CENTCOM Nominee Touts Diplomacy in Iraq Approach
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
Navy Adm. William J. Fallon, whom President Bush nominated to take over for Army Gen. John Abizaid, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that, if confirmed, he would draw on his diplomatic experience as the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, where he has served since February 2005. In Pacific Command, Fallon said, he engages countries in the region for advice and opinions in security operations. He would like to bring this same approach to the Middle East, he said.
“It seems to me that we make progress when we are willing to be open and to use every means at our disposal to try to achieve the ends. But this, of course, requires reciprocal actions from the other parties,” Fallon said. “And so I don't know the extent to which those endeavors have been undertaken in the Middle East, but I am very anxious to find out and to try to play a constructive role in that.”
If confirmed, Fallon will be the first Navy officer to head Central Command. He acknowledged today that a new way forward is needed in Iraq, with more emphasis on securing the Iraqi population. He said that Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who was confirmed Jan. 26 to command Multinational Force Iraq, will be in charge of operations on the ground, while he will focus on the broader issues.
“It seems to me that there's an expectation that I'd be working outside the borders of Iraq to try to get the neighborhood, for example, to help us, and to continue to work these other issues like Afghanistan,” Fallon said. “So I'd be looking to work in a complementary manner.”
Right now, Fallon said, he sees a lot of inaction on the part of Middle Eastern countries. He is eager to work with the U.S. Department of State in engaging these countries and working toward stability, he said.
In Iraq, political and economic progress must take place, or security improvements will mean nothing, Fallon said. The Iraqi government must act on the objectives it set out to give the people confidence and hope, he said.
“If this endeavor of a pluralistic democratic entity in Baghdad is going to survive, it's going to require political courage and leadership, I believe, to stand up and make decisions that can be helpful to people,” he said.
The United States must make clear to the Iraqi government that U.S. forces are not in an open-ended commitment, and progress is expected, Fallon said. However, now is not the time to give the Iraqis strict deadlines without flexibility, he said.
Diplomacy also will be important in dealing with Iran, Fallon said. The government there is trying to deny U.S. involvement in the region, but is also a threat to U.S. allies, he noted. The U.S. must work with these allies and pay close attention to Iran’s actions, he said.
“There are many things that ought to be considered as we approach our engagement in the region, and I'll be very anxious to particularly consult with the Gulf region nations to see what's new, what's learned, because it's been a number of years since I actually engaged in this area,” Fallon said.
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