• 12 March 2008
  • Posted By Babak Talebi
  • Diplomacy, Neo-Con Agenda, Persian Gulf, US-Iran War

On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced that Admiral William Fallon, the 41-year navy veteran and commander of US Central Command (CentCom) requested permission to retire, and that Secretary Gates approved his request.  Last week, Thomas Barnett of Esquire Magazine published a revealing piece speculating that Fallon might be pushed out because he “was the strongest man standing between the Bush Administration and a war with Iran.”

Gates was quick to call a press conference to announce the retirement and dispel the notion that there were any policy differences between Fallon and the administration.  We have been following this story all day, and a few different theories are percolating inside the beltway about what this all means.

Though there are plenty of reasons to see this development suspiciously, Fallon’s history with conventional wisdom suggests that the truth may yet be unknown.

When Fallon was named to the CentCom post on January 5th, 2007, it was widely viewed in anti-war circles with trepidation.  After all, CentCom had never had a naval officer as a leader, because the area under its purview is dominated by land. From the Sahara in the West to Kashmir in the East and the Caucus mountains in the North, this is an area with two active theatres of war (Afghanistan and Iraq) and half-a-dozen conflict zones. 

Furthermore, Fallon was to replace General Abizaid, who had opposed the Iraq surge and advocated for a regional approach to Iraq; so it was natural for many policy analysts to be worried that he was being brought in to command a naval-based war with Iran from the Persian Gulf.  This conventional wisdom was fully turned on its head a mere two months later when Fallon opposed a military build-up in the Persian Gulf, and was even quoted saying, “There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box,” referring to Iran-war hawks.

Since March 2007, Fallon has been seen by many within the DC policy community as one of the main obstacles to a White House-led pre-emptive military strike on Iran.  Then on December 3, 2007, when the Iran National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was released, the conventional wisdom inside the beltway (except for a few notable exceptions) changed dramatically to believe that a war with Iran would be improbable.  (As recently as last week, Steve Clemons dismissed “premeditated attack on Iran”.)

Then last week, a six-part Esquire piece was published.  When asked about the possibility that Fallon was going to leave before his tenure was up, White House press spokes person Dana Perino attacked the “rumor mills that don’t turn out to be true.” Yet today it seems the ‘rumor mills’ have been justified.

One disheartening byproduct of this resignation is that Fallon was an advocate for an “Incident-at-Sea” agreement that NIAC has also called for.  This agreement, if pursued, could help prevent an all-out war being sparked by relatively insignificant incidents, like the one that occurred in January of this year.  According to reports, these types of ‘brush-ups’ occur regularly in the narrow and heavily-trafficked Strait of Hormuz.

Thus, it is easy to view Fallon’s ‘retirement’ as an internal power struggle between the more hawkish elements of the administration in the Pentagon and the Vice President’s office, and those trying to pull the ‘crazies’ back from the brink of war.

There are other plausible explanations.

In a personal conversation between NIAC and someone close to the CentCom commander, it was suggested that he is retiring intentionally to provide himself with a cushion of distance in order to be brought back (in a policy role) by a future administration.  Another informed opinion close to Fallon has indicated that he may be leaving because he is confident enough that an attack on Iran will not occur. 

Whatever the case may be now, Fallon’s role in the complicated US-Iran relationship has been consistently misinterpreted. This may be yet another occasion where there is more going on than meets the eye. Or, it could be the first indication of an imminent policy shift on Iran.  We will keep you updated as we uncover more information.

Posted By Babak Talebi

    7 Responses to “Fallon’s Retirement has unclear implications for US-Iran War”

  1. Babak Talebi says:

    Lots of links, I know – but be sure to read the Esquire piece at least. It was quite an amazing bit of journalism.

    I am personally quite upset about the implications of this resignation – I really dont think it bodes well.

    i’m curious what you all think this might mean. Have you read any other explanations?

  2. Babak Talebi says:

    This was an interesting analysis from January I came across – be sure to read it if you can.


  3. Babak Talebi says:

    Here is another article which is well argued with a very different take. It basically fleshes out the official line that Gates and the White House are arguing.


  4. Ali says:

    Fallon will be Secretary of Defense under the Obama administration.

  5. nader says:

    The Fox is the brother of Jackle.

  6. Mark Pyruz says:

    Much of the analysis on Fallon’s resignation has focused on his views regarding war with Iran. However, Professor Juan Cole provides an alternate perspective:

    “My guess is that the real reason for moving Fallon out is not Iran but Iraq, and that he is being made to step down for the same reason that Donald Rumsfeld was. He does not agree with the long-term troop escalation or ‘surge’ in Iraq. He doesn’t believe that counter-insurgency will work in Iraq in the medium term. And as an admiral, he has his eye on potential trouble spots such as Taiwan and North Korea, and is frustrated that the hands of the US are tied as long as it is bogged down in the Iraq quagmire. Having such a big dissenter as CENTCOM commander is inconvenient for the Republican Party at a time when John McCain is admitting that if he fails to convince the American people that the surge is succeeding, he will lose the presidency. That is, Fallon may have run afoul not of Cheney on Iran but McCain on Iraq. This may be Bush’s first favor to the Republican nominee, who after all had a career as a naval officer himself.”

  7. Babak Talebi says:

    Mark – it seems the CW in DC is moving in that direction.

    But the fact remains that he was an important voice in the Iran-War issue. I hope he starts going public about some of this stuff – but I’m not going to hold my breath.

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7,350 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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