Magazine article Insight on the News

Friendship with First Family Fortifies Franks. (Political Notebook)

Magazine article Insight on the News

Friendship with First Family Fortifies Franks. (Political Notebook)

Article excerpt

Tommy Franks is not the most colorful of generals. A reluctant press briefer during the best of times, he saw no reason to spend time cultivating a relationship with journalists when there was a media onslaught in early November over his handling of the war in Afghanistan. He told his subordinates he had better things to do than engaging in self-promotion.

Galvanized by a carping Seymour Hersh article in the New Yorker magazine accusing the general of being "clueless," the media pack launched into Franks, arguing that he was failing to live up to the gusts and gusto of Desert Storm hero Norman Schwarzkopf. Pentagon naysayers hinted that Franks was for the chop and reporters started drafting the general's service obituary, convinced that the lack of sound bites coming from the man must be a career-ender.

Of course it was all too, too premature -- and not only because of the rapid progress that came in Afghanistan just days after the Pentagon press corps had turned on the dour general.

What was missed in the hue and cry over a disappointing Delta Force-led assault on Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar was that the self-effacing Franks enjoyed the confidence of the president. And he still does, despite behind-the-scenes sniping at the general by some conservatives inside the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill who grumble that Franks was a water carrier for Bill Clinton back in the 1990s.

Administration sources tell political notebook that President George W. Bush never lost faith in a general he in fact knows well. A little digging by the Pentagon press corps would have revealed that Franks enjoys a friendship with the first family and also is close to Bush pere.

The general's staff officers at the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) have gotten used to regular phone calls coming in to Franks from the Oval Office, with the president invariably kicking off by asking, "How ya doin' Tommy?" This private communication has served Franks well in battles with some around Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over strategy and tactics. On at least one occasion when a dispute was brought to the president's attention, Bush sided with Franks, although sources decline to reveal exactly what that particular dispute was about.

Secure in the knowledge that he was safe with Bush, Franks felt strong enough during the early days of the war to resist repeated requests by uniformed-service partisans trying to enlarge their commands for large deployments of ground troops. Franks subordinates say the general's strategy of air strikes, special operations and the use of the Northern Alliance as a proxy strike force has paid off.

CENTCOM sources also say that the general has gained Bush's ear on two other currently debated issues: whether the United States should strike soon at Iraq and what the U.S. military role should be in a post-Taliban Afghanistan. …

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