By Cornwell, Rupert
The Independent (London, England)
You can make the essential judgement about Tommy Franks from what he wears. To be sure, he cuts a fine figure in his dark green official uniform with the four general's stars on his epaulettes, as he strides briefcase in hand into a White House meeting to resolve the fate of nations. But he looks even more comfortable in his other uniform, the brown and olive desert fatigues, with the patch on the left breast pocket, Franks, US Army.
Tommy Franks is a "muddy boots soldier", an old pro who likes to be where the action is, who wants to be treated without frill nor favour, who gets the job done. Note the name. Not Thomas Ray Franks as he was born, (or Tommy R Franks as the obligatory news references have it). Even his official army biography has him as plain old Tommy Franks, while his granddaughter calls him "Pooh". Yet plain old Tommy Franks is right now the most important soldier on the planet, the man who heads US Central Command, who will be in charge of the American-led invasion of Iraq which could take place as early as next week.
Franks' job makes him Washington's mightiest proconsul in the enforcement of pax Americana. Central Command ("CentCom") is but one of nine regional commands by which the US armed forces carve up the world. But it is by far the most sensitive, covering 25 countries, most of them in the "arc of instability" stretching across the Arab world, through the Middle East and Gulf to East Africa and Afghanistan.
Franks has already fought one war on his beat. Just months after moving to Tampa Bay, where CentCom is based at MacDill Air Force Base, he was ordered on 12 September 2001 to come up with a plan for an Afghan campaign, to destroy the Taliban regime and al-Qa'ida and its infrastructure in the country. Now another, far larger, conflict looms, on whose outcome the very future of the Middle East may depend.
It is a daunting task and one made no easier by the acts he had to follow. Everyone remembers the burly Norman Schwarzkopf, "Stormin' Norman", who led the broad UN coalition that drove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991.
Schwarzkopf was followed by Anthony Zinni, whose brains and political skills (not to mention his Italian heritage) earned him the nickname "The Godfather". Nor can it help that in their retirement, both Zinni and Schwarzkopf have publicly spoken out against the wisdom of this war against Baghdad, at least without the endorsement of the UN. It is unknown whether Franks, who may well head a "coalition of the willing" (essentially the US and Britain), feels the same way. Still in uniform, he does not enjoy the luxury of dissent.
Afghanistan did not play to Franks's strengths. His background is the artillery, not known as a hotbed of strategic innovation. But Afghanistan was truly the first war of the 21st century, a different sort of conflict demanding swift and nimble tactics on the ground. Franks was criticised for adopting the tried old tactics of Gulf War One and Kosovo, of heavy aerial bombardment - but this time against a country which had been reduced to stone age status well before the B-52s entered the picture.
He was taken to task, too, for picking up too slowly on the suddenness of the Taliban's collapse, and then for failing - for whatever reason - to commit enough American troops to the mountain battles of Tora Bora in December 2001 and Operation Anaconda the following March. As a result, many al-Qa'ida fighters (probably including Bin Laden himself) were allowed to escape.
Franks is no Schwarzkopf, an opera lover who speaks foreign languages and was a master of the sound bite. His habits run to mid- range cigars, the odd chilled margarita, and tinkering with the old Ford Mustang in his garage. He is also an avid fan of the American football team Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In private, among his own, "Tommy is not quiet about anything", says General Leo Baxter who has known Franks since the 1970s, and marvels at his friend's fondness for profanity, "but profanity in a humorous sort of way". …