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Politics

Books lay blame with general

Tommy Franks, who led the Iraq invasion, is rewarded and ridiculed in retirement.

By SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN
Published October 11, 2006


[Getty Images]
Central Command leader Gen. Tommy Franks was emotional during his change-of-command ceremony in Tampa in July 2003. He has since become a star on the speakers circuit. He also has a book deal and sits on corporate boards.
Several books accuse Franks of inadequate postinvasion planning. Franks has said that he didn't expect an insurgency, like that plaguing Fallujah in 2004.
[Times photo: Cherie Diez]

Four months after directing the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, Gen. Tommy Franks left the military and entered a lucrative retirement based on his image as a war hero:

A $5-million book deal. Corporate directorships paying hefty fees. A star role on the speakers circuit, commanding a reported $75,000 an appearance.

"Tommy Franks led a coalition of more than 60 nations in Afghanistan and Iraq, winning admiration and accolades. Franks' skills as a leader come battlefield-tested," the Washington Speakers Bureau says on its Web site.

A less flattering view of Franks has emerged in several new books about Iraq, including Bob Woodward's State of Denial. They portray the former head of the Central Command in Tampa as an arrogant, profane and sometimes detached figure whose failure to adequately plan for postinvasion Iraq is at least partly to blame for a war that has cost more than 2,700 American lives and more than $300-billion.

"The criticism is justified," says Frederick Kagan, a military historian at the American Enterprise Institute who has taught at West Point.

"CentCom and the Department of Defense and the administration in general did not plan adequately for postcombat operations. Tommy Franks is an experienced soldier and, yeah, I think it should have occurred to him that we had a responsibility to maintain order in the country. That's a very straightforward obligation of an occupying force."

But another expert, while agreeing the postcombat period was poorly handled, thinks it's unfair to put so much blame on Franks.

"It's hard to tell the guy whose job is to win the war that he has to worry about winning the peace without giving him the authority, the mission and the resources, which we didn't do," says retired Army Lt. Col. James Carafano, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. "Everybody can't do everything."

Franks did not respond to phone messages left at his Tampa office and home. In the past, he has told reporters that he didn't expect an insurgency but that the war plan was "just fine" considering "we didn't know everything."

"We spend a lot of time in this country trying to find fault," he said. "We spend a lot of time trying to pick flyspecks out of the pepper" instead of trying to move forward.

But various well-received books suggest Iraq might be far different if Franks hadn't bowed to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's insistence on a lean fighting force that easily captured Baghdad but proved woefully inadequate to stop looting and a growing insurgency.

"Many of the present and former officials I spoke to were critical of Franks for his perceived failure to stand up to his civilian superiors," Seymour Hersh writes in Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. "A former senator told me that Franks was widely seen as a commander who 'will do what he's told.' "

In Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, Thomas Ricks, a military expert for the Washington Post, writes that Franks also bought into Rumsfeld's theory that "speed kills" - speed could be a substitute for numbers in military operations. In fact, troops made it to Baghdad so fast they failed to disarm hostile Iraqis along the way.

"Speed didn't kill the enemy - it bypassed him," Ricks writes. "It won the campaign but it didn't win the war because the war plan ... confused removing Iraq's regime with the far more difficult task of changing the entire country."

A CentCom planner, Col. John Agoglia, argues in Fiasco that Franks was more thoughtful than he sometimes seemed but had come to the "unhappy realization" that Rumsfeld and other civilian leaders were incapable of discussing Iraq in military terms.

Fiasco concludes that Rumsfeld, as defense secretary, was ultimately responsible for the disastrous lapses in postinvasion planning. But "as a military professional, (Franks) should have done more to question that mission and point out its incomplete nature. It is difficult to overstate what a key misstep this lack of strategic direction was - probably the single most significant miscalculation of the entire effort."

Once U.S. troops and civilian administrators were in Baghdad, Franks quickly became disengaged from the Iraq issue, two books say. "Franks was strangely absent" in May and June of 2003, Army Col. Gregory Gardner relates in Fiasco. "He blew into Baghdad once, signed (an) order and left."

According to a Pentagon official quoted in the same book, Franks planned to fly from the Mideast to Tampa to pick up his wife and take a long weekend, perhaps in the Bahamas. He was ordered not to do it, the official said. And Gen. Richard Myers, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was "dumbfounded" to learn Franks planned to attend the White House correspondents dinner on April 26, 2003 - just three weeks after U.S. forces entered Baghdad, Woodward writes in State of Denial.

"Leave a combat zone for a party? Rumsfeld had to pass the word to Franks that he should not attend."

That August, Franks retired and bought a $1.35-million home in a Tampa waterfront area where his neighbors include New York Yankees star Gary Sheffield and Joel Glazer of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' ownership family. According to the Web site of his company, Franks & Associates, he divides his time between there and his ranch in his native Oklahoma.

In April 2005, Franks joined the board of Tampa company OSI Restaurant Partners (parent of Outback Steakhouse), for which he gets $60,000 annual compensation.

Last December, he joined the board of Bank of America, which pays its directors at least $240,000 a year in cash and stocks. In June, he formed a partnership with Innovative Decon Solutions, a Tampa mold remediation company that uses a decontamination process developed by the U.S. military to fight chemical and biological warfare agents.

As the Iraq insurgency raged in late 2004, President Bush awarded the Medal of Freedom - the nation's highest civilian honor - to Franks as well as to former CIA director George Tenet and Paul Bremer, head of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority. "The ceremony brought together four of those officials most responsible for the fiasco in Iraq," Ricks' book pointedly notes.

Lawrence Korb, an assistant defense secretary in the Reagan administration, is among those galled by the award to Franks, whom he calls the "worst general" in a major U.S. conflict since William Westmoreland in Vietnam.

As for Franks' speaker and director fees, "if somebody wants to pay him, fine, but given the fact he presided over something that has cost a lot of lives, I would think out of sheer embarrassment he shouldn't be doing this kind of stuff," says Korb, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Franks isn't the only general to parlay his military service into a comfortable retirement. Myers, also accused of weak leadership, left the Air Force last year and joined four corporate boards, earning six-figure director fees. And Colin Powell , who says he regrets misleading the United Nations about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, reportedly gets $100,000 a speech.

Franks himself is said to be an engaging speaker.

"He walked about the stage as he delivered a relaxed, folksy presentation, spiced with plenty of light-hearted and humorous stories," according to a Salina Journal account of a January 2004 speech in Kansas. Asked if the U.S. death toll in Iraq - then about 500 - was too high a price to pay, he replied:

"If it costs 500 (lives), that's okay, or 5,000, okay, or 50,000, that's okay with me. I, for one, will do whatever has to be done in order to be damn sure that our grandchildren and their grandchildren and their grandchildren and generations far from being born have the same rights as you and me."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds and staff writer Jeff Testerman contributed to this report. Susan Martin can be contacted at susan@sptimes.com.

[Last modified October 11, 2006, 06:56:30]


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