?

“Get serious,” the admiral says. “These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them.”

If there’s one thing that startled me about the piece, it was the extent to which American diplomacy seems to be conducted out of the DoD these days. The article describes Fallon as meeting with heads of state in Pakistan, Egypt, the ‘Stans and elsewhere, and basically coordinating a diplomatic initiative that seems like a macro regional version of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. But given that his strategic vision for the region seems more dialed in than that of the diplomats, maybe that shouldn’t be so surprising.

Via FP Passport.