By Scott Foster, NBC News Pentagon Producer
As security continues to improve in Iraq and the U.S. plots the eventual drawdown of American combat troops, a former top military commander said Tuesday that the U.S. faces the "new challenge" of restoring neglected diplomatic relations with allies in the Persian Gulf.
Retired Naval commander Admiral William "Fox" Fallon says the U.S. now must "rebuild relationships that have been pushed aside during the war effort."
That pointed critique of American foreign policy over the course of the Iraq war comes from the former top commander of the U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, whose resignation earlier this year sparked a firestorm over a perceived schism in the Bush administration's Iran policy.
Fallon added that as the current $3 billion a week being spent in Iraq winds down, the U.S.should redirect some of that money to other initiatives in the region.
Speaking to an audience of national security analysts from various think-tanks in Washington, Fallon acknowledged that while many American allies in the Persian Gulf will continue to look to the United States for leadership, we should focus on greater security cooperation amongst regional partners.
Drawdown in Iraq presents 'opportunity'
In March of this year, Fallon resigned from his command after an Esquire Magazine profile of him suggested his anti-war stance with Iran was "brazenly challenging" President Bush.
During his one year tenure at U.S. Central Command, Fallon had been outspoken in his attempts to tamp down the heated rhetoric over a possible conflict between the U.S. and Iran, going so far as to call any potential military operation with Iran "ill-advised."
Fallon was careful not to re-ignite that debate Tuesday as he politely declined a chance to offer his take on that highly publicized policy dispute.
Still, it's clear Fallon favors a greater reliance on security cooperation and diplomacy in the Persian Gulf, as he said he believes that the beginning of the end of U.S. involvement in Iraq provides the "opportunity" to renew ties with partners, as well as "form new alliances" in the region.
Now a scholar at MIT's Center for International Studies, the former four-star admiral joked that he's still getting adjusted to his post-military service life.
Accustomed to the secret service motorcades afforded to senior U.S. military officials, Fallon opened his remarks saying he wasn't sure he'd make it on time to the event - because he didn't know where to park.