Retired Gen. Tommy Franks talks with Stars and Stripes' Washington bureau chief, Patrick Dickson.

Retired Gen. Tommy Franks talks with Stars and Stripes' Washington bureau chief, Patrick Dickson. (Joe Gromelski / S&S)

Retired U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks sat down with Stars and Stripes on Monday during a stop in Washington to promote his book, “American Soldier.” Franks is the former head of the U.S. Central Command and architect of the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns.

Franks: So here we are at Stars and Stripes. Hmmm …

Stripes: Did you read us while you were over there?

Franks: Of course! Of course.

Stripes: Were we tough on you?

Franks: Well, perhaps not unnecessarily. You know, I’ve told a lot of people, it’s a good thing that wars are not ever easy or convenient, because if they were, we’d have too many of ’em. And so, if you’re gonna go to war, you get it complete with mistakes, I mean they actually happen, and you see people make mistakes at every level, during military operations. That however … does not mean that America doesn’t have the right to know.

What America has the right to expect is, to use a phrase that is used on FOX, and that is, No-Spin Zone. And as long as we’re not spinnin’, then we’re calling it, the good the bad, and the ugly.

When I have criticized people, and from time to time I’ve criticized the media, the analogy that I use is that I don’t go to a lawyer for medical treatment. So the expectation is that any reporter we ever talk to, and certainly those with Stars and Stripes, because of your beat, knows the difference between a platoon, a squad, a squadron, a regiment, a brigade, a division and what the construct within those organizations looks like, because when one of those kids picks it up, he doesn’t expect to read that a division did this or that when it was a platoon that did this or that.

Now that does not mean when you have really bad news – Abu Ghraib is an example, that you’re not right there dukin’ it out, tellin’ the truth, and sortin’ through every last piece of it the best you’re able to do it. That’s a bad news story, we gotta put up with those, too.

Stripes: Iraq and Afghanistan. You’ve said in a couple of places that you expect us to be there three to five years. What assumptions are you using to base that figure on?

Franks: The assumption is that the Iraqis – to use the case in Iraq; I would make the same point about Afghanistan – I don’t know whether it’s three, or five. But I do believe where, you have had a country like we see in Afghanistan, they have not been known for stability for a couple thousand years. And you see a country like Iraq, where they have had anything but stability in that country, and anything but human rights in that country for three decades, that a certain amount of time is necessary for them to wrap their arms around the problem.

Where does three to five years come from? It comes from the training rates, and the bureaucracy-building rates, and that’s a term we haven’t used recently. But I remember when Hamid Karzai became the interim president, the transitional president in Afghanistan. I used to go see him about once a month. And I was so pleased that he was named and that he was vetted by the Afghans in the loya jirga process and now he has become the legitimate man in charge. And I started to look around for the bureaucracy that is necessary to actually make things happen and get things done.

And you find that until he has people who are able to do what you do, right here in this newsroom – I mean, you have, from the time the boss says “This is what we want to do,” someone has to draft the policy, someone has to do the legal work, and all of that.

And so, I believe that it’ll take three to five years to get the bureaucracy built – Afghanistan and Iraq – and to get the requisite number of security people and bureaucrats trained up to be able to do the work. Three to five years. Might be a little quicker. Won’t be any longer.

Stripes: On the Iraq side, do you think then that maybe it was a mistake to do the de-Baathification, to get rid of a lot of people who maybe had some bad ways about them but who knew how to get things done there?

Franks: Let me give you an answer that –– don’t take as circuitous, because I will close on your answer.

I don’t know whether it was a mistake or not, and I don’t think we’ll know for some number of years. I mean, it will be off into the future some years before we can look back and see, how did this process go, of building stability.

One the one hand you’d like to say, if you disenfranchise all the Baathists, with a very high bar – if you’ve been a Baathist at any level, we’re not going to have you – you say, well, wait a minute: It’s obvious that you’ve thrown all your bureaucrats away, and there’s no one to run the government, and I wouldn’t disagree with that.

On the other hand, you can say, well, anyone who’s been a party to the destruction, to the mayhem, to the killing of 300,000 people in that country, you don’t want, as a matter of principle, those people involved in building a new Iraq.

