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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 10)

CA: What about the past, present and future role of the United Nations as it relates to the war on terrorism?
Gen. Franks: This is a private citizen's view. You deal with the United Nations on two levels. One is the ideal. It is what we would like to see. It is what we would like to have. One would like to have an organization that can serve the community of nations with force, with effect, to be able to wrestle these issues to the ground, to prevent hostilities, and to solve hostilities or to get them stopped when they start. On the other hand, there is the level of the practical, where the United Nations is not today. It is not the most effective body at commanding and controlling international military forces to go solve crises and terminate conflicts—that is an issue for us. Because our country is committed to getting a handle on this business of terrorism; and there is a natural reluctance to let any organization that is perceived as less effective tactically to conduct this sort of operation. So on the one hand, strategically, we want to reach for the ideal. We want the United Nations to work with, to support, to rally nations, to rebuild Iraq, to help the Iraqi people. On the other hand, there is a reluctance to say, "OK, it's your problem; now go solve it," because its effectiveness in that form of operations is just not overwhelming.

CA: President Bush recently…I think last Sunday…said that the United States is seeking closer ties with the U.N. It's an admirable idea, but as a reality, aren't a number of the members of the U.N. a problem?
Gen. Franks: I don't know that he said it exactly that way. I just think that there is a lack of unanimity with respect to what actions should be taken and how to go about this business of achieving security inside Iraq. I think it is a problem. It's going to be a problem. But I think one of the very positive things that we've seen recently is the approach that our country has made to the United Nations. I think Secretary [of State Colin] Powell has said, "Look, this is what we're thinking. Let's engage in a dialogue here because it is an absolute certainty that we want greater international involvement. We want help from the international community in Iraq." I think it's a pretty honest thing. Now, that doesn't mean that a lot of pundits are not going to pick and say, "OK, you know, they'll never agree." But I admire the fact that our government has gone to the United Nations and said, "We'd like this to be an international issue. How about giving us a hand here?"

CA: What is your opinion of President Bush as the commander in chief? And how do you think history will judge him?
Gen. Franks: Well, that's really a good question. I'm still apolitical. I want to preface what I say. Military people, a lot of times, are given credit for being ultraconservative and all of that, but they don't announce party alliance and do all that sort of stuff. And so we call ourselves apolitical. Actually, I carry that into civilian life. I'm not a Democrat. I'm not Republican. I'm not an independent. And the reason I'm telling you that is because I'm going to give you my answer to the question you asked, but I would not want people to say, "OK, well, here we have a political hack. Someone with ambition, who has now left the military, and that." I think George W. Bush is about the best in terms of a commander in chief. I'd say that for a number of reasons. Let me give them to you in sort of ascending order.

I count him a friend, because I've spent a lot of time with him and I like his style. I like his style of leadership. I respect him as commander in chief because he asks questions of his military. Honest questions. Hard questions. And he expects answers. And I appreciate and respect his balance in that he receives information, he processes the information intellectually, he discusses it with those around him, and then he makes a decision. And my experience with President Bush has been, once he has made a decision, he stays with it. Those are all very positive characteristics in the eyes of a military man. One wants a commander—let alone the commander in chief—one wants a commander to be decisive. One wants a commander to be intellectually gifted so that, if a subordinate comes in and says, "Boss, I don't know. I think there's a problem here," the boss [will] say, "OK, tell me about it." And then, listen to him, make a decision and execute the decision. Well, as a senior military guy, to have a commander in chief who operates that way is just the best. I wouldn't know another way to describe it. It's just the best.

CA: How do you see him in history?
Gen. Franks: I don't suffer a lot of hero worship. Somebody asked me one time, Who is your favorite person in history? And I said, well, probably several of them. One of them is Sun Tzu, because anyone who can write a total of 78 pages translated into English, that last 2,500 years, and still represent effective military principles, is someone to be admired. And the other one is George Washington, because, as a fellow who was a general and took the good lessons and the bad lessons and then served our country as our first president, well, I have great admiration and respect for that, also.

As I look at President Bush, I think he will ultimately be judged as a man of extremely high character. A very thoughtful man, not having been appraised properly by those who would say he's not very smart. I find the contrary. I think he's very, very bright. And I suspect that he'll be judged as a man who led this country through a crease in history effectively. Probably we'll think of him in years to come as an American hero.

CA: What about the men of the U.S. armed forces?
Gen. Franks: There are a lot of very capable people in the military. I tell people all the time, maybe for shock effect, that I had a young sergeant for about three years before we came to Tampa. I had the ground component of Central Command. And he got his doctorate while we were there. He was just a young sergeant. I've worked with three other young sergeants since we've come down here, on my personal staff. All three of them with baccalaureate degrees and two of them with master's degrees. Average American sergeants in the military.

This army is not the army that I served in when I was in Vietnam. That does not deprecate the service of all of us who went there and did that. But the quality of our people [today], the depth of their commitment to all the things that represent the best of American values, is beyond anything that the world has ever seen. And, sir, that is why, when we say that America's military represents the greatest might in history, it's all about the people. That's what it's about. And they should not be trifled with. Because this military has the ability, as it stands today, to go anyplace on the face of the earth and do whatever it is that the commander in chief will tell them to do. There are those who wring their hands that the military's worn out and we're stretched too thin, and all that sort of stuff. But we're not stretched too thin to do anything that the country wants the military to do.

CA: Do you think the U.S. military was downsized too much and was underfunded during the Clinton administration of the '90s?
Gen. Franks: Actually, I don't think that it started with the Clinton administration. Keep in mind, as I said, I'm an apolitical guy. I don't tie things to the eight years of Clinton, but over the years, postñVietnam and over the years postñCold War, I think that a couple of things have happened to the military. I think that the sizing construct that was used to bring the military down was not a good one. And so I do not think the sizing was exactly correct. But more important than that, I don't believe that the structuring was done correctly. We came out of Vietnam and decided that we would have what we call a total force concept, which means a big chunk in the active force and a big chunk in the reserve components, the Army reserves, for example, and the National Guard and that. And the political decision that was taken, the national decision, was that we would set ourselves with a military so that any time America had to go to war, both active military and the citizen soldier would have to participate. That's a great construct for a cold war. But when we're in a situation, for example, in the global war on terrorism, where we may have a number of things going on all at the same time, one wants to be more balanced. Not having certain skills that exist in the reserves only, for example.

The way we built ourselves was that we could not go to war effectively without the reserves. Well, now we're in a situation where we need a different balance. I'm not sure whether at the end of the day, Rumsfeld will decide whether we have not enough Army or too much Navy. I'm not sure what the numbers will look like. But I am sure that he is concerned about the structure within those numbers and would like to make some changes. For example, there probably are some places, some jobs being performed by people in the military which could easily be done, perhaps more effectively, by civilians. We need to get people out of those jobs, get civilians in them, and get our military into the jobs that are the highest payoff in terms of the military skills. So that's what I think about the way we're structured right now.


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