Adm. Fallon's move

Ralph Peters:

WORD that Adm. William Fallon will move laterally from our Pacific Command to take charge of Central Command - responsible for the Middle East - while two ground wars rage in the region baffled the media.

Why put a swabbie in charge of grunt operations?

There's a one-word answer: Iran.

ASSIGNING a Navy aviator and combat veteran to oversee our military operations in the Persian Gulf makes perfect sense when seen as a preparatory step for striking Iran's nuclear-weapons facilities - if that becomes necessary.

While the Air Force would deliver the heaviest tonnage of ordnance in a campaign to frustrate Tehran's quest for nukes, the toughest strategic missions would fall to our Navy. Iran would seek to retaliate asymmetrically by attacking oil platforms and tankers, closing the Strait of Hormuz - and trying to hit oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates.

Only the U.S. Navy - hopefully, with Royal Navy and Aussie vessels underway beside us - could keep the oil flowing to a thirsty world.

In short, the toughest side of an offensive operation against Iran would be the defensive aspects - requiring virtually every air and sea capability we could muster. (Incidentally, an additional U.S. carrier battle group is now headed for the Gulf; Britain and Australia are also strengthening their naval forces in the region.)

Not only did Adm. Fallon command a carrier air wing during Operation Desert Storm, he also did shore duty at a joint headquarters in Saudi Arabia. He knows the complexity and treacherousness of the Middle East first-hand.

STRENGTHENING his qualifications, numerous blue-water assignments and his duties at PACOM schooled him on the intricacies of the greater Indian Ocean - the key strategic region for the 21st-century and the one that would be affected immediately by a U.S. conflict with Iran.

The admiral also understands China's junkie-frantic oil dependency and its consequent taste for geopolitical street-crime: During a U.S. operation against Iran, Beijing would need its fix guaranteed.

While Congress obsesses on Iraq and Iraq alone, the administration's thinking about the future. And it looks as if the White House is preparing options to mitigate a failure in Iraq and contain Iran. Bush continues to have a much-underrated strategic vision - the administration's consistent problems have been in the abysmal execution of its policies, not in the over-arching purpose.


The reasons are complex, ranging from service culture to educational traditions, but it's incontestable that the Navy long has produced our military's best strategic thinkers - captains and admirals able to transcend parochial interests to see the global security environment as a whole. Adm. Fallon's job is to avoid the tyranny of the moment, to see past the jumble of operational pieces and visualize how those pieces ultimately might fit together.


Adm. Fallon also has first hand experience with dealing with an Islamic insurgency in his area of command in the Philippines as well as dealing with a corrupt dysfunctional government that is supposed to be fighting it. His bringing the Philippines government into line on the custody issues over a Marine defendant in a rape trial is a good sign that he will expect local governments to live up to their obligations.


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