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General Tommy Franks

Marvin R. Shanken conducts an exclusive interview with America's top general in the war on terrorism.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Gen. Tommy Franks, Nov/Dec 03

(continued from page 3)

CA: You just said that the war in Iraq was not just about weapons of mass destruction, but is part of the overall fight against terrorism. Given that profound statement, what are your feelings about criticism of President Bush that because we've found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it suggests the president misled our country, and we had no business going to war there?
Gen. Franks: That's a fair question. I'll give you an answer on two levels. First off, with respect to the whole discussion of what was known that caused our government to decide to go into Iraq and how that was tied to the war on terrorism, and so forth: my first comment is, Ain't this a great country! The people who crafted our Constitution more than 200 years ago saw fit to enable America to be informed, saw fit to enable both negativists and positivists to make their points forcefully. Ain't this a great country? The fact that there is negativism and questioning and political debate and discussion and sniping, and so forth, satisfies me just fine. I'm OK with that.

Now, let me talk to the substance of your question: Two years after the fact of 9/11, we should ask ourselves what is—not in 1941, not in 1917ñ1918—today, in the twenty-first century, what is the worst thing that can happen in our country? The worst thing that can happen is, perhaps—and this is my personal opinion—two steps. The first step would be a nexus between weapons of mass destruction of any variety. It could be chemical, it could be biological, it could be some nuclear device; and terrorism. Terrorists or any human being who is committed to the proposition of terror, try to just create casualties, not for the purpose of annihilation, but to terrify a population. We see it in the Middle East today, in order to change the mannerisms, the behavior, the sociology and, ultimately, the anthropology of a society.

That goes to step number two, which is that the western world, the free world, loses what it cherishes most, and that is freedom and liberty we've seen for a couple of hundred years in this grand experiment that we call democracy. Now, in a practical sense, what does that mean? It means the potential of a weapon of mass destruction and a terrorist, massive casualty-producing event somewhere in the western world—it may be in the United States of America—that causes our population to question our own Constitution and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass-casualty-producing event. Which, in fact, then begins to potentially unravel the fabric of our Constitution. Two steps: very, very important.

CA: If that's true, why have so many critics attacked the president of the United States and tried to diminish the work of the military?
Gen. Franks: Different views. The old saw, the cliché, that talks about politics and the relationship of liberal journalism to the processes of governance in this country is…actually, I'm not sure how to answer your question. But let me tell you this. Today, we stand on the second anniversary of 9/11. One year from today, we will stand on the third anniversary of 9/11. And what will happen two months after that? In November of '04, we will have a presidential election in this country. The nature of politics is for the contestants to look at the production of an administration to determine what they do not like, whether it's the economy, whether it's foreign policy. That list can go on. They can discuss that and debate it. And so the media's coverage of all of this, I think I can accurately predict in the face of Yogi [Berra], who said, "When one finds a fork in the road, take it." Well, he also said, "Prediction is extremely difficult, especially if it has to do with the future." I'll make this prediction: I believe that we're going to have more discussion, more debate. Some of it will be nasty over the next 14 months as we lead up to a presidential election. I'm an American. I like that fact. I like the process that we go through. And I believe that it is incumbent on people who have views to express those views.

CA: OK. Would you say that finding the smoking gun that might provide absolute proof that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction is actually minor when compared to the importance of the core mission, which is to eliminate terrorism?
Gen. Franks: Defeat terrorism. You have articulated what I would say. I do agree with that. It is an issue, to be sure. But you and I could debate anything that we want to talk about. I'm reminded of the high school debate teams. And that is, one knows the proposition to be debated before one knows which side he or she will sit on for the debate. And I think we're in the middle of a debate, and we're seeing the halves of this country squaring off and each is building its case for the debate. And that's what this democracy's all about.

I told you I'm a corny guy. I'm a traditionalist. And I believe in that. Does that mean that it pleases me when someone says, "Well, General, your campaign in Afghanistan was too much this, or not enough that. The same thing in Iraq." Of course not. But that's a personal issue with me and we take these things personally. But the process, the environment that exists in this country, makes it possible for people to say what they want.

But I'd say one other thing. The issue that I take with all of it is the issue of accountability. Look at this: while the president of the United States sits in service of this nation as the commander in chief, he is accountable for his actions. He recognizes that. And I'm very proud of that. While I served in the uniform of this country, I was not only responsible for certain activities, I was accountable for my performance in the conduct of operations related to those activities. The issue for me is accountability. It's accountability. The era of the sound bite with a great many facts left lying on the cutting-room floor, is problematic. It's problematic for all of us. It can get the hackles up on the back of one's neck. But at the end of the day, we're all blessed to be in a country where Cigar Aficionado can come and say, "What do you think? Here's what I think." And where a private citizen like Tommy Franks can say, "Well, here's what I think." Ain't this a great country?

CA: I'm curious about something. Who created the deck of cards for Iraq's most wanted individuals, and why was it created?
Gen. Franks: Some wonderful staff officers, on my staff and Secretary Rumsfeld's staff and Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Dick Meyers' staff, said this would be a good way to remember what these personalities look like. The way the process worked was, [when we went through] the identification of personalities that the intelligence community thought were terribly important to the regime in Iraq and, when they were tallied, it just turned out that the number happened to be about the same as a deck of cards. And so somebody said, "Aha, this'll be the ace of spades."

CA: Do you have a deck of those cards?
Gen. Franks: I'm sure I do. My wife bought a bunch of those cards and, as a matter of fact, we used to give them away. What's the tally today, by the way? Where are we? About 42 or 44. My gracious. Forty to 42? We're six months after this event. We have the regime in Iraq. We continue to be troubled by the fact that our youngsters are losing their lives over there, our kids in uniform. That's a sad thing. It's a thing where I think everyone in this country waves a flag and says, "We recognize America is at war." But, pardon the expression—it's a country expression from Texas—but gracious, gracious. Look at the product of the labors of the last six months, by our country, by those who have joined us in the international community.

Look, let me tell you this: right out here at MacDill Air Base today, there are more than 60 nations represented. We continue to talk about, "Well, America goes it alone." There are more than 60 nations represented out here with full-time, senior representatives, military representatives, who form the largest military coalition in the history of the world and have supported the proposition of the global war on terrorism since 9/11. My, my, my.

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