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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Interview with Tommy Franks
Aired September 6, 2004 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Tonight, General Tommy Franks on the battle for Iraq.
RET. GEN. TOMMY FRANKS, FORMER CENTCOM COMMANDER: It was chaotic, yes. We are not out of the woods at all.
ZAHN: His remarkable journey from college dropout to military commander.
(on camera): You were a party-er?
FRANKS: I actually did flunk out of school.
ZAHN (voice-over): And on politics.
(on camera): Would you like to see President Bush reelected?
FRANKS: Delegates, friends, I choose George W. Bush.
ZAHN (voice-over): Tonight, Tommy Franks, a general for our time.
ZAHN: Good evening and welcome. Thanks so much for sharing your holiday with us.
Labor Day starts the final round of the race for president. Both conventions are over. The issues are defined. The time for hard, nonstop campaigning is here. And we want to do more than just listen to speeches and look at polls. So tonight, we're focusing our entire hour on this year's overriding issue, Iraq and its place in the war on terrorism.
In a moment, you'll hear from the Army general who orchestrated and led the invasion of Iraq.
But first, a postwar status report from senior international correspondent Walter Rodgers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have taught you what you need. And you have practiced what you need. WALTER RODGERS, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Behind the masks, the new American-trained Iraqi security forces, still so insecure, they hide their faces; 17 months into the American experiment in Iraq, there is now a quasi-legislature whose powers have yet to be defined. There's a new prime minister, Ayad Allawi, to many, a still unproven leader.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Trust could be built if he delivered electricity, clean water and security. But so far, he's not delivered.
RODGERS (on camera): If this were the complete picture, nearly a year and a half into the American experiment in Iraq, it might be encouraging. But there is more and much of it is bad.
(voice-over): Today, seven U.S. Marines and three Iraqi National Guardsmen were killed by a car bomb in Fallujah. It's the greatest number of Marines killed since April. The most frequently heard criticism is that the Bush administration blundered badly when it disbanded the Iraqi military and security forces, dissolving the glue that held the country together, leaving thousands of unemployed soldiers and cops to take up guns against U.S. troops.
Iraq's prime minister says so openly.
AYAD ALLAWI, IRAQI INTERIM PRIME MINISTER: The problem we face is the mistakes that have been committed in dissolving the Iraqi security and the Iraqi army. And this left us quite exposed and left the borders very open, terrorists, insurgents, lawless.
RODGERS: After first being told they would be welcomed as liberators, nearly 1,000 U.S. soldiers died here, 7,000 more wounded.
To many, Iraq now seems a tragedy in the making. Militias still control huge areas, leaving much of Iraq unsafe. The so-called Sunni Triangle, west of Baghdad, is now a no-go zone. U.S. troops are in isolated fortresses, much like the Soviets in Afghanistan. Kidnappings, intimidations, beheadings take their toll. "The Washington Post" reports only 2 percent of the $18 billion appropriated for Iraq has been spent. It's simply not safe for contractors to work here.
SAAD NAJI JAWAD, IRAQI SCHOLAR: The United Nations complained about 100 -- about -- sorry -- $11 billion unaccounted for from the Iraqi funds. Nobody knows where they've gone. Yet, we hear about Bechtel and Halliburton and other American companies taking big contracts, but there's nothing going on. Nothing is built.
RODGERS: Ninety percent of the problems in Iraq are because of the Americans, this man says, adding, "They are the problem."
Yet a top American general says these perceptions are incorrect.
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, CMDR., U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: We are winning. We're winning in the race against the insurgents by building Iraqi governmental institutions that are independent and Iraqi security institutions that are effective.
RODGERS: Still, from the first day Baghdad fell and looting was rampant, there was a feeling of unraveling. A year and a half later, one Jordanian analyst observed, "The Americans lurch from crisis to crisis with no grand design." More moderate critics say, context is needed.
SUBHI HADAD, IRAQI JOURNALIST: Iraq hasn't witnessed any legitimate or elected government or parliament for the past something like a half century, since 1958's revolution that toppled the monarchy. And if stability is restored and security is restored, this country will flourish.
RODGERS: The U.S. has several timetables to draw down troop strength. But, a year and a half later, no one is sure which one will work.
