Two-for-two in wars, Franks has promising future possibilities

Tuesday, May 6, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Two wars in a row, the second-guessers were out early: The military's plan for Afghanistan was not innovative enough. The Americans did not put enough ground troops in Iraq.

It did not take long for commanding Gen. Tommy Franks to quiet the talk with military victory.

Like Norman Schwarzkopf before him, Franks emerges from leading a successful war in the Persian Gulf with the four stars on his uniform shining more brightly than before. The future offers possibilities that could range from a big-dollars book deal in retirement to a top Pentagon job.

Term ends in July

The slow-talking Texan will come to the end of his three-year term as head of the military's 25-nation Central Command in July, a tour of duty in which his reputation has grown from that of solid troop leader to innovative military strategist. He has just returned to the command's Tampa, Fla., headquarters after running the war from Qatar.

"The conventional view of Tommy Franks two years ago was that he was a fairly standard-issue version of the traditional army culture, a doer not a thinker," said military analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute. "That view wasn't completely wrong. But under the pressure of military circumstance, he's shown himself to be an exceptionally resourceful person."

Retired Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, who worked under Franks until June, says the discipline and innovation demonstrated by Franks in the Iraq war have always been there. "It's just the way he does business," says Quigley.

Franks, 57, is credited with showing flexibility at critical junctures in the Iraqi campaign. Some prime examples: the opening airstrikes at a suspected hideout of Saddam Hussein, the speedy push toward the capital despite Iraqi attacks on U.S. supply lines and then the quick drive into downtown Baghdad once troops reached the city's outskirts.

Still, there were plenty of critics early on.

A seeming battalion of ex-generals camped out in television studios nationwide to pick apart the military's every move.

Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey questioned the Pentagon's decision to build up troops with a gradual "rolling start." Retired Gen. Wesley Clark questioned whether the United States should have sent in more personnel. Other officers still serving in the military offered their criticisms under cloak of anonymity.

"From General Franks' perspective, it was a period of silly commentary from people who knew nothing at all about the war plan," Central Command spokesman Jim Wilkinson said.

In any event, what is a general to do for an encore after going two-for-two on the battlefront in less than two years?

Franks is regarded as a good candidate for the top Army job of chief of staff, which opens in June, although associates doubt he would want the position.

Schwarzkopf's example

After more than 30 years in uniform, he could choose instead to retire from the military while riding high -- the route taken by Schwarzkopf in 1991 after the first Gulf War.

Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recalls telling Schwarzkopf as the war ended that it was the perfect time to leave, rather than take on the Army chief's job, which was sure to be filled with Washington infighting.

Schwarzkopf agreed, wrote a best-selling autobiography from retirement and more than a decade later still is popular on the public-speaking circuit. He also is involved in a number of conservation and charitable causes.

Franks, for his part, said in a speech less than a year ago that he already has worn the uniform for a long time.

"My wife reminds me frequently how long I've worn it," he continued. "She reminds me that I told her on the day we were married I was going to get out of the United States military. I remind her that some day I am going to."

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