Farewell, Fox Fallon

…Democrats will try to make a scandal out of Fallon’s departure. But in fact it shows the system of civilian control of our armed forces working as intended. That is something any future President, Democrat or Republican, should be grateful for.

CFR senior fellow Max Boot considers Adm. Fallon’s resignation…

Today’s Los Angeles Times carries an article by me on the resignation of Admiral Fox Fallon from Central Command. In it I applaud his departure. Fallon was on the wrong side of so many issues–from opposing the surge in Iraq to making public statements that made it more difficult to maintain pressure on Iran. But his departure also raises a broader issue that I didn’t have room to address in the article: When is it appropriate for military commanders to break ranks with their civilian overseers?

One personal comment on Max’s article — I think he would agree though the article wasn’t crystalline on this point: I believe that retired military are free to exercise their rights as civilians — to comment on any aspect of foreign or military policy. In particular they are fully entitled to oppose the president’s policies. While they are serving their public comments should be confined to their “pay grade” — i.e., what they are responsible for. Within the “chain of command” we should hope that their opinions and judgements are offered regardless of whether those views are contrary to “administration policy”. I put that in scare quotes because we must remember that almost never know what “administration policy” actually is — e.g., when there are “leaks” that the administration is considering war against Iran. The threat of force is one of the most essential ingredients of diplomacy.

A further distinction should be made. Military officers are experts in how to wage war, not when to wage it. Their advice is most needed when it comes to tactics and operations, not for building grand strategy. Bush and Rumsfeld would have been well advised to pay closer attention in 2003 to the misgivings of generals such as Eric Shinseki, who warned that a larger force would be required in Iraq. And today the administration should certainly listen to Fallon or other officers about which military options, if any, are viable in the event of war with Iran.