An Insider's View of Command Central

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Tommy Franks are clearly two of the biggest stars in the war on terrorism. Entertaining press conferences. Photo-ops with the troops. Tough talk on terrorism. Battlefield victories. The Rumsfeld-Franks show played well across America after September 11.

But for every four-star general and high-profile Defense secretary, there are the aides who work behind the scenes to make their bosses look good. Such a man is Michael DeLong. Now retired, DeLong was a Marine Corps lieutenant general and a Vietnam War aviator who landed the job as Gen. Frank’s deputy commander just as war against al Qaeda broke out. As U.S. Central Command’s No. 2, DeLong made sure the trains ran on time. He worked to keep the coalition together, briefed the hot-tempered Rumsfeld when Franks didn’t have time, and soothed the nerves of jittery Arab moderates. All were the kind of chores that kept him out of the limelight.

Admits Mistakes

Now, he’s telling his story in Inside CentCom: The Unvarnished Truth About the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s not kiss-and-tell. DeLong clearly likes President Bush and his war cabinet. But DeLong admits mistakes on his part and by others, such as Rumsfeld’s aides, insisting on making anti-Saddam Hussein Iraqis part of the war plan. They never showed up. A CIA-operated Predator probably had Taliban leader Mullah Omar in its sights. But Franks would not let it unleash an assassin’s Hellfire missile because the target could not be confirmed 100%. If only Omar had been killed on that day, one has to conclude, wouldn’t the Taliban have faded away by now?

Central Command, headquartered in touristy Tampa, Fla., is America’s most important military arm. Its area of responsibility includes most of the world’s al Qaeda-laden countries. It is CentCom’s job to methodically root them out, i.e., kill or capture them, by waging all-out war or covert missions. The command’s vital status alone makes DeLong’s book important. And he draws you in at first by sketching vivid profiles of Rumsfeld and Franks.

Can’t Figure Franks

Franks is an earthy man who brags of his meanest to get the job done, frequently swears to make a point and would belittle people in front of others. DeLong tells of the first time he got the Franks treatment and how he counterattacked. “Dont ever do that again,” DeLong told him in private. Franks’s response: “F— you DeLong.” The Marine concluded: “Franks was one of the few men I couldn’t figure out, but then, nobody else could either.”

The book also delivers a convincing example of Mr. Rumsfeld’s management style. The defense secretary, a longtime CEO and government executive, works 16-hour days. He doesn’t like to waste a minute on some tongue-tied bureaucrat who doesn’t have his facts straight.

Author DeLong does not hold grudges. He generally gives Rumsfeld high marks. And although he thinks Rumsfeld’s staff botched some aspects of Iraq planning, DeLong has kind words for the chief architect, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

Settling Some Scores

But DeLong does settle scores. He claims the media got a lot of facts mixed up. He dismisses anti-Bush generals-turned TV pundits, singling out retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, whom CNN allowed to bash the administration before he left the studio to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

DeLong informs us that former National Security adviser Richard Clarke, who wrote a book claiming Bush was negligent in the war, visited CentCom and had nothing but praise for the President. “He specifically told us how comfortable he was with all that President Bush was doing for the war on terror,” DeLong recalls. “Intel is ultimately no better than the educated guess of an expert analyst–and there will always be some analyst somewhere who, like Dick Clarke, will step forward after the fact and hurl accusations of ignored intel.”

Two War Plans

Inside CentCom provides a good narrative on just how Rumsfeld and his top commander, Franks, came up with two war plans for Afghanistan and Iraq, absent major disagreements. Coupled with Franks’ own book, DeLong’s Inside CentCom is added evidence that Rumsfeld did not–despite press reports–dictate war plans. What’s interesting is that it was the service bosses on the Joint Chiefs who voiced the most opposition to Franks’ evolving blueprints. When several unnamed chiefs tell Franks his soldier-light invasion of Afghanistan won’t work, the general responds, “Bullshit. It’s my plan. And I am responsible for its execution.”

Inside CentCom does not provide a definitive answer on weapons of mass destruction. DeLong is sure Saddam had them. “We know that Syria was a hiding place for Iraqi WMD,” DeLong writes. But, perhaps sticking to an officer’s creed not to release classified information, he does not provide proof. “Let me say categorically that we will eventually find Iraqi WMD,” DeLong assures. “The intelligence evidence we had before the war was too overwhelming to be wrong.” Well, a Senate committee already has concluded the CIA was wrong. The search in Iraq by some 1,400 investigators has come up empty so far.

More Jobs Ahead

DeLong doesn’t see CentCom major battles over even if terrorists are finally defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan. Next on the list are Syria and Iran. “We know they are sponsoring terrorists and sending suicide bombers across their borders into Iraq,” he writes. “Syria and Iran are problems that have to be dealt with.”

A second Bush term may provide the answer to the question, how?