ZAHN: That was Walt Rodgers. When U.S. and coalition forces went into Iraq, and before that, Afghanistan, they went on the orders from President Bush and under the command of General Tommy Franks. He was the man behind the successful battle plan. And he writes about it in a new book called "American Soldier."
And I recently sat down with General Franks, who provided some surprising answers to some tough questions.
ZAHN (voice-over): March 19th, 2003. A country on the verge of war. 173,000 soldiers and marines on the ground along the Kuwaiti border. One hundred forty-nine ships, five aircraft carriers ready to launch air, sea and land forces. It was this man's D-Day. The General, counting down the minutes. The man with the power to launch hundreds of thousands of soldiers into war.
(on camera): The day President Bush told you that Operation Iraqi Freedom was about to begin and you wrote, "I pause, climbing the stairs to my plane, the President had just ordered me to go to war. The troops were ready. The question in my mind was 'Am I ready?'"
GEN. TOMMY FRANKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Right.
ZAHN: What were you worried about?
FRANKS: Oh, my gracious. Oh, my gracious. I think at a time like that, you start thinking about all the things that can happen and you start wondering have we put all of the forces in place where they need to be in place? Have we made all of the arrangements that need to be made in order to support them? Have we properly prepared all these kids to face weapons of mass destruction, which I was absolutely convinced Saddam both had and would use.
ZAHN: Did a chill go through your spine? FRANKS: Probably on more than one occasion. What popped into my mind and stayed there for a while was more about the values of the country and character and decisiveness and the things that I thought would be called into question in the days ahead. Progress toward our objectives has been rapid and, in some cases, dramatic.
ZAHN: And Franks was front and center from the outset, receiving spirited accolades.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We gave Tommy the tools necessary to win. We agreed with his strategy. And he's running this war.
ZAHN: And relentless criticism.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The criticism is voiced about not enough troops to maintain the peace, would you comment?
FRANKS: I make it a practice to not comment on--on the remarks of predecessors.
ZAHN: It did not take long for the second-guessing to start.
ZAHN: How did you separate the politics of the criticism from the substance of the criticism about your plan?
FRANKS: For me, I tried to distance myself from it. I guess as a short answer, what I tried to do was just remain remote from it. Because I was concerned that I might be influenced by what I saw, so I stayed away from it.
ZAHN: In your book, you mention that you projected that you thought you needed a quarter of a million troops on the ground.
ZAHN: You didn't get that. Why not?
FRANKS: Up to a quarter of a million troops and certainly not all of them Americans. My view was -- and remains as still my view -- that the beginning of the operation and the movement through major combat operations was force-sized about perfectly. I wasn't sure how many troops it would take, once we began security and stability operations in Iraq, but I was pretty sure that the international community, a whole laundry list of countries, would provide troops to augment the Americans already on the ground as soon as major combat operations had been completed and so...
ZAHN: But that support never materialized?
FRANKS: Some did.
ZAHN: Not in the numbers you hoped. FRANKS: No, no. Some did, but not at the level that I wanted. I'll be eternally grateful to the 22, 23 countries who are there and who are doing something.
ZAHN: When you reflect on the war, you say you believe you were force-sized perfectly and yet, as you know, there were a number of critics out there suggesting that if you had gotten up to the 250,000 troops, you might not be facing the insurgency movement you are today. Are they right?
FRANKS: Absolutely. I don't know. I think five years from now, ten years from now, we'll look back and we'll have a better -- we'll have a better sense of the beginning of the operation and the end of the operation, and maybe, at that point, we can say OK, that argument is vindicated. If we had had larger numbers to begin with and so forth, maybe. I don't know that right now. And I'm not sure -- I'm not sure anyone knows that.
ZAHN: In the book, you concede that not enough was done to win over the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. Was the post-war plan flawed?
FRANKS: I don't think the plan was flawed as much as it simply did not describe with certainty whether when our troops moved into Iraq, whether they were going to find open arms and find Iraqis who would come forward and reduce the chaos in that country, or whether, on the other end of that continuum, we would see what we see right now. I think there simply was no certainty about which of those courses we'd find.
ZAHN: You mentioned a little bit earlier, not only did you believe Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction...
ZAHN: ...you expected him...
ZAHN: ....to use them against your troops.
FRANKS: I did.
ZAHN: Now that it has become clear that that military intelligence was flawed...
ZAHN: ...do you feel like you were misled?
