It was very disappointing to hear last night the most recent Gen. Tommy Franks’s interview on Fox News, where he seemed to think the idea of victory in Iraq — or, more specifically, the use of such nomenclature — is “inflammatory,” and inter alia urges dialogue with Iran and Syria.
Much of the interview was hard to fathom, if not incoherent, and the viewer could not help but feel a certain sense of empathy for Gen. Franks who was clearly uncomfortable, and apparently ill at ease that his diffidence bothered the hard-charging (but in turn baffled) drillbill Sean Hannity.
But coming from a former CenCom commander, Franks’s hesitance was perhaps disturbing and, terrible dictu, reflective of much of our current malaise. When a retired four-star general thinks that the use of the word “victory” inflames domestic politics, then we have come a long, long way from George Patton, especially in the context of the general’s promotion of his new leadership institute.
Another new cliche, repeated by Gen. Franks, is this mantra of “there is no military solution” — a half-truth in war. Only a military blow to the jihadists, under the aegis of combined Iraqi-American forces, can provide the Iraqi democracy the window to establish civil authority that can in like measure peel away the insurrectionists’ support.
Victory and judicious political reform are not antithetical but go hand-in-glove, and we used to have officers who knew that and welcomed the idea that they alone could give peace and politics a chance. The only reason that we have had three successful elections in Iraq are the superb bravery and competence of U.S. troops that ensured safety and kept the killers away.
In general, Gen. Franks seemed hesitant in answering questions, unsure now how to explain his prior confidence that we were winning in Iraq, and apparently adamant that we not come home “prematurely” but unclear why that would be so or why we should believe it so.
One of the great strengths of this country once was that our battle commanders –Washington, Scott, Sherman, Grant, Pershing, Patton, Ridgeway, and Abrams — not only sought victory in the field, but often offered explanations of why we were fighting (cf. Sherman’s letters to John Bell Hood), why we would win in larger strategic and moral terms, and do so in ways that did not infringe on the prerogatives of civilian overseers. That too seems a casualty of the modern age.