(CBS/AP) The top U.S. military commander for the Middle East resigned Tuesday amid speculation about a rift over U.S. policy in Iran.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that Adm. William J. Fallon had asked for permission to retire and that Gates agreed. Gates said the decision, effective March 31, was entirely Fallon's and that Gates believed it was "the right thing to do."
Fallon was the subject of an article published last week in Esquire magazine that portrayed him as opposed to President Bush's Iran policy. It described Fallon as a lone voice against taking military action to stop the Iranian nuclear program.
Separately, the New York Times reported that there was "no question" that Fallon's departure was prompted by policy differences with the White House, and with Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq.
The newspaper said senior officials in the Bush administration were unhappy with remarks Fallon has made about Iran and the pace of U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq.
Fallon was out of step with the White House almost from the day he took over the U.S. Central Command, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin. On his first trip to Iraq, he allowed a reporter for the New York Times to accompany him to a meeting at which he lectured Prime Ministrer Maliki on the need for political reform. A source close to Fallon says that earned him phone calls from Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Rice and National Security Adviser Hadley. Afterwards, Fallon said he had "two strikes against me" and lamented ever taking the job.
Martin reports there will be a lot of speculation that Fallon's departure clears the decks for war with Iran before the Bush leaves office, despite the fact that Secretary Gates twice called the notion "ridiculous."
The implications of Admiral Fallon's resignation are significant. I've blogged before about the "500 year war" lunacy his chief enlisted advisor was spouting back when he was in charge of PACOM, but that impression of Fallon has always gone against conventional wisdom which said he was some sort of "lone voice in the woods" trying to hold war in Iran back. If that's the case, then why was CSM Kinney off his leash spouting this nonsense to junior NCOs?
In any case, ADM Fallon's resignation means there are some tectonic plates shifting, and we should be on the look out for who his eventual replacement will be.