Outgoing CentCom Commander Tommy Franks
turned out to be an ideal choice to lead American
troops in two wars during a time of transition.
Don Rumsfeld and Tommy Franks were an unlikely team. New Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was the brusque technocrat intent on transforming America's military into a more modern and innovative force _ and crushing any old-line officers who stood in his way. CentCom Commander Franks was the up-from-the-ranks soldier with the hound-dog face who seemed to personify the old-Army mind-set that Rumsfeld was determined to erase. Moreover, Franks was dismissed by some in the Bush administration as one of the "Clinton generals" who needed to be purged from the military hierarchy.
Yet Franks turned out to be an ideal choice for leading U.S. troops through two wars during a period of turbulent change. He won Rumsfeld's trust by revealing a nimble military mind and subtle political skills. At the same time, he maintained the trust of his troops and fellow officers through an unpretentious, plain-spoken style that reflected their traditional values.
In Iraq, Franks revised his battle plan in ways that incorporated Rumsfeld's vision of a lean, quick-striking force making optimal use of its technological superiority. When retired generals (voicing the concerns of active-duty officers who had to remain publicly silent) complained that the Iraq war plan endangered our troops by spreading them too thin and stretching our supply lines, Franks stuck to his guns. The quick collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, achieved with relatively few casualties among American troops and Iraqi civilians, vindicated many of Rumsfeld's and Franks' assumptions. However, Rumsfeld and Franks may have underestimated the problems U.S. forces would face in Iraq after the war was supposed to be over. Adjusting plans to rebuild Iraq and protect our troops will require humility and flexibility, traits that may be in shorter supply in Rumsfeld's inner circle now that Franks has retired.
Gen. John Abizaid, who officially succeeded Franks as CentCom commander during a change-of-command ceremony Monday at MacDill Air Force Base, has more obvious qualifications for the job than Franks did. Abizaid is fluent in Arabic, has a master's in Middle Eastern studies from Harvard and is comfortable with Rumsfeld's vision of a modernized U.S. military machine. Yet he would do well to emulate some of the old-fashioned qualities that lifted a good ol' boy from the wrong side of the tracks in Midland, Texas, to the forefront of the world's greatest fighting force.