So those are the two extremes, and I don’t think we’re gonna know until off in the future when we can look back to see whether the guys who stood on a matter of principle, or guys who stood on the side of pragmatism, were right. I know we do have a heck of a problem building a bureaucracy in Iraq right now, it’s a very tough time, and it would easy to cave in on the de-Baathification problem and say, “hey, we need help, let’s start hirin’ ’em.”

Stripes: So the same answer would hold true on any shortcomings in postwar planning – you’re going to look five years from now?

Franks: I think there have been shortcomings; I think there have been shortfalls in postwar execution. I don’t know whether it was because we didn’t have all the plan we should have had, or, whether it was because the execution was just dramatically difficult. And once again, these are really complex issues – let me give you a more complex answer:

There are people who say, “Well, if we just had” – as (retired Army chief of staff) Gen. [Eric] Shinseki said – “If we’d just had a quarter of a million people on the ground, we wouldn’t have had a problem.” That might be right, but I don’t know that. But I do know this: We would never have gotten a quarter of a million people staged for operation in Iraq and been able to get the job done through major combat as quickly as we did, because the Iraqis would’ve had at least the chance to destroy their own water infrastructure and flood the south, to destroy their own oil infrastructure, to shoot missiles into Saudi Arabia, into Israel, into Jordan, and so it’s very difficult to say, “Well, ya just shoulda had more people.”

The thing that’s up for grabs in my mind, is, how long does it take beyond that, beyond the major combat operations, announced as having ended on the 1st of May, to bring in sufficient forces, and for all I know maybe that number should be very large. But then it remains complex, because who’s to say, that all of them have to come from America?

I never took issue with the notion that – the discussion of how many people it takes, because I didn’t know. I knew that once we had removed the regime, that we would continue to put troops in there until we were satisfied we were OK. I was hopeful that the international community would put lots of ’em. And some countries in the international community – Japan, and 22 others – have in fact stepped up and put a lot of people in there.

Have they put enough people [on the ground]? I would like see, instead of 138- or 140,000, or 141,000 Americans, I’d like to see a smaller number of Americans and a larger number from the international community; that’s just an honest answer.

But it’s troubling to me, that we continue to want to talk about the Shinseki-Rumsfeld-who was right and all of that. That actually is not … that is not worth the amount of energy that we put into it, because it’s conceivable that both are right.

But if we try to put a point on it and say there should have been a large number of troops immediately, I would take issue with that, because there couldn’t have been. Otherwise we would not have achieved surprise, and it would have been a very bloody fight to try to remove the regime. That’s what I believe.

Stripes: The 1st Infantry Division is supposed to come out of there in December. It’s quite possible that they get extended, like the 1st Armored Division did.

Franks: I hope not. Whether it’s the 1st ID, the 1st Armored Division, the 1st Cavalry Division, or whatever. One wants these units to rotate on schedule. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to make it. But I believe everybody, to include Secretary Rumsfeld believes, that when we don’t make it, it’s painful. Because not only do you have the youngsters, you have the families at home, and you have expectations that we’re gonna make these rotations. The only thing worse, and probably here’s the soundbite: The only thing worse than disappointing our kids, would be to not get the job done. And so, if you wind up having to extend people, it’s undesirable, but I think in some cases, necessary.

Stripes: You talked in your book a little bit about the problems with the hollow army, in post-Vietnam Germany, in particular, some of the people you had to straighten out over there.

Franks: That was an interesting time in my life …

Stripes: USA Today said that some of the Guard and Reserve units that are reconstituting after coming back home are experiencing some … attendance problems.

Franks: I’m sure. I think that recruiting is gonna be, uh, is gonna be difficult, especially for the Guard. I don’t know how difficult it’ll be. But I believe that our balance between the active and reserve [components] is not correct right now, I’ve said this to many people. We, in the post Cold War, or in the post-Vietnam era, we decided that we’d put a lot of functions in the reserve components. Coming out of Vietnam, that makes all the sense in the world, because we were preparing for the Cold War. And if we were gonna have a war, we need to get everyone involved in that thing and go ahead and have a big war.

