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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 4)

CA: That brings up a good topic. In your opinion, if British Prime Minister Tony Blair in England had not shown such great support for the United States, could we have attacked Iraq? In other words, how critical was England's role, whether it be politically or militarily?
Gen. Franks: The U.K. played a critical role. Let me just say from the outset of the answer that I count Prime Minister Blair as a friend. I know him and I have spoken to him and visited him at 10 Downing Street on more than one occasion. And I believe that his fortitude in the face of questions, his leadership, was enormously valuable and continues to this day to be enormously valuable.

CA: Would you say that it was more politically important or militarily important?
Gen. Franks: Both. One should never minimize the military contribution of the United Kingdom, as they placed their commandos, as they placed their air assault formations in the very earliest moments of the war into southern Iraq and took responsibility for the sector around Basra, the second largest city in that country. The Brits bring tremendous expertise in terms of military operations in urban terrain. They are very well-trained soldiers. One should never minimize the contribution of the Brits militarily. At the same time, one should not ever underestimate the value of the political will exhibited by the U.K. in the face of some questioning. They were with this from beginning to end.

CA: We have England stepping up and understanding the grand scheme of our mission and the issue of survival, and then we have countries led by France who, while apparently talking with us and debating at the United Nations, were cooperating with the Iraqis behind our backs. How do you feel about France and their role in Iraq?
Gen. Franks: Let me give you an answer that will not be especially satisfying. It will be kind of like a light beer. I mean, it will not be especially satisfying. I am not a negativist. While I acknowledge your question and I acknowledge the way you ask the question as being the view of many, many people, I don't share it. I mean, I actually don't share it.

We pride ourselves in this country on our ability to exercise our national will. While another country may not act in a way that pleases us as Americans or pleases us as individuals, shouldn't we respect the ability of each of these sovereign states to actually implement the first rule of democracy throughout the history of the world? That is, at the end of the day, every state will act in a way which it perceives to be in its own best interest. That is the case with the European countries. Convenient for us and better for us had they participated willingly, militarily, to be sure, to be sure.

But I'd stop before I say, "I harbor all resentment against these nations." They have proven over the course of the years to be allies. Nine-eleven, the war on terror, is a major event for us in this country. But I will tell you that there are 60 nations—more than 60 nations—here who are associated with the global war on terrorism. The French, the Germans, most all, if not all, of the European nations are there at CentCom today supporting the global war on terrorism with military representation. And they have been there since before the Iraq operation started. They were there during the Iraq operation and they're still there.

I'm just not a nation basher. And I'm OK with it.

CA: The United Nations debated for months about this war. Furthermore, the U.N. spent years there in the '90s under very difficult conditions and they did find evidence of weapons of mass destruction and had them destroyed. If there were no WMDs in Iraq when you invaded, and all Hussein had to do was let the inspectors back in to look for them, why didn't he just relent, instead of triggering the U.S. invasion?
Gen. Franks: I, for one, begin with intent. I think about intent before I think about the fact. There is no question that Saddam Hussein had the intent to do harm to the western alliance and to the United States of America. That intent is confirmed in a great many of his speeches, his commentary, the words that have come out of the Iraqi regime over the last dozen or so years. So, we have intent.

If we know for sure, Marvin, that a regime has the intent to do harm to this country, and if we have something beyond a reasonable doubt that this particular regime may have the wherewithal with which to execute the intent, what are our actions and orders as leaders in this country? We cannot permit ourselves to simply be drawn in and continue after the fact of 9/11 to try to turn hope into a course of action. Before the war, we cannot confirm that the regime has weapons of mass destruction, but we have enormous amounts of information that indicate they do have the intent to do us harm. We have enormous amounts of information, much of it provided by the Iraqis, that lead us to believe that this man may have weaponized WMDs, and so our government decides, along with a coalition which was substantial at the point, especially in terms of political support, to take action. And so we take the action. Our forces get in there on the ground and we say, "We have not had inspectors in this country since 1998." You know, four years. And so what would be our guess? Well, the worst-case guess is that he has weaponized chemical and biological munitions and that he can attack his neighbors, can attack us, and perhaps, by the use of terrorists, can export this sort of mayhem into the United States of AmeriCA: L.A., Chicago, Tampa, New York again. Ah, so the decision is made we're going to act, based on this information we have.

Our forces get in there and they do not find artillery shells and missiles full of biologicals and toxins and chemical munitions and we say, "Well, we were incorrect, or we have yet to prove that our thoughts were correct that he had weaponized this material." But you know what we have found? I guess—perhaps it's not well reported—but I believe it's factual that certain precursor elements, certain precursor chemicals, certain precursor feedstocks for biologicals have been found by our people in Iraq. The fact that we have not yet found the smoking gun, which is the projectile or the missile filled with these ingredients—we'd like to find that if it exists. But to say that nothing has been found that indicated an active chemical and biological program in Iraq, in my view, is simply not true. The question that I would ask is, "If the man, if the regime was not trying to hide something, then why would we find some of these precursor chemicals and this sort of thing buried in the backyards under rosebushes, in a number of locations associated with some of the scientists in this country? Why would one go bury precursor chemicals and feedstocks out behind the apartment if there was not something going on?"

And so I guess at the end of all of it, here's what I'd say: I don't think it has yet been proven to anyone's satisfaction that this regime did not have weaponized munitions, because our forces in a population of 25, 26 million people simply have not yet been everywhere that we need to go.

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