General Tommy Franks
Marvin R. Shanken interviewed General Franks in his Tampa office, where he has memorabilia from his 37 years of military service.
The date, 9/11, was coincidental. It was the only day in September when the schedule of Gen. Tommy Franks meshed with that of Cigar Aficionado editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken. But the somber anniversary served as the perfect backdrop for the first post-retirement interview granted by General Franks. It was a day marked by his own observations of small groups of Americans waving flags along the byways of Tampa, Florida, his hometown, and the ever-present yellow ribbons tied to telephone poles and palm trees on the city's avenues. Franks served his country for 37 years, earning three Purple Hearts for wounds received and, over his career, three Bronze Stars for valor.
He climbed up the ranks of the U.S. Army, enlisting after a short stay at the University of Texas in the 1960s and finally reaching one of the highest posts in the military, the head of Central Command. He is a soldier's general, a man who chose throughout his career to spend time in the field, mastering his chosen career firsthand, not in a classroom or some think tank. He earned high accolades as a commander in the first Persian Gulf war in 1991, and worked hard throughout the 1990s to restructure and modernize the U.S. military. He was in charge of CentCom in 2001 when Osama bin Laden's terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and he led the planning and execution of the attacks on Afghanistan in October 2001 and Iraq in March 2003. He retired on August 1, 2003.
His comments and answers reflect the beliefs of a man who truly loves his country, and one who fought for the principles established by the founding fathers more than 200 years ago. He addresses directly questions about the search for bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. In the interview with Shanken, he also touches on his opinion about how history will judge George W. Bush, and the prospects for a world without war and terrorism.
Cigar Aficionado: What is today's date?
Gen. Tommy Franks: It's the second anniversary of 9/11.
CA: When you got up this morning, what was your mood?
Gen. Franks: Somber. Serious. I don't think for the past two years there have been too many days when most Americans didn't at some point during the day either experience the result of 9/11/01, or pause and think a little bit about 9/11/01; where they were, what they were doing. And I know that's been the case for me. It's been the case for my family. It has been the cause of a lot of friendships and associations. So, this morning I got up and it was somber. As I drove to work this morning down Bayshore Boulevard out here in the beautiful town of Tampa, all the palm trees and all the poles had yellow ribbons tied on them.
CA: That's beautiful.
Gen. Franks: It is a beautiful thing. And I'll tell you something else that's beautiful about it. Shortly after 9/11, there were three women who, on Friday afternoons, went down on Bayshore Boulevard and just stood on the corner and waved American flags. Three women. They started calling themselves the Bayshore Patriots. And, three women standing on that corner two years ago is something that you ought to experience every Friday. Up until the time we speak right now, they've never missed one. Rain or shine. And the number is considerably larger today. People stand on that corner and wave at cars passing every Friday afternoon. Those are the thoughts that ran through my mind when I got up this morning.
CA: How does September 11th compare in American history to such tragic events as Pearl Harbor or the assassination of John F. Kennedy?
Gen. Franks: I think we could probably use a lot of different words to describe that. One I've already used is "somber." If you look at a comparison of one day, two years ago, our country lost several thousand citizens: men, women, children, in the wink of an eye compared to the sweep of history. The greatest loss that we've ever experienced. Warfare brought to our shores. And you think about Pearl Harbor. Certainly it's a significant event. I was born in 1945, and so I didn't personally experience what it must have been like in December 1941 with Pearl Harbor. I did experience the loss of JFK. I was a student at the University of Texas on the Austin campus. And it's one of those days that we remember.
I've described 9/11, to the media and to all my friends, as the beginning of a crease in American history. And that's exactly how I think about it. I am an old-fashioned guy. I'm a corny guy. I actually believe in the Constitution of the country. I actually hold all of the values that I think Americans hold, even though we may not talk about them a lot. Well, I'm a guy who talks about them. That is my character. That's who I am. And I believe that we have had a couple of hundred years of this grand experiment called democracy. We've had our highs and we've had our lows. And 9/11 brought all of our history right in front of us. It brought in front of us things like liberty; things like freedom; the ability for you, for your family, to be able to go to a mall anywhere in this country, sit in one of the movie theaters that exist in that mall; get on a jet, fly some place around the world. Do whatever you want. The events of 9/11 impacted the way we live and I think it's healthy for us to think about that. I think it's healthy for us to remember that. And I believe that we probably have had no occasion in American history which has had such an impact on citizens at home in this country.
CA: Every single American.
Gen. Franks: Every single American. Every single American.
CA: Where were you when this occurred?
Gen. Franks: Kathy [Mrs. Franks] was with me. And we were headed to Pakistan for a visit with President [Pervez] Musharraf. We had stopped in Souda Bay, Crete, to get gas for the jet. Kathy and I had walked into a small market in this little town, because that's where one buys the best olives in the world. We went back to this little hotel. I was about to take a nap. There was a rap on the door. And I opened the door and one of my assistants said, "Turn on the television." I turned on the TV just in time to see the second tower strike. My wife would tell you that the first words out of my mouth were "Osama bin Laden." That's the first thing that I said. I got on the telephone, called back, talked to people in my headquarters, raced off to the jet, got back here on the 12th of September, talked to [Secretary of Defense] Don Rumsfeld, and we started planning for operations in Afghanistan.