It’s a different thing when you’re fighting crises, like in Panama, or in Haiti or in Afghanistan, or Iraq, although a large war, it is certainly not, I mean, it ain’t a World War II.

And so when you have multiple calls for the use of forces, if you’re structured the way our military is structured right now, your reserve components get called virtually on the same day your active guys do. So in order for America to go into a crisis situation, we’re callin’ the Guard up immediately. Then lo and behold, if it turns out we have a two-day war instead of a one-day war, then the Guard winds up goin’ a couple of times, and that is not the way we’d like to have that.

What I’ve said, and I’ll continue to say it, is the balance inside the Guard, and the balance inside the active component, is probably not right, right now. I’ve been asked by a hundred reporters, do we need to have a larger Army, Navy, Air Force, whatever. And I say, you know, it would be easy and convenient to say, well, the ones we have right now are stretched, and so, yeah, we need to have a larger force, but I can’t say it right now, because I don’t know if it’s large enough or not. I do know that the internals of it are wrong. And here’s what I mean:

If you look at the MOSs inside the United States Army, you’ll find that in many, many cases, they haven’t been [deployed] at all. And you find other MOSs that are queuein’ up for second trips, and probably soon third trips. Now what does that tell ya? Does it tell ya, we need more Army? Or does it tell ya we need to reclassify some that are not in the high-demand MOSs into the higher-demand MOSs? I don’t know, and I think it would be pretty capricious to just say, OK, let’s move the artillerymen. Let’s move the tankers. What I think is that the Army needs to do a pretty thorough study. And I think it would be an interesting number, if we were to ask ourselves, “What percentage of the troops in the United States Army, whatever it is – 480,000, wherever they stand – what percentage of that 480,000 active component have served in Iraq?”

My guess is that you would believe that that percentage is real high. And it is not. And so that doesn’t say that we need a bigger Army, but it does say, maybe we ought to sort it out on the inside and get everybody in the right job.

Stripes: How long do you think the rebalancing would take?

Franks: I don’t know; I think that’s a tough thing. But I’ll tell you this: I have no more respect for anyone in uniform than I do [Army Chief of Staff] Pete Schoomaker. I’ve known him only since we were captains. He has a sense of this that’s far better than I or many other people would have, and I suspect, and I have not talked with him about this, I suspect that if you asked him about this point I’m making, he would tell you we’ll finish the study on _____, and we’ll finish the study by _____, and I’ll suspect he’s already doin’ it.

I know we need more cops. We need more military police, I know we need more military intelligence linguists, we need more civil affairs people and the people who are serving in those jobs right now know it ‘cuz they’re meeting themselves comin’ and goin’.

Stripes: Let me put you on the spot, then. There’s been many reports in the major media that we’re kicking gays out who are linguists. Think that’s the right thing to do?

Franks: I absolutely support ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ I’m a hundred percent believer in that; that’s the policy of our country, and that’s the policy of our military. And so, if we have shortfalls, and we have people who are livin’ within the confines of that policy, then that’s where we ought to be.

Stripes: [Supreme Allied Commander of Europe U.S. Marine Corps] Gen. [James] Jones is talking about lily pads – moving bases south, moving bases east to be closer to the hotspots …

Franks: I think it’s great.

Stripes: Guys would be without their families …

Franks: Yup. We lived apart for two years; Cathy and I lived apart in Korea, because I was up in 2nd Infantry Division, and she was down in Yongsan. Now we were in Korea together, but we didn’t live together. And when things were not very intense, we saw each other once a week. When things were intense, then it was kinda like hardship tour.

Where you get in trouble with a thing like lily pads, is with countries in Europe, who will be very concerned about the remaking of our force structure in the traditional footprint areas.

But if you look at the Middle East, and you think about where the countries of Central Asia are located, then you will start to say, well, if you’re gonna have a given force structure, and I don’t know what it is, let’s just say 65,000 [troops in Europe], I don’t know what it is, and we have that posture in a little different way, I think it is more relevant to the world in which we live than we are currently configured, which is relevant to the Cold War. So I agree with Jones.

