Listening to General Franks

Sept. 1, 2004

Gen. Tommy R. Franks suddenly has a lot to say. In his new 590-page memoir, American Soldier, the usually tight-lipped Texan unburdens himself about war in Southwest Asia. Along the way, he throws some sharp elbows, some of which are aimed at former senior uniformed colleagues.

Franks, now retired, was commander of US Central Command from mid-2000 to mid-2003, where he orchestrated US operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was a fierce advocate of high-intensity warfare. His words carry considerable weight.

In one respect, that is unfortunate, because those words paint a most unflattering portrait of the services and the Chiefs of Staff. They come off as nitpicking meddlers, scrambling for advantage. Anyone reading his book would think General Franks was up against a pretty “un-Joint” bunch.

  • Page 207: “Regional combatant commands depended on the ‘Title 10 Community’—the separate armed service branches. … The Title 10 Service Chiefs could be inflexible bean counters.”
  • Page 207: “Each of the services was focused on winning wars—alone. They … had no real inclination to fight together as part of a joint team.”
  • Page 274: When the Chiefs critiqued his Afghan War plan at a Sept. 20, 2001, Pentagon meeting, all General Franks heard was “parochial bull****.”
  • Page 440: General Franks says his Afghan War plan “had been nitpicked by the Service Chiefs and the Joint Staff,” but, in Iraq, “Tommy Franks wasn’t about to be treed by Chihuahuas.”
  • Page 441: General Franks says he asked that the Chiefs be excluded from daily Iraq War conferences because “they do not have sufficient Joint background or understanding to be operationally useful.”

    Coming from a warrior of General Franks’ stature, such commentary is strange. Bean counters? Chihuahuas? Please. Some of the senior officers to which he refers—sometimes by name, but frequently not—have been among the most distinguished and innovative military men of recent decades.

    Moreover, these uniformed leaders all have been active public proponents of joint warfare, even as they have worked to strengthen their own branches. They have served at one time or another in key joint assignments. Some of them also directed joint combat operations.

    General Franks himself, in other venues, seems to concede that things weren’t quite as out of joint as he made them out to be in his book. On Aug. 4, he told an interviewer: “The evolution of technological capability and state of training in armed forces for multiservice warfare … advanced a lot over the previous 10 years.” He is right about that.

    General Franks appreciates the power contributed by the services. He is a huge fan of airpower. American Soldier justifiably heaps praise on two USAF officers who served as his air bosses—Gen. Charles F. Wald, now deputy commander of US European Command, and Gen. T. Michael Moseley, now vice chief of staff of the Air Force.

    General Franks’ remarks do, however, underscore a broader problem: It has become fashionable and acceptable to discount the contributions of the individual services—as institutions—to the nation’s defense.

    Frequently, the services are perceived as impediments to some idealized state of Joint Force harmony. The basic idea is that there are good Joint “warfighters” and narrow-minded Title 10 “services,” as if the two can be separated.

    In his book (page 531), General Franks himself, perhaps inadvertently, promotes that view: “I’m a warfighter,” he quotes himself as telling Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, “not a manager. I wouldn’t do well in the Title 10 community.”

    Jointness has been growing steadily stronger since the Defense Reorganization Act of 1958, by which each of the services ceded operational control of forces to commands organized on geographic and functional lines.

    Each service now organizes, trains, and equips forces for basic “core competencies” related to air, space, land, sea, or amphibious power. When Congress passed the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, unified theater commanders gained authority, with a corresponding decline in service power.

    This, however, does not mean that the services and their leaders have become incidental factors in defense. The opposite is true.

    It is unwise to emphasize acquisition of “joint” items—common communications and other types of systems—without giving equally strong support to “core” systems—aircraft, warships, vehicles, and satellites.

    Instructive words are offered by Gen. Hal M. Hornburg, commander of Air Combat Command. He is a self-declared “believer” in jointness. He probably has had as much “joint” time as any Air Force general. He has served on the Joint Staff, run a combined air operations center in Italy, commanded the Joint Warfighting Center, and headed the air component of US Central Command.

    “Joint warfare works best with strong service components,” Hornburg told a June 23 session of the Defense Writers Group in Washington, D.C. “Let’s not get so joint so fast … that we dilute the core competencies of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.” True jointness, he said, requires the United States to “bring the best Army and the best Air Force and the best Navy” to the battlespace.

    In a presentation some years ago, retired Maj. Gen. Charles D. Link, then USAF assistant deputy chief of staff for plans and operations, described the services as the nation’s “keepers of operational art.” This is still true.

    Diligence in the pursuit of strong service competence is a virtue, not a vice. It is definitely not “parochial” or “un-joint.” There can be no powerful Joint Force without strong services, and the Chiefs, in pressing to maximize such strengths, are doing their duty to the nation.