CA: The very next day, you and Rumsfeld had your first conversation?
Gen. Franks: I may have talked to him later on the 11th. I can't recall; but, by the 12th, when I hit the ground back here, my staff and the staff in the Pentagon and the secretary's staff were already working on a plan.
CA: Can you recall the very first words that he said to you or you said to him?
Gen. Franks: I don't recall the exact words, Marvin, but it would be a very businesslike conversation that would have been along the lines of form of concept for operations in Afghanistan and "bring it to me as quickly as you can." It would have been something very businesslike. There would not have been emotion in that conversation.
You'll recall that the secretary's quite a hero himself personally. When the airplane struck the Pentagon, he had gone from his office in the smoke and had assisted in removing people from the Pentagon. And so he was, as I was, I'm sure, tired.
CA: But it was businesslike, and not something like, can you believe how horrible this was?
Gen. Franks: It was business. All business.
CA: Did he give you a time frame for action?
Gen. Franks: I don't recall it, but I doubt it, because that would not be the secretary's way. He would have said, "Get it together and talk to me in the next couple of days and bring me something quickly."
CA: Was there a sense of urgency?
Gen. Franks: There was urgency, of course.
CA: When did you first speak to the president?
Gen. Franks: I think my first discussion with the president would have been on seven or eight days after 9/11. And that would be when the secretary and I took him the concept for a plan to remove the Taliban and the terrorist networks in Afghanistan. It was probably the 20th or the 21st of September.
CA: Is the plan that you proposed then essentially the plan that you ended up executing?
Gen. Franks: What we would not have had by the 20th or the 21st, when I talked to the president the first time, would have been the target sets. The specifics. There is an order to war. And the order has to do not only with a sense of priority; it has to do with which things are struck militarily at what point in time. The concept would have been what, in fact, we all watched unfold. The specifics, the target sets and the relationship between humanitarian assistance and kinetic targeting would not have been in place. And I think that I saw the president again, perhaps nine or 10 days later, with a complete package. And I think he approved for execution on the second of October, and we discussed when operations should begin. We agreed when all of the elements would be in place to begin operations.
CA: What time frame was that? You had projected how many weeks or months would be required?
Gen. Franks: I don't think we knew at that point in time. We knew what we were going to do. I think one of the principles of war is that a good commander will always remember that the enemy takes a hand. And we were not sure at that point in time whether the Taliban and the Al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan would die hard; whether they would try to escape to the mountains; we didn't know. We knew the effect of precision munitions. We knew the effect of our special operations forces. We knew that we wanted to get our special forces people linked up and working with opposition groups. A lot of people have said, the Northern Alliance. In fact, the Northern Alliance was the largest of these groups, but there were opposition leaders all over the country of Afghanistan. I met some of them in clandestine meetings in Tajikistan. I met some of them inside Afghanistan. I met some of them in Pakistan.
CA: Did the fact that it took a long period of time before the strike give the Taliban an unusual opportunity to disperse and hide?
Gen. Franks: No. The timing of the operation—which started on the seventh of October, less than a month after 9/11—was such that it was operationally overwhelming to the Taliban. They, in my view, had not had time to make a plan. And you'll recall that we had come off of a number of years where we had demurred with respect to putting forces in Afghanistan. I think it'll take another 15 or 20 years, maybe, for us to know, because a lot of historical work is necessary—whether they actually believed that we would put ground forces in Afghanistan. I think that whole proposition was rather shocking for the Taliban when operations did in fact begin. Comparatively, it was a very, very, short period of time: from the 11th of September until the seventh of October. I would also mention to you that I think it was 75 days—75 or 76 days—after 9/11, a new president was installed in Afghanistan. I'd say that's a pretty quick, sort of a kinetic start to an operation.
CA: Was one of the objectives to capture and/or kill Osama bin Laden?
Gen. Franks: Actually, that isn't right. Not just the objective, but the mission, the direction from the president, was to remove the Taliban and remove the enclaves and training camps of the terrorists who were associated with Al Qaeda. I think that many have speculated and will speculate in the future that Mullah Omar was some place at a given point in time and that Osama bin Laden was in Tora Bora or in the White Mountains, or something, at a point in time. To this day, I am unconvinced that we ever had, with any precision, the location of the personalities of either the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Desirable? As the president said, "to kill or capture." Of course. But it was not a specific objective.
CA: Did you feel, after September 11th, that America had appropriate intelligence information on the Taliban and Al Qaeda, or were we really behind the curve when it suddenly became imperative to know everything we needed to know to wage a war against them?
Gen. Franks: It's very, very difficult to know. George Tenet and the Central Intelligence Agency had worked diligently for a period of time to gain information on the Taliban and on the Al Qaeda network, both within Afghanistan and in some 55 or 60 other countries on this planet. We certainly recognized the problem. The intelligence community was working with some diligence on the problem. And that's probably about the best that I could say. The CIA certainly had contact with some of these opposition groups and it was through our agency contacts that I met many of the opposition leaders once we started the war.
CA: It's two years later. Bin Laden is still not captured.
Gen. Franks: And let me say this. He may not be captured or killed in the near future. Do you know why? Because there is an ideology that is associated with the support of Osama bin Laden, and there are a great many households on the face of the earth that will accept him and support him. That is not the case with Saddam Hussein in Iraq. It's a different sort of a scenario.