Stripes: What about the notion, [myself] having gone into the Air Force in 1981 when Europe was a distinct possibility [as an assignment], is it a recruiting minus to tell people they’re going to go to Uzbekistan rather than Germany?

Franks: I don’t know. I know that it was tough to recruit for Korea. You know? For a long time. I remember tellin’ airmen that they were goin’ to Osan Air Base. That was not greeted with immediately … I mean, would you rather do that, or would you rather go to Schweinfurt? Everybody’d rather go to Schweinfurt. So I don’t know. Having spent – Cathy and I spent seven years in Germany, and also having spent an awful lot of time in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and down there, there’s a certain package of young airmen and soldiers, and all that, who are fascinated by the opening of these recently Soviet countries. And so, I don’t know how it’d turn out. But I think the Uzbeks would like to see more of us down there, maybe the Kyrgyz as well, so lily pads is probably a pretty good idea.

Stripes: For the global war on terror, what do you think is the single most important thing that a military commander needs to learn about what they’re facing right now?

Franks: Boy, that’s a good question. [Pauses.] Balance. The need to balance force protection with mission. I think it would be easy to say that actually, the behavior in Iraq is so fractious right now that the mission is force protection. That would be a mistake.

The two ordinates of command for any organization are accomplishing the mission and protecting the force. I think the balance of, “How can we protect troops – to go down the road, over the hill, through the village, and do what has to be done,” if we’re going to move forward in Iraq, with the need to secure those kids as they’re goin’ through the village, that’s a very, very difficult thing. And if I were counseling young commanders about to be on the ground in Iraq, I would tell them to soul-search, and to play very close attention to their own view of how to balance force protection and accomplishment of the mission in this most dangerous place. Because you have to do both.

You’ll remember a time when we came out of Khobar Towers [in 1996, where 19 U.S. airmen were killed with a truck bomb in a military housing complex in Saudi Arabia], where we had what I call the Schwalier Effect [4404th Air Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Terryl J. Schwalier, in charge of the Khobar Towers facility]. There was such concern that – pretty soon he’s in trouble; the Washington blame game came into business, and we’re started looking around to “Whose fault is it?” – that we had our airmen killed.

Well, actually, it was the fault of the terrorists that we had our guys killed.

But there was such a reaction inside the military to that, that pretty soon, we had commanders payin’ more attention to how to protect the troops – whether they were Army or Air Force or Navy – over in the region, than they were to doin’ their jobs. And so, when you do that, pretty soon you find out that your training is not as good as it needs to be, your mission accomplishment is not as good as it needs to be, because you’re just in a cocoon, cuz you’re just tryin’ to protect yourself. Long answer to a short question, but I believe that is the biggest issue for people who are going to be in charge of our Americans over in Iraq right now: how you gonna balance that? Are you gonna stay in the compound today, or are you gonna go down that road?

Now, it would be easy to look at all sorts of tactical perturbations and say we ought to fly more helicopters, but the guys on the ground are quite bright enough to figure that stuff out – the thing that demands attention is what’s the balance between just how careful I’m gonna be, compared to just how hard it is I’m gonna work on the mission. And it’s obvious to me right now, that the commanders over there are still mission-focused, because we are having young people hurt and killed every day. That’s a sad thing, but wouldn’t it be really sad if we were getting’ our people hurt and killed, and not accomplishing something?

I for one believe we are accomplishing something, and I commend to the reading to anyone who doubts it and it would be wonderful if you would take a look at this, the Philadelphia Magazine [] there’s a story in there about a fellow in there about a man named Patrick Dugan – this kid, well, a kid compared to me – 43-year-old guy, he was a successful lawyer and he was a paratrooper back in the ’80s, and he went and enlisted. He left a law practice back in Philadelphia. That fact is marginally interesting.

What’s really interesting is that he has established a dialogue with the editor and sends him a letter a week or a letter a month, I don’t know what it is, talking about what’s going on over there right now with municipal elections and what he’s seeing.