FRANKS: Not at all. Because I think if one has the degree of focus that our country had had on Iraq--you know we came out of the first Iraq War, Desert Storm in 1991 and we knew what we knew and we saw the stockpiles of chemical weapons and there was no speculation about that. I mean, saw and destroyed a lot of those stockpiles and then year after year, we continued to see the reports from the United Nations inspectors. "Well, there are still Scud missiles unaccounted for, there are biologicals unaccounted for."
The latest report I think I saw on that was maybe dated 1999 from the inspectors. Well, it doesn't say that he has them, that he has the weapons. It says that we can't prove whether he does or does not have them, but he's not cooperating. The regime is not cooperating. Well, if have you that kind of information, within a context where a year or so earlier, America lost 3000 lives at the hands of terrorists, could you take the risk of not knowing with certitude that a guy who had used weapons of mass destruction against the Iranians, against his own people, the Kurds, wouldn't do that?
ZAHN: Had the inspections been allowed to continue, though, do you think the United States could have avoided this war?
FRANKS: Political question during a political season, it's a question a lot of people ask. But I don't know whether it could have worked or not. But I said very honestly to a number of people, President Bush never asked me, throughout the planning process, whether I thought we should attack Saddam Hussein or not.
ZAHN: Had he asked you that, what would have been your answer?
FRANKS: You bet. Absolutely.
ZAHN: And my conversation with General Tommy Franks continues. A look back at the war's victories as well as some of the setbacks. And a surprising controversy when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANKS: I have all along understood the controversy. And I just have not felt terribly good about having been the guy that started it all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: More now of my interview with General Tommy Franks. During his tour of duty in Iraq, he directed an invasion using overwhelming force to swiftly roll over Iraqi defenses and eventually take over Baghdad. The entire world watched American forces bring about the fall of Saddam Hussein in an unforgettably inspiring moment. But it was one that would soon give way to an embarrassing controversy and a difficult reality.
ZAHN (voice-over): This was Tommy Franks' moment in history.
(on camera): Take us back to the day that the Saddam Hussein statue was toppled. I was covering it live on the air.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM APRIL 9, 2003) ZAHN: And a lot of symbolism at play here...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: What was your reaction when you saw those first pictures being fed back?
FRANKS: Oh, Paula, just like yours, "Oh, goody!"
ZAHN (voice-over): It was a victory made even sweeter when Franks and some of his generals who he called "The Band of Brothers," took over Saddam Hussein's palace in Baghdad, April 16th, 2003. But Franks knew well that this was only the first victory in what would become a very long battle. A battle that even today continues to take many lives.
FRANKS: One needs to be exceedingly careful about being overly jubilant about things mid-course and I viewed the statue of Saddam coming down as a mid-course victory with a long ways to go.
ZAHN (on camera): In spite of knowing what a tough lie there was ahead, there had to be a certain amount of satisfaction when you actually toured some of Saddam Hussein's palaces after his downfall.
FRANKS: There was. There was. And it was not too long after the ninth of April when the statue came down, so--maybe a couple of weeks that in a conversation with Secretary Rumsfeld, I said there is no more Army, Navy, Air Force here. Major combat, this is a done deal. And I'd really appreciate it if you'd have the President, you know, announce that.
BUSH: My fellow Americans, major combat operations in Iraq have ended and the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies, have prevailed.
FRANKS: And as a result of that, unintended consequences. I mean, I'm the guy who did that.
ZAHN: We were all led to believe it was the White House press office or someone within that infrastructure that encouraged the president to do that.
FRANKS: I don't know about the "Mission Accomplished" and the aircraft carrier and all that. I don't know about that. And I wouldn't try to defend it at all, but the idea of major combat finished, that came from me.
ZAHN: And what was the turning point? What made you believe that?
FRANKS: No more Army, no more Air Force, Navy. We had our tanks parked in the middle of the Republican Guard's formations and, in fact, the Iraqis were already making contact with us, seeking positions in the various ministries in Baghdad.
ZAHN: In retrospect, was it a mistake to believe that combat operations were over?
FRANKS: Not a mistake in military parlance. Major combat is defined in a certain way. Major combat has to do with tanks and jets and ships and that sort of thing. What probably is wrong is to pass it along and not civilian-ize the term. Major combat operations, in my view as a military man were over and are over. But that does not imply that we're not fighting a heck of a fight over there today.
