Book Review: American Soldier

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by Tommy Franks

New York: HaprperColling/Regan Books, 2004. Pp. 590. Maps, glossary, index. $27.95. ISBN:0-06-073158-3

Tommy Franks is arguably the first of the major military commanders in the War on Terror, having been in charge in the elimination of two state sponsors of terror (Afghanistan and Iraq) in the nineteen months following the attacks of September 11, 2001. The release of his memoirs is a fascinating glimpse into the first portion of America’s response to the unprovoked sneak attacks.

Franks starts his memoirs on D-Day for Operation Iraqi Freedom, as he is given the order to commence the liberation of Iraq. While the historical details are fascinating, the real area of interest for many readers will probably be his inside view of the war on terrorism. Franks has a very unique perspective, having worked very closely with Donald Rumsfeld, who has, over the past few months, become somewhat controversial.

Franks’ comments on Rumsfeld parallel the observations of Rowan Scarborough in Rumsfeld’s War. The Secretary of Defense is seen as tough and demanding, and not exactly a people person, but at the same time, he is nothing close to McNamara 2.0. On the contrary, the general almost makes it clear that Rumsfeld and those under him allowed Franks to handle the operations, while Rumsfeld and his people handled policy and strategy. If anything, Franks was very willing to speak up about any interference, which caused some problems in Afghanistan.

Franks dishes out some harsh criticism to the service chiefs, whom he felt were being parochial, and caused problems for front-line command. This is something that is going to be a continuing problem, and solving it will be difficult. Nothing is as vicious as a bureaucratic turf war inside the Beltway, and petty turf fights have been known to consume attention that is needed for more important matters.

Franks also seems to express disagreement with some aspects of the Powell Doctrine – particularly the overwhelming force component. This is a debate that was not entirely resolved by Operation Iraqi Freedom. It will be interesting to see how this debate evolves. This reviewer believes that there are valid arguments supporth both the Powell Doctrine and the approach Franks used, and that neither should be applied as a blanket rule.

Franks also rips the heart out of the “Bush lied” claims. The interesting revelation of intelligence from Jordan and Egypt that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction is one of those elements. Another is his anlaysis of the initial findings of David Kay’s report: They might not have found the smoking gun, but they found a disassembled pistol that could be reassembled in a relatively short time.

Perhaps the most important point Franks makes is when he discusses Rumsfeld and Colin Powell. He is emphatic that while he has disagreements with people like Rumsfeld, Doug Feith, and others, he has never doubted their loyalty to this country, nor their motivations. That one lesson, if taken to heart in areas aside from the military, could do much for this country.

There are two other points that rival the first one: Franks points out that TERRORISTS are responsible for terrorism – and these terrorists have been encouraged by a perception of weakness on the part of the United states of America. In Beirut and Somalia, among other places, the impression has been given that killing enough Americans will cause the United States to quit. Those are perhaps the most important lessons that must be taken from his memoirs.

Reviewer: Harold C. Hutchison   


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