ARLINGTON, VA.—Retired four-star Gen. Tommy Franks gave a rousing address Thursday night in support of the War on Terror, raising speculation about a possible political career in the near future or at least a more visible role in defense of President Bush.
Franks, who oversaw military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq as head of U.S. Central Command, was honored by retired Lt. Col. Oliver North’s Freedom Alliance with its 2005 Defender of Freedom Award.
“We believe that in this War on Terror we can fight them over there or we can fight them over here,” Franks told the group of Freedom Alliance supporters. “People ask me all the time, what good has come since 9-11-01? I don’t know, the Afghans are working hard, the Iraqis are working hard. Nobody said it was going to be easy. And there has not been another attack on American soil.”
Franks, an ardent supporter of Bush, opened his speech with jokes about a future in Washington—which fueled talk among attendees that he could be asked to take a job in the Bush Administration or run for political office.
War Stories III
“What a treat to be back in Washington,” Franks said, pausing momentarily as he awaited laughter. “Some of ya’ll will get these jokes on the way home.”
Earlier this year the St. Petersburg Times reported that Franks wouldn’t rule out a run against Sen. Bill Nelson in his home state of Florida. A Strategic Vision poll from September had Franks tied with Nelson at 45% in a hypothetical match up—much better than Republican U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris’ 36% compared to Nelson’s 48%.
But the focus Thursday night was on Franks’ 38-year military career, which began after he dropped out of the University of Texas after two years and enlisted in the U.S. Army. Eventually, Franks rose to the rank of four-star general under President Bill Clinton. He served until 2004, when Bush awarded him a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In his speech before the Freedom Alliance, Franks didn’t hold back criticism of the Clinton Administration, specifically for its failure to respond to terrorist attacks against Americans. Among the reasons he cited for the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon:
- The 1983 terrorist bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, which killed 220 Marines and 21 other U.S. service members;
- The first bombing of the World Trade Center in New York in 1993;
- The United States’ decision to leave Mogadishu, Somalia, in disgrace in 1993 following the deaths of 19 U.S. soldiers;
- The 1996 terrorist bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. servicemen;
- The 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya by al Qaeda, killing more than 200 Africans;
- And the 2000 attack by al Qaeda on the U.S.S. Cole, which killed 17 sailors.
“American history is full of occasions where we’ve found it fit to recognize there is something worth going to war for,” Franks said. “And our freedom and our liberty is of that stub. We didn’t do it in ’83, ’93, ’96, ’98 or 2000.
“I stand here tonight as a proud American—proud of the fact that subsequent to 2001, this country, you and I, said and have maintained in the political process that we would do whatever is necessary to buy the next 200 years of freedom and liberty for our grandchildren and for their grandchildren and for generations yet unborn.”
Franks pinned part of the blame for the public’s disapproval about Iraq on the mainstream media, which, he said, is providing only one side the story.
“When we look at the mainstream media, and they want to know, when are you going to get out of Iraq? And the President doesn’t know when we’re going to know when we’re going to get out of Iraq because he’s feisty,” Franks said. “He’s focused on it for as long as it takes. He’s put energy behind it. The man has the highest integrity of anyone I have ever known, and I know it. He takes the blame, and so forth.”
About the mission in Afghanistan, he added: “I am proud that in a period of 75 days, my country gave 26 million people a chance for something they had never known in perhaps 2,000 years. I missed the stories in our media about what our country did for the people of Afghanistan.”
Franks also said he supports Bush’s strategy in Iraq that the United States cannot pull its troops out until the mission is completed.
“When we think about where we came from and how far Iraq has to go, what more could one do than to carry on until we reach a successful end stage, which means that Iraq will never ever become what Afghanistan was. And that is a place that supports and defends not a constitution but a bunch of terrorists who are bent on the destruction of the United States of American and our way of life,” Franks said. “What would we have the President do except say, ‘We’ll come home when it’s over over there.’”