And there’s a good story – no kiddin’, I mean, I don’t like to overhype, you don’t want to overhype the good because this is a tough area, but at the same time, there is some very innovative stuff goin’ on over there and this is a pretty good example of it.

Stripes: Have you seen “Fahrenheit 9/11”?

Franks: I have not seen it, but I will.

Stripes: You will.

Franks: I will see it.

Stripes: You think the troops should see it?

Franks: It’s not for me to say. I do not believe that commanders should deny their troops the ability to see it.

Stripes: I interviewed John Kerry on Friday and he thinks that diplomacy, that he is able to undertake, would be far more effective than the “broken relationships” that the Bush team has sown. What do you think?

Franks: My comment has to do with the change of each administration, and not to John Kerry: If every president who has become president of this country had been required to have his paper graded by what he promised when he was seeking election, we would have a pretty rough track record of presidential performance.

So, I don’t know whether Sen. Kerry could accomplish what he would like to accomplish or not. Here’s what I would tell anyone, whether it has to do with President Bush, or with Sen. Kerry: There are certain things in this country that can be done by the executive branch. There are other things in this country that are done by the Hill, by the Congress, by our legislature. On either side, the executive or the legislature, there’s frequent vetting required by the Supreme Court.

Any time a presidential candidate says he can do something and he will do something, the United States of America and the voter – President Bush or Sen. Kerry – the voter ought to very simply say, “Is that something that’s executive and he can do it? Is that something that’s gonna require action by the Hill? Is it something that’s gonna require the law out of the judiciary?” If it comes up that it’s something that he can control, then we ought to give him credit for makin’ a good-faith effort to do that. But any time somebody promises something from an organ of government that they do not control, even as president of the United States, our ears ought to perk up.

Stripes: The Executive does cover the State Department …

Franks: And where does their money come from?

Stripes: Well, Congress, obviously, but do you believe that relationships have been broken over the last couple of years?

Franks: I believe relationships have been broken, and I guess if I’m notorious for anything, I believe it’s the comment where I said: It’s multiple choice. Fight ’em over there, or fight ’em here. There’s only an ‘A’ and a ‘B’. And I’m the kind of a guy who wants to fight ’em over there. And reporters on several occasions have asked me, “General, what do you think about being perceived as a bully? Not only you personally, but what do you think about the United States of America being perceived as a bully? And I’ve said, and I’ll continue to say, when it comes to protecting my liberty and my grandkids, it works for me.

Stripes: Far more important than foreign relations.

Franks: Absolutely. A lot of people don’t agree with that, but I mean, I’m just telling you the truth.

Stripes: Kerry’s point is that, with foreign relations being healthy, you can go into these other countries and expect for them to help us in locating terrorists in sleeper cells, etc.

Franks: I agree with that. But I think we need to be careful any time we believe that we can have a better secretary of state than Colin Powell. A more energetic, a more-organized, a better diplomat than Colin Powell, who has only given the last years of his life to tryin’ to do just exactly that. It is not that I believe that we can’t do better with diplomacy; I don’t know whether we can or not. The part that I don’t like is the hyperbole of the election year.

We’re at a point in our country where it’s either all about “Fahrenheit 9/11” or it’s all about ultra-Conservatism. My experience in this grand democracy has been that life in America is somewhere between those two poles and so I try to stay away from the hyperbolic in this thing – that “Well, Michael Moore had it all right” or “he was a lyin’ cheatin’, no good son of a gun.”

I mean, there’s fact and there’s fiction involved in that particular piece, just like there’s fact and there’s fiction in the other extreme, and so, I don’t know. But we ought to stop the business of sayin’, “If you disagree with me, you’re not a patriot. If you disagree with me, you’re not a good American.” In my view, there’s too much of that.

Stripes: Are you going to speak at the GOP convention?

Franks: I don’t know. I have been contacted by the GOP, and I’m thinking about it. And the other question people ask me all the time is, “Well, your book is very positive about Bush – are you gonna support him?”

And I say, I think, for the past three years in the history of the United States of America, he has been a good leader for the country. That does not mean that I am gonna stump for him. I haven’t decided, and I don’t know.

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