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A four-star review for a four-star general
on August 3, 2004
Tommy Franks rose to prominence in the public eye only relatively recently, in the conduct of the post 9-11 conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraqi wars. However, Franks has been in the military and on the front lines, both combat and political, for a very long time. Franks enlisted in the army in 1965 (as I consider it, that's as long as I've been alive!) while still suffering from the effects from a hangover, brought on by a drinking bout due to general depression at failing college in Texas. (It is an interesting historical fact that many of America's better generals have not been the best students academically). Franks is not an academy graduate, having worked his way through OCS and almost immediately becoming a line officer in the Vietnam conflict.
Franks' career is a distinguished one, but perhaps the most telling part of which is that he was not really expected to be the outspoken, go-it-alone character that typified his Afghan and Iraq leaderships. The son of a poor family in Oklahoma and Texas regions that never quite recovered from the dust-bowl depression times, he was actually an adopted son who knew the secret years before his parents actually told him (he found his birth certificate in an old family Bible). He went to high school with the future first lady, Laura Bush, who was much more popular than he was, he wrote. He never made much of an impression in high school or his first attempt at college, but in the military, he stood out as an expert in marksmanship, and that was his ticket to OCS.
His rise through the military ranks was not meteoric -- his career spanned almost 40 years, and was fairly typical in many respects. His recounting of tales from Vietnam are standard for the genre; he has a heroic nature that he underplays in many respects -- he was wounded several times and won many combat decorations, but had originally intended to leave the military and get married after his tour was up; the military made him an offer he couldn't refuse, and the rest was history. He did get married, though, to Cathy; they have been married 35 years, and have moved at least 23 times in that period, according to Franks -- a bit more than usual, even among military families.
What most people will be interested in reading first, and I confess I did also, was his account of his time since gaining his fourth star in 2000 under President Clinton, and taking command of CENTCOM, based in Tampa (where Franks still lives much of the year). Franks has some tough words regarding the intelligence situation -- he states that he had direct contact with King Abdullah of Jordan and President Mubarek of Egypt, and both confirmed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (Mubarek claimed they were biological weapons). With regard to another recent author, Richard Clarke, Franks has strong criticism, stating that Clarke was far too much a fan of technology, and that none of Clarke's intelligence reports were ever helpful in a tactical or actionable manner.
Franks had a rocky start with the Bush administration; however, he eventually won over the thinking, particularly with regard to Rumsfeld, with whom he went from being at odds to being in close collaboration and friendly relations. President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld eventually gave Franks a very free reign; Franks did not go in for the daily press conference a la Desert Storm I; he also did not work in collaboration with other military leaders who questioned his judgement. He was given a remarkably free reign; successful in a tactical sense, this is still a controversial element in Franks' legacy.
Franks also devotes space to analysing the political scene in Washington, which he generally views as unhelpful. Franks defends his policies, quite at odds with the first Desert Storm / Colin Powell doctrine of using overwhelming force, describing the fall of Baghdad as only having been unexpected by cable news networks such as Al-Jazeera and CNN; the smaller force made his tactical movements far easier to accomplish. The capture of Baghdad was of vital importance, not only from the WMD perspective (which remains controversial) but also from the standpoint of preserving the oil and water supplies of Iraq, upon which the future of their country rests. Franks is very forward with his surprise at not finding weapons of mass destruction, calling that his biggest surprise of the Iraqi war, when all intelligence, even the words of other Arab leaders, seemed to confirm this.
Franks harshest criticism is reserved for the Iraqis themselves, who he sees as wasting the opportunity to rebuild their country with their terrorism and guerilla warfare. Whether one agrees with this assessment or not, it is present in a frank and honest manner.
Franks is current a 'hot ticket item' on the lecture series. Having retired from the military a few months after major engagement stopped in Iraq, his legacy is still one in question, because the outcome of the war is not yet known; the peace has not been won.
This is an important book to read for insights into the modern military leadership mind, a force likely to be important for some time to come.