CA: What I'm trying to get at, especially given the fact that a new video of bin Laden was aired last night, is that many people believe that those videos are just manufactured propaganda pieces designed to keep him alive in the public eye. No one knows where he is because many believe he may really be dead. What do you think?
Gen. Franks: There is that theory out there. I think most students of the last two years would tell you that they can neither confirm nor deny that thesis. The military standard, the measure of merit for military operations, seeks to avoid speculation. Most practitioners of the art will say the negative exists until the positive can be confirmed. And so in our discussions, we will accept the credibility of the argument that says he ain't dead until we prove he's dead.
CA: Some people have suggested that because of America's focus on Iraq, we have taken our eye off of bin Laden and the war on terrorism. We moved the manpower, we moved the surveillance and we moved the focus to another country. And so the terrorists are still out there roaming the globe. What's your feeling about that hypothesis?
Gen. Franks: An ill-informed view.
CA: Why? Was the mission over in Afghanistan?
Gen. Franks: Absolutely not. But let me just give you the numerical facts. On the day combat operations started in Iraq, the 19th of March of this year, we had about 9,500 Americans involved in operations in Afghanistan. On the day operations ceased, or major military operations ceased, in Iraq, on the first of May, we had about 9,500 Americans in Afghanistan. The intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, focus, command and control that was required for work in Afghanistan never changed, never varied. And to this day, has not changed or varied—with this exception: there is greater participation in Afghanistan today by the international community than there was when the war in Iraq started. So those who would say the focus on Afghanistan was lost as we went into Iraq simply is not factually true.
It's very interesting to me, because I think every week or 10 days for the last couple of years, I gave an update to the president. And each time, even during the major military operations in Iraq, [when] I would give the president an update on Iraq, I also gave him an update on Afghanistan. Because he was interested. Don Rumsfeld, in my personal view, never took his eye off the ball in Afghanistan. And here's the reason: both Afghanistan and Iraq are a part of a global war on terrorism. Look at this. You can look around right now at the continuing investigations of "What did you know in the intelligence community that could have precluded 9/11? What intelligence information did we have that could have changed the outcome and created a better outcome if action had just been taken?" My personal view is that we had more credible and more voluminous intelligence information that indicated a potential nexus between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq than we had precision relating to the planning and ongoing activities of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. And both of these elements are part of a global war on terrorism. And we are not at the end of it. We're at the beginning.
CA: Why haven't those points been picked up by the media and given the weight they deserve?
Gen. Franks: Let's talk about the media for a minute. I am not a negativist with respect to the media. I believe in the First Amendment of the Constitution. People have asked me so many times, "Well, why have you been media shy? Why don't you talk to me?" I told you a minute ago, I'm an old-fashioned kind of guy. I believe that the moms and dads and sons and daughters and husbands and wives of military people involved in the global war on terrorism, either in Afghanistan or in Iraq, have an expectation that our senior military leaders are tending to the business of war fighting rather than tending to the business of entertaining the media. That has been my view, sir, and it remains my view and that is why I supported the proposition of embedding media into our operations in Iraq, whereas we have not done that in Afghanistan. We talk about lessons learned. People ask me all the time, "What lessons did we learn in Afghanistan that we then transferred to our operations in Iraq?" Well, one of the lessons is that it is helpful to accommodate the media on the battlefield.
CA: The embedded media program, in your view, was a success?
Gen. Franks: Absolutely. An unqualified success. Don Rumsfeld and I have both said it. He didn't use these words. This is my voice. Somebody asked me about the embedded media just as you just did, and people continue to ask me about that. What I say about it is, I'm a fan. I lived through Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. And there are lessons to be taken from each war in which our country has been engaged, and one of those lessons is that having media present on the battlefield is good for our country. So, I'm a fan.
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.
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.
CA: Can't some of the more than 40 people who've been captured tell us, show us or give us the status of the programs and where they might have been? Or are they saying they don't exist?
Gen. Franks: We'll see what the recording from Dr. David Kay turns out to look like. You know, he's our man on the ground controlling the search that's going on right now. We'll see what his product looks like when Dr. Kay begins to talk about that. And we shouldn't decide yet what we think is going to be the result of his efforts over there.
Now, to the 40 or so of the 52 in custody. It's very interesting when people will say, "I had nothing to do with this. I never saw this. I never handled this particular sort of program." And you bet a whole lot of these people in this top 50 or so say, "Not me" or "It doesn't exist." But what is striking is the number of people every day, the number of Iraqis every day who say, "I heard" and "I was told" and "I have a friend who has an uncle who has…" and "If we go and look here." That kind of information is coming to our forces every day and it is not correct for us to believe that all Iraqis are saying, "No, there was no program. It never existed." Because that, sir, is not what a great many Iraqis are saying.
CA: Would it be fair to say that David Kay is being successful in his assignment, and that he has found things that haven't been reported yet?
Gen. Franks: His assignment, in the short form, might be: "Go find these weapons." Probably, more correctly, Dr. Kay is in the business of confirming or denying the existence of the program and of weapons. And I do not know over the last 30 days what he has put together.
CA: How about the 31st day? Going backwards.
