Ex-General Gives His Take on Iraq War
In His Memoir, Franks Also Seems Supportive of the Bush Administration
By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 1, 2004; Page A10
Four days before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Gen. Tommy R. Franks, then the commander of the U.S. military in the Middle East, told his intelligence staff that his greatest fear was "a terrorist attack against the World Trade Center in New York," according to his new memoir.
He does not elaborate on what led him to that view.
"American Soldier," which goes on sale Tuesday, does not break much other new ground but does deepen and confirm some earlier accounts of the Bush administration's conduct of the war in Afghanistan in 2001 and the Iraq invasion in the spring of 2003. Coming as the presidential election season gears up, it probably will be seen as supportive of the Bush administration and critical of Democrats, who Franks portrays as lacking the "stomach" to confront al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan during the 1990s.
Franks conveys the sense that President Bush put him at ease, to the point that Franks felt able, because he was busy, to decline an invitation after a meeting in Crawford, Tex., for lunch with Bush.
Even so, two key Bush administration officials come in for harsh treatment in the book: Pentagon policy chief Douglas J. Feith and former White House counterterrorism director Richard A. Clarke.
Franks confirms the account in "Plan of Attack," by Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward, which described friction between Franks and Feith. Franks calls the undersecretary of defense for policy "a master of the off-the-wall question that rarely had relevance to operational problems." He adds, "I generally ignored his contributions."
Franks later quotes himself as saying during the planning for the invasion of Iraq that Feith had achieved the reputation in some military circles as "the dumbest . . . guy on the planet."
Clarke, who has since written his own memoir, "On Terror," which is extremely critical of the Bush administration, is depicted as an impractical blowhard who talked a lot but failed to produce "a single operational recommendation, or a single page of actionable intelligence."
By contrast, Franks portrays Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld as a difficult but effective leader whose demands sometimes seemed to "border on harassment." He depicts their relationship as one that began somewhat rockily when they first worked closely together, during the Afghan campaign. Franks recalls being so stung by Rumsfeld's frustration at getting Special Operations troops into Afghanistan early in October 2001 that, he writes, he told Rumsfeld that he felt the defense secretary lacked confidence in him and offered to step down as chief of the U.S. Central Command.
But by May 2003, after the opening of the Iraq campaign, their relationship had so improved that Rumsfeld offered to make him the chief of staff of the Army, Franks writes. He turned down the job, which ultimately led Rumsfeld to bring out of retirement former Special Operations chief Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker.
Franks also discloses that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in an unusual move, bypassed the Pentagon chain of command to call him in September 2002 to express unease about aspects of the developing war plan for Iraq. "I've got problems with force size and support of that force, given such long lines" of communication and supply, Franks reports that Powell said to him in warning that he intended to raise his concerns with Bush.
Powell's criticism of the plan, especially its relatively small troop numbers, anticipated that made by many retired generals in television commentary when the war began six months later. Franks is dismissive of Powell's views, saying the man who headed the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the first Iraq war "no longer wore Army green." Powell had "earned his right to an opinion, but had relinquished responsibility for the conduct of military operations when he retired" as chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 1993.
In discussing the conduct of the spring 2003 offensive in Iraq, Franks gives more credit to the Air Force than some in the Army do. The bombing of the Republican Guard divisions near Baghdad that took place during a huge sandstorm in late March 2003 "was one of the fiercest, and most effective, in the history of warfare," and effectively ended organized Iraqi resistance, he states.
In his one overarching criticism of the administration's handling of the Iraq war, Franks faults Powell and Rumsfeld for failing to ease chronic friction between the State Department and the Pentagon. "I believe that better listening, more intellectual flexibility, and more willingness to learn and compromise would have better served . . . the commander-in-chief, and our country," he writes. But he does not offer specifics of interagency squabbling that troubled him.
Franks retired in the summer of 2003, just as the guerrilla campaign against the U.S. occupation of Iraq was getting underway, and has little new to say about the situation since then. He asserts that he always expected that the occupation would be long and difficult.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Gen. Tommy R. Franks, then commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, visits troops in Qatar. His book, "American Soldier," goes on sale Tuesday.
(Luke Frazza -- Reuters)