Two resignations in the news today, and no way yet to know which will have more immediate impact, which will have more long-range consequences. (The two subordinate clauses are not necessarily coincident; they may not even overlap.)
First is the resignation of Admiral William Fallon as US Commander for the Middle East, in which position he was the top military man both in Iraq and in Afghanistan. (Yes, ranking above even General David Petraeus.) He resigned — remarkably, in my view — by phone. Later, he released a statement linking his departure to an article in Esquire magazine.
Recent press reports suggesting a disconnect between my views and the president’s policy objectives have become a distraction at a critical time and hamper efforts in the CENTCOM region. And although I don’t believe there have ever been any differences about the objectives of our policy in the Central Command area of responsibility, the simple perception that there is makes it difficult for me to effectively serve America’s interests there.
What was in that Esquire article that would suggested a disconnect between Fallon and Bush? Here’s part of the lede to that article; the rest of it is online in the the April issue of Esquire.
If, in the dying light of the Bush administration, we go to war with Iran, it’ll all come down to one man. If we do not go to war with Iran, it’ll come down to the same man. He is that rarest of creatures in the Bush universe: the good cop on Iran, and a man of strategic brilliance. His name is William Fallon…. Past American governments have used saber rattling as a useful tactic to get some bad actor on the world stage to fall in line. This government hasn’t mastered that kind of subtlety. When Dick Cheney has rattled his saber, it has generally meant that he intends to use it. And in spite of recent war spasms aimed at Iran from this sclerotic administration, Fallon is in no hurry to pick up any campaign medals for Iran.
So while Admiral Fallon’s boss, President George W. Bush, regularly trash-talks his way to World War III and his administration casually casts Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as this century’s Hitler (a crown it has awarded once before, to deadly effect), it’s left to Fallon–and apparently Fallon alone–to argue that, as he told Al Jazeera last fall: “This constant drumbeat of conflict . . . is not helpful and not useful. I expect that there will be no war, and that is what we ought to be working for. We ought to try to do our utmost to create different conditions.”
How does Fallon get away with so brazenly challenging his commander in chief?
The answer is that he might not get away with it for much longer. President Bush is not accustomed to a subordinate who speaks his mind as freely as Fallon does, and the president may have had enough.
The first question to ask is this: did the article prompt his resignation, or merely predict it. As nearly as I can figure out, from my own experience and from reading he experts and (largely) from guessing, it probably hastened the move, but did not cause it. For more, I recommend reading Dan Froomkin’s column.
The second resignation was that of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who had been caught hiring high-price call girls. His fall was classical tragedy: the high-flyer whose pride brings him down.
There’s considerable sympathy abroad for Spitzer’s family, though little of it attaches to the man himself. He was considered arrogant, self-righteous, unwilling to compromise, and extremely ambitious. The lesson might be, install a few well-known skeletons in your closet, so that when you are outed, you can escape that most damning of accusations: hypocrite.
Several interesting factors come into play immediately with respect to Spitzer’s departure.
- The Lieutenant Governor, who will be sworn in to replace him, is William Paterson, who has survived thirty years in politics without collecting a slew of enemies or a dossier of scandals. On top of that, he’s an African-American who is legally blind.
- Spitzer was a Democratic super-delegate, one of the superest. No longer. And he was a strong Hillary supporter. Will any of his tar rub off on her? And will his loss weaken the resolve of other Clinton-leaning super-delegates?
- Andrew Cuomo, son of one-time liberal hero Mario Cuomo, is State Attorney General. He would not have tackled Spitzer for control of the state Democratic Party, but Paterson?
- The state government in New York is among the most dysfunctional in the country, largely because of the inordinate power wielded by the leaders of the two houses of the legislature. Right now, one of them is a Democrat, the other is a Republican whose majority is seriously in danger.
I don’t want to get into the details of Spitzer’s amorous assignations, although they’re widely available on-line if you’re interested in pursuing them. One item to which I will link, though, is a column by Harold Myerson, who answers the question most of us more timorous fellows were afraid to ask.
I’ve given serious thought to this over the past day, and I’m not sure that I’ve even had a sexual fantasy that, if actualized, would be worth $5,500 an hour.
We’re not talking obsession here. We’re talking positional goods…. Positional goods are those commodities that are more valuable than their run-of-the-mill counterparts because a special status attaches to them, since only a select few can have them.
But I keep coming back to price, even though I know it purchased a positional good. $5,500, huh? I need to work on my fantasies.
In the grand scheme of things, Spitzer and his resignation probably will not get — or deserve — as much attention as Fallon and his. Still, there’s that fractious Democratic Party in the middle of a street fight; Spitzer’s fall just might be the straw on Hillary’s back. And that, for better or for worse, could be as meaningful as the change of command in the Middle East.