Gen. Franks: If I go back to the time that I left the job, I was very satisfied with two things. The first thing was that our government had decided to place one man in charge of all this confirm or deny activity. The search. I was very pleased with that. I was very pleased with the formation of his team inside Iraq and with its relationship with military people who were going to go do the work. I don't have a comment about whether or not I was pleased with where they were at that state, because they were just getting going.
CA: Can we assume that because nothing has come out in the press that he's just holding on to information until he is satisfied with his efforts?
Gen. Franks: Absolutely. That would incline me to believe that the facts are being gathered in a way that will permit the exposure of those facts to be available to everybody in this country without permitting the leaking of microscopic pieces here and there in a way that's designed to influence. I think what Secretary Rumsfeld and what George Tenent are doing is gathering facts. And I'm satisfied with that process.
CA: We took a fair amount of time before we invaded Iraq, and Saddam Hussein had plenty of time to cooperate to have prevented the attack. That having been said, did we give up some large advantage in allowing him to do certain things to prepare himself for the war or did he just not believe that we'd ever do it, that the political landscape wouldn't allow it?
Gen. Franks: I don't know that he'd associate it with the political landscape as much as he might associate that view that we would not do anything to begin with because he thought that nothing would happen. I hope I live long enough to get far enough into the future to be able to sit on a vantage point and look back and have a full appreciation of the validity or the lack thereof of some of the things I believe.
But I believe that our forces achieved operational surprise in the military operations that started. I believe that the tactical configurations of Iraqi units at the time that our military operations started, did not represent the tactical configurations of armies which believed that a war was just about to begin. I believe that the coalition was successful in achieving surprise against the regime.
CA: The date of the invasion was what?
Gen. Franks: Nineteenth of March.
CA: When did you propose and/or receive instructions about which day was designated to launch the attack? How far in advance? And was that date ever changed before it actually happened?
Gen. Franks: The date was never changed. And I probably sensed rather than knew the date.
CA: How far in advance?
Gen. Franks: A week or two in advance.
CA: It was set up because your men would be in position, because the moon would be in a certain location? What was the underlying reason why that date was chosen?
Gen. Franks: It's very difficult to give you an elegant answer to complex algebra. During the course of planning activities, which was a bit longer than a year for this operation and not just a few months, many things were taken into account. The press reported widely that weather was a factor, and that we can't fight when it's hot. That's absurd on its face. We have the most sophisticated military capability on this planet, and it is true and has always been true that it will be just as hot for one side as it will for the other. But weather certainly was considered.
The use of our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities—aerial platforms and people on the ground, human intelligence—was obviously key to this and there were certain things that we wanted to know. There were certain arrangements and relationships that we wanted to be in place on the ground inside Iraq. And you can probably speculate in your own mind, these things come together at various points on the calendar. The proposition of how long it takes people to arrange themselves—that's a phrase that Don Rumsfeld uses—[is determined by such considerations as] where the jets are, where the refueling capabilities are, where the ground forces are, where the special operations forces are, the geopolitics of the relationships between several of us, and the Saudis, the Bahrainis, the Kurds, the Omanis, the Pakistanis, the Jordanians, the Egyptians, the countries in central Asia. And all of this just led to a point that said mid-March was the right timing.
CA: Who told you it's a go? When did they tell you it's a go? And what did you do from that point on?
Gen. Franks: I'm going to be very careful. I don't want to give you too much, because just in case I decide to write a book on this, I'd like the book to be interesting. But I can give you a little bit of an answer.
CA: Throw me a crumb.
Gen. Franks: The balance within the leadership in this country was, in my opinion, near perfect during the course of a planning activity that went more than a year. There was, in my view, no anxiety. There was no arm waving. There was no sense of divisiveness as this planning process moved forward. Decisions [were made] about who would visit where, which phone calls would be made geopolitically in order to arrange the circumstances. It was something that we moved through in a reasonably methodical, careful, thoughtful way. The direct answer to your question is that the president issued what I still call an ultimatum. I'm not sure that that is the correct political terminology, but from a military point of view. It was an ultimatum of 48 hours or so, that the regime would either leave Iraq or suffer the consequences.
CA: As I recall, Bush gave that ultimatum in a speech to the nation?
Gen. Franks: Yes, it was a public ultimatum. The president did address the nation when he said "48 hours." Now, at the time that that happened, I was in the Middle East and at my headquarters in Qatar. But I also had headquarters in Bahrain. I had another headquarters in Kuwait. And I had arrangements and relationships with heads of state all around the region, and I was in a number of places during that 48-hour ultimatum period. Let me digress for just a second before I answer your question about when I knew the launch date of the attack. You'll recall that we said the purpose of our military buildup, if you will, was to support diplomacy.
What does that mean? It was to cause the regime in Iraq to leave. It was not to go to war. But then again, one never walks into the OK Corral with an empty gun. And so the idea behind the process was to have ourselves positioned in a way that had the gun loaded. We entered, then, the 48-hour ultimatum period. I was traveling. During that 48-hour period, I had a video teleconference with the president from wherever I was in the region. I don't remember which country I was in.
But technology is a wonderful thing. And I had a video teleconference with the president and also with Secretary Rumsfeld. The president had with him, in the situation room with him in the White House, the National Security team. And when the suggestion was made that the president would like to talk to me on the video teleconference, I said, "I would like to have my subordinate commanders up on the video conference also. And so I introduced my land component commander, air component commander, naval component commander and a variety of special operations commanders—some black [secret], some more visible. And so we were all on the video teleconference. The president of the United States, after a brief introduction by me, talked to each of my subordinate commanders and asked them how they felt about the posturing of their forces, the viability of a mission to remove the regime. Each of my commanders responded to the president and, at the end of that, the president said, "You have the order to begin" at this particular point in time.
CA: What time of day was it for you?
Gen. Franks: This would have been late afternoon, early evening.
CA: And it was going to happen the next day?
Gen. Franks: I can't remember whether this was at the beginning of the 48 hours or in the middle of the 48 hours. I can't remember.
At the end of the meeting, I saluted the president and he returned the salute. It was, in my view, a presidential moment. A military person likes to be able to communicate with the civilian leadership of our country in a way where the military guy says, "This is my view," and the president of the United States, with his military advisers, joint chiefs of staff, in the company of the secretary of defense, takes a decision and announces the decision. In my view that was a presidential moment. Very powerful.
CA: That night, when you were home, knowing the next day that it was about to begin, what were your feelings? Were you with other people? How heavy was the weight of the world on your shoulders at that moment?
Gen. Franks: I guess it would be possible in hindsight six months later to be dramatic in response to the question. I think 36, 37 years of military experience in a lot of different places, in a lot of different wars, makes one very, very thoughtful. Much more inclined to check the things that need to be checked at the last minute, than to sit and say, "Holy smoke, this is a big one." I think I returned to my headquarters that night. I sat with my immediate staff. I talked to my subordinate commanders. We talked about some rather mechanical things: the posturing of special operations forces to the south, the west, the north; the precision configuration of airplanes, and how many; and a thing that we call the map, or the master air attack plan. I reviewed it. I reviewed the target sets. I reviewed the intelligence.
CA: But when you were finished reviewing all of the things you had to do, what did you do?
Gen. Franks: I went to bed.
CA: Did you have trouble sleeping that night?
Gen. Franks: I'm not dodging your question, but we all have different sleeping habits and techniques and all of that. I don't sleep well, anyway. I'm not a long sleeper. And so I'm sure that I was up a good portion of the night. But I suspect that I was not thinking about the potential loss of lives, the potential use of weapons of mass destruction. I was probably thinking about the aggregation of force in time and space. Actually, mechanical time-distance factors associated with enemy sets and what I thought their psychological reaction times would be in order to move large formations, and making decisions until the very last minute about which radio frequencies and which radio nets we would permit the enemy to keep up, which ones we would take down.
CA: When you began the invasion, were there any surprises in terms of the type of resistance, the lack of resistance, the qualitative role of the enemy? It appeared as though we almost caught them by surprise and they had no response. Is that an oversimplification?
Gen. Franks: Operationally, at the level of campaign operations, there were no surprises. At the tactical level—and what I mean by that is, What are the Turks doing? What are the Saudis, the Jordanians…what is going on there? The posture of our own forces. The posture of enemy forces in large formations. The Republican Guards, the Special Republican Guards, the regular army forces—there were no operational-level surprises. Tactically, to be sure, there were surprises. Tactically means the formation that may be moving up a road and does not anticipate that there are five men in a small house on the left, and these men engage our forces with rocket-propelled grenades or something. So, tactical surprises? To be sure. Operationally? No surprises.
CA: But, nothing significant?
Gen. Franks: None. No.
CA: You were prepared. You had a plan.
Gen. Franks: Correct.
CA: You executed the plan.
Gen. Franks: I guess, maybe people haven't asked as much as they've speculated, that the strike against the leadership targets on the first night of the war, which was a place we call [Dora] Farms, had desynchronized the activities, or done things out of sequence. There's been speculation that I was then forced to cancel the air campaign and do things with ground forces and all of that. And let me just give you a very simple explanation of that sequence. None of the speculation is true. The operation in Iraq had several ingredients. It had ground forces, Marines and Army troops. It had special operators or special forces. It had naval forces in the northern Arabian Sea near the gas and oil platforms, as well as the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea and the Southern Arabian Gulf. It had air forces from a number of locations, including the United States, flying B2s. The plan, as we had generated it, did not prescribe that the first thing that will happen is, we'll do this, and it will be followed in ten minutes by this. I had that in my mind, but we had not put ourselves on what I would call full automatic, because things change on the battlefield.
I had described to the secretary and had discussed with the president the things that can go right and the things that can go wrong. And we had talked through, on several occasions, things that were very important to us. For instance, we did not want Scud missiles being fired into Israel or into Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or into Turkey. We did not want the regime to be able to destroy the means of economic health of that country: their oil fields, their oil infrastructure in the south or in the north. We didn't want the regime to be able to destroy all of the dams and barrages and permit the flooding of the Shiite marshlands. All of these things were things that we either didn't want to happen, or we wanted the things to happen on a timeline that would set us up for the isolation of Baghdad very, very quickly.
As I watched during this 48-hour period of time, I saw that the oil fields had not yet been destroyed and that the enemy forces were in a location that I thought was advantageous for us. So I made the decision, after I had inserted special operations forces in the western 25 percent of Iraq, which we did, that the next important thing to do would be for ground operations to secure the southern oil fields. I sensed the enemy was not in a position to prevent us from doing that. And so I decided that the order of initiation of conflict would be special operations, first; ground forces from the south, second; special operations operating up in the north with the Kurds, third; air operations vertically into Baghdad, fourth. The sequencing of all that was never changed. There was no action by the enemy that caused us to watch something early or to hold something back. It was simply the read—that's what we call it—the read that I had on the enemy, convinced me that this sequence was the correct sequence.
CA: Was there ever a moment in time when you thought or your people thought that you had Saddam Hussein?
Gen. Franks: I don't think so. I think—let me say this: We had good intelligence on the command and control targets in Baghdad.
CA: When was that?
Gen. Franks: The first night. It's a housing complex. We had good intelligence, but not real time, not right there. I would describe the intel as hopeful. We had reports that indicated that there were leadership targets that were viable. And so we took the decision to strike those targets early on. I guess everyone would be hopeful that maybe you had decapitated the regime and there'll be less loss of life, and so forth. But I'll say this: We never counted on it.
CA: Isn't it surprising that he was able, to this day, to avoid being captured?
Gen. Franks: [Silence.]
CA: I guess I'm saying I would have thought it would have been easier to get him than in the caves of Afghanistan to get Osama.
Gen. Franks: You bet. You bet. And…but what I'm balking about is…you asked me if it was surprising?
CA: I assume you thought you'd get him?
Gen. Franks: Actually, not. Stereotyping is never exactly a good thing to do. But if there's a stereotype that an operational or strategic mind in the military will take what it sees, react to what it sees in a way that makes our action faster, more effective than the enemy's action—if that stereotype exists, it's probably true. And that's the way my mind works. I didn't ever think about, "OK, now if I do this, I'll get this personality." And so I have never and, actually, up to this point, I am not surprised that Saddam Hussein has not been captured or killed verifiably. I'm not surprised. I just take it as it comes. I did not believe that the removal of Saddam Hussein from power was an end state that resulted in the removal of the regime in Iraq. I did not and I do not. I believe that the regime was removed in Iraq by the isolation and, subsequently, by the occupation of Iraq by coalition forces.
CA: Could the regime exist without Saddam Hussein?
Gen. Franks: Yes.
CA: Without leadership?
Gen. Franks: Yes.
CA: Without infrastructure?
Gen. Franks: Yes.
CA: Without resources?
Gen. Franks: Yes. For some period of time.
CA: But it isn't now.
Gen. Franks: It is not. The regime is gone.
CA: But if I interpret you correctly, while the capture of Osama bin Laden is a frustrating prospect, your feeling is that finding Saddam Hussein is inevitable?
Gen. Franks: Right. Without a doubt. In the sweep of history, the capture or killing of Saddam Hussein will be a near-term thing. And I won't say that that'll be within 19 days or 43 days. But compared to tracking someone who is ideologically accepted and loved by some, like bin Laden, Saddam Hussein will be captured or killed. I believe this is inevitable. People ask me all the time, "Well, won't it be good when he's captured or killed?" And, I say, "Sure it will." Of course it will. It will be very helpful to us, because there are people who, as long as they believe he's alive, will form resistance, and so forth. But that'll come.
CA: We're in this war against terrorism, and maybe it's like a book with a beginning and an end. Maybe there's an end. Or there's no end. And we've written chapters in this book on Afghanistan and we've written chapters in this book on Iraq. But there are other countries that, to greater or lesser degrees, are threats and there are problem countries that could require serious attention, whether it's Syria, Pakistan, Iran. Where does the United States have to focus its attention in terms of the fears and threats coming from global terrorism? Where is the next problem?
Gen. Franks: It's a fair question. But there actually are two issues. One is terrorists. Personalities. Cells. Groups. We're doing, in my view, a pretty fair job globally. We, being the international community, are doing a pretty fair job with the problem of terrorists.
There is a second problem, and strategically, it's much more significant. A much more resource- and time-intensive problem. It's going to last a long time. And that's the treatment of terrorism. The problem with terrorism is brought about by a lot of things. I read an article in The New York Times last week. I thought it was excellent. And it talked about schools in a number of places in the Middle East and Africa called madrassas, which are much more inclined to teach the ethic of terror than they are to teach the value of the arts, the value of calculus, mathematics and science. That's a problem of terrorism.
It has to do with culture, and it has to do with many other things. And in every case, in my view, where we see people associate this with Islam and with the Muslim faith, it is a bastardization of the religion. It is a manipulation of fact. This is not about a religion. This is about a form of extremism that happens to exist in the same part of the world where the vast majority is Muslim. I have too many Muslim friends to believe that the business of terrorism is some sort of a Muslim sort of thing. That is not fair to people who practice that faith.
CA: But there are certain countries that have really embraced terrorism and supported terrorism.
Gen. Franks: Off and on in the past. Otherwise, we would not have this list of state sponsors of terrorism. But look at Afghanistan, for example. We talk all the time about state-sponsored terrorism. I'm not sure that it has occurred to us as forcefully as it should that Afghanistan was the reverse. There was no state-sponsored terrorism. Afghanistan was a terrorist-sponsored state.
That's an interesting turn of words. It is not a common thing to see where the state is supported by the wealth and power of a terrorist organization. That was the case in Afghanistan. It's no longer the case there. Good for us for what has been done in Afghanistan. And good for us for what has been done in Iraq. Let me just ask you this. I ask myself sometimes. In the grand scheme of things, didn't we believe that the possibility for the export of violence from Iraq into the United States of America existed before the 19th of March of this year? And the answer is: without a doubt. We believed that the potential to come out of Iraq with violence into this country was real. Well, so how're we doing? What's the possibility now, irrespective of the difficulties with security and stability operations in Iraq? Wouldn't we say that the likelihood that terror being exported from Iraq into this country now is about zero? I would.
CA: But which countries should we be worried about in the future?
Gen. Franks: I won't tell you which countries. The ones on the state-sponsored list are obviously of concern to us; but let me give you a sort of a formula. I'll give you the ingredients of where I think our policy is and where I think our policy will go in the future vis-a-vis terrorists and vis-a-vis the states where we see a big terrorist problem. In three words: Convince. Coerce. Compel.
When we look at a country like Iran, when we look at Libya, when we look at Somalia, when we look at North Korea, we look at these countries and say, "Well, these are potential problems." I think, over the course of time, we're talking about diplomacy, and we're talking about convincing people and nations that it is not in their best interest to export terrorism. Coercing. Potentially compel. Then what I say is, "Welcome to the twenty-first century."
CA: What about Saudi Arabia? There are people that believe that they have two faces: the face of a friend and the face of a country that quietly has supported terrorism in the past for their own survival. Is that a fair commentary? And has that changed at all in the last few months?
Gen. Franks: That's a tough question. I do not think it's a fair commentary to say that the Saudis have supported terrorism for their own benefit. So no, I do not believe that. I believe the Crown Prince Abdullah is an honest man and is a friend of this country. And I believe that he is working to corral or curb the problem of terrorists inside Saudi Arabia. I believe that it is not uniformly true that everyone inside Saudi Arabia perceives the problem of terrorism to be as great as Crown Prince Abdullah knows it is. I believe that there is not a unity all across Saudi Arabia at every level that says, "We have a large problem and therefore we should attack this in a massive, head-on sort of way." And I believe, sir, that's what we read about. The internal politics, the internal dilemma inside Saudi Arabia. But I'll say this: I have a number of associates and I have a number of friends who are Saudis. And I believe that they do support the proposition of countering terrorism. And that's probably about the best that I can do with the Saudis.
CA: But is that recent behavior?
Gen. Franks: It is much more pronounced recently. I believe that we're seeing evidence of a greater leadership role in the face of terrorism by the Saudi leadership. Yes. So I do believe that, as we would say, "The burner is being turned up by the Saudis inside Saudi Arabia."
CA: But how do you account for the fact that 15 of the 19 individuals who rammed the four planes into U.S. targets on September 11th were apparently Saudi citizens?
Gen. Franks: I don't account for it. But I do not think it would be right to say that because 15 of 19 were Saudis, therefore Saudi Arabia as a state had something to with the attack. I believe that it would not be a stretch to say that extremism exists there. But a minute ago, when I talked about this extremism that is born in close proximity to a great many Muslims, I wouldn't want to get that confused with it being a Muslim view. As I said, that is just, by golly, wrong. I believe that a lot of this extremism that I've described has existed inside Saudi Arabia. And I think that it is against that extremism that Crown Prince Abdullah is doing an excellent job of standing up in the face of.
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.
CA: What is the future of weaponry? Are we going to see the more exotic, high-tech weapons in the battlefield of tomorrow?
Gen. Franks: We're going to see more unmanned systems. We have seen, to our satisfaction, unmanned aerial vehicles performing in a way that gives us not only surveillance and reconnaissance, but also a kinetic capability, a lethal capability. Armed, unmanned aerial systems. We're going to see more of that. We're going to see continuing experimentation to be able to better use the bandwidth for communications that we have right now. We're going to see more robotics. So, sure, yeah, we're going to be technical for the foreseeable future.
CA: Let's get on to some lighter stuff. Your personal life reads like a rags-to-riches tale. How does a college dropout rise to the top of the U.S. military as the head of Central Command?
Gen. Franks: Ain't this a great country! [Laughter.] That's kind of a theme with me, by the way. I know you picked it up. When I was growing up, I had a little difficulty with priorities. You know, I couldn't decide, at one point in my life when I was young, that studying and getting an education was as important as other things to me. And so I prioritized education a bit lower than I should have. But then I met my wife and she corrected my aberrant behavior, and so I subsequently went to school and did that sort of thing.
Corny. I'm a corny guy. I had great parents. When I was growing up, I was permitted to be a child beyond the years where maybe one ought to be a child. But on the other hand, I grew up with a sense of values and I've kept that sense of values throughout my life. Did that contribute to me becoming a senior military officer? Yeah. I think so. I think, also, as I grew up in the military, life is about choices. And my background in the military reflects choices to do hard things, things that people would, perhaps, think of as hard. You know, if the choice was to spend more time getting a military education or spend more time with boots on in the field, I just always opted to spend time in the field. When the choice was to go to military education with Army guys to learn more about the Army or to get military education with Air Force people or with other services, I always went with the other services. I was always egotistic enough to believe that I already knew a lot about the Army and I wanted to know more about how airmen think and airmen operate and what sea services are all about and how Marines think and what they do and [about] special operations forces with whom I'd been associated the entirety of my life.
So, I've chosen to go to jobs that were with the troops more than they were away from the troops. I've had the luck of having worked for some wonderful, gifted, talented people who were willing to mentor me over a number of years, and the luck of being able to work with these evolving troops that I described a minute ago who have become smarter, who have become just incredibly resolved to do whatever one asks them to do. My own good judgment over the course of many years, and surrounding myself always with people smarter than me, probably resulted in whatever success I've enjoyed.
CA: Sitting in this room, one has to walk away with the impression that you love cigars, because you've got probably 20 humidors here and maybe thousands of cigars. When did you first become interested in cigars?
Gen. Franks: I probably became interested in cigars when I was in about the fourth grade or fifth grade and I first saw my uncle, Bob Meyers, out in Midland, Texas, when we were living out there in the middle of the oil patch. I was beginning to grow up and my uncle smoked King Edward cigars. And he and I used to go to along with my dad to baseball games. There was a minor-league ball club in Midland, Texas at that time. And we used to go to ball games and I remember my uncle sitting there in a baseball box smoking King Edward cigars. And then I noticed that many of the people with whom he associated—oilmen, bankers and that lot—smoked cigars. And I always thought that's kind of classy behavior.
Then I got a little bit older and smoked Tampa Jewels and Tampa Nuggets and the things that kids smoke. And I guess I didn't become really, really interested in cigars until I had occasion, by traveling all over the world, to sample a lot of cigars and smoke a lot of different cigars. And to this day, I still read Cigar Aficionado. Now, the characterization of cigar flavor as earthy, fruity, roasted, spicy, and so forth, is something that is interesting to me, but it is not how I characterize cigars. No one cares how I characterize cigars; but I characterize cigars as honest or balanced. I mean, terms that you're likely to see in the military. You know, I think of maduro wrappers and whether you're talking about a dark cigar or a light cigar, thin-veined or thick-veined. I don't understand nearly as much about that as I do the aroma of a cigar.
Say I walk into a room of 15 or 20 people, all of whom are smoking cigars. If you have enough not-quite-so-good cigars that probably don't draw real well, but you have only one or two or three very good cigars, I actually believe in a room full of smoke, I could walk up and talk to these 15 or 20 people and pick the ones who are smoking the good cigars. That whole thing sort of made me interested in it. What really built my interest in cigars is the fact that troopers like them. American troopers like cigars. And cigar manufacturers on this planet and people who are interested in cigars—you, for example, Marvin—have supported our kids and troops. Send them hats and magazines and send them cigars. And the number of cigar companies who send off to Afghanistan or send off to Iraq, to the troops, cases and cases of cigars, sort of made me a little bit of a fan of some of the personalities in the business of cigars. And so the result of that, then, was a humidor here and a humidor there and, if you're going to have a humidor, you should pay attention to the humidity. And then you should pay attention to the cigars which are in the humidor. And all of it sort of, as a process, is interesting to me. I like it. I enjoy it.
CA: That's really what I was getting to. I mean, I enjoy smoking cigars with friends, but I also enjoy smoking cigars when I'm by myself.
Gen. Franks: Me, too. It is relaxing. And during the course of the Iraq war, on a number of occasions, I'd sit outside in a number of Middle Eastern countries and just sit by myself and smoke a cigar. You know, I find that it's possible to spend a little too much time talking and not enough time thinking.
Gen. Franks: If you just want to think, there's nothing better than taking a good cigar and sitting under a tree, sitting in your room, and just sit there and smoke a good cigar. It's important to look at a cigar from time to time, when you're smoking it.
CA: Is it true that when you went to one of the palaces in Iraq, you sat at a desk of Saddam Hussein's and lit up a cigar?
Gen. Franks: It was wonderful. It was not a celebration. You know, celebrations occur at the end of things and no one believes—none of the military guys—none of us believed that we had hit an end state in Iraq. But on a very important occasion, which was the gathering of all of the Central Command commanders in Baghdad, we all smoked a cigar, sitting around in one of the regime palaces, and it was a wonderful occasion. Sort of the kind of occasion one can frequently mark by smoking a good cigar.
CA: Last question. Do you ever think the day will come when peace will reign in the world and the threat from terrorism will be over?
Gen. Franks: It's not in the history of civilization for peace to ever reign. Never has in the history of man. Ever. So, I guess there's an honest answer. It doesn't mean it's the answer I like, but it is what I think—I doubt that we'll ever have a time when the world will actually be at peace. Because one of the characteristics of man is that he'll work hard for a better quality of life: a finer cigar, a better bottle of wine, more material wealth. And there'll be haves and have-nots. It is the nature of history. And it seems to me, when I think about the Greek civilization, Romans and, in fact, a number of others, the history has been that, when civilizations grow powerful, in some cases they grow lazy, and those less fortunate rise up and take it away from them. And so we've had, for thousands of years, wars on this planet. And I'm afraid that we're going to continue to have wars on this planet. Terrorism? A form of warfare. The use of incredibly small numbers of combatants to create huge problems. As long as terrorism can effectively get the military job done, some organizations, and probably some nations, are going to turn to terrorism. It is not a delightful prospect and my view is a reasonably old view. I think the way one protects our civilization and the way one protects our way of life is through strength, not through hope.