ZAHN: So do you think the American public was left with a false impression by the president's appearance on that aircraft carrier?
FRANKS: I think--I think maybe so, but I'm sure not an intentional one. I believe if the election were coming up from that day, the first of May, 2003 in November, then I can see some advantage to the President having sought to do something like that. But in May of 2003, I actually think that this commander in chief was given the general--me--what I asked for. That's what I believe.
BUSH: I have a special word for Secretary Rumsfeld, for General Franks, and for all of the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States: America is grateful for a job well done.
ZAHN: What does the president get for following your orders?
FRANKS: Well, I guess in this particular case, a lot of people questioning--questioning what he decided to do.
ZAHN: Are you burdened by this?
FRANKS: I'm burdened that a guy I have respect for maybe has been given undue notoriety for having been something -- for having done something that I suggested he do, sure.
ZAHN: But you didn't suggest getting on the aircraft carrier and putting on the flight suit and landing dramatically in a fighter jet?
FRANKS: No, I didn't, but even at that, I have to confess that when I saw it done, I said, "There you go!" You know?
ZAHN: You did?
FRANKS: Thanks a lot to myself.
ZAHN: You liked the picture?
FRANKS: Yeah. I thought it was--I thought it was great. And, you know, be that particular aircraft carrier, I mean, that thing had been on a long deployment, all the sailors were worn out, they had been at war and all that. And so I can see "Mission Accomplished" in a sort of thing there, but "mission accomplished" tactically for that aircraft carrier or a division of troops means one thing and "mission accomplished" at the strategic level means something else and so I have, all along, understood the controversy and I just have not felt terribly good about having been the guy that started it all.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN: And coming up next, General Franks on unfinished business in the war on terror. The man he hunted for years but could not bring to justice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANKS: One of the things that does bother me is the fact that bin Laden and a number of other murderers remain at large.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: There has been much debate over whether the war in Iraq has or has not advanced the war on terror. General Tommy Franks has played a key role in this war, not only Iraq, but in the destruction of the Taliban government in Afghanistan and the al Qaeda forces it sheltered.
But the overwhelming military victory against the Taliban would be dimmed by the inability to capture one infamous terrorist.
ZAHN (voice-over): The elusive man the at the top of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List. The man directly and indirectly responsible for more deaths than any other terrorist alive today.
(on camera): Why hasn't the United States either captured or killed Osama bin Laden?
FRANKS: He's a hard target.
ZAHN (voice-over): Four-star General Tommy Franks knows that better than anyone. In 2000, Franks was put in charge of U.S. Central command, responsible for a tough part of the world, from Africa to Asia, including most of the Middle East and Iraq. In response to the September 11th attacks, Franks was ordered to break up al Qaeda and take out the Taliban in Afghanistan, the fundamentalist regime that had sheltered and supported Osama bin Laden.
FRANKS: Good afternoon. I see we have a full house.
ZAHN: Franks defeated the Taliban. He could not capture bin Laden. He might have come close, though. In December of 2001, American planes bombed the Tora Bora mountains. Bin Laden was believed to be hiding out there but there was a tactical error. No American troops were stationed on the borders.
(on camera): I know you admit in the book maybe if you had to go back and do it all over again, you would immediately have sealed the borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
FRANKS: I might have done that.
ZAHN: Why didn't we do that? FRANKS: Well, because I think not so well reported, the fact that Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, had put, at our request, a hundred thousand men on that border.
ZAHN: Do you really believe they were loyal to him or some of the warlords who controlled potentially Osama bin Laden's fate?
FRANKS: I believe they're loyal to Pervez Musharraf. The reason I believe that is because we loaded bus after bus after bus of al Qaeda terrorists and Talibans into jails as a result of that. And so I think it may be a bit simplistic to say, well, this is where the personality was that bin Laden was here and he was on you know, this day and so maybe. Maybe. But I'm not yet quite convinced that the issues around Tora Bora as we've discussed them, are conclusive with respect to the notion that, well, well, we missed him, but I know this.
Someone asked me, I think maybe last October. At that time, we didn't have Saddam Hussein yet. And someone said, "Well, General, tell me about bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Are you guys going to get 'em? I mean, are you ever going to get 'em?" And I said, Saddam Hussein, within 60 to 90 days. Bin Laden, within my lifetime. And the reason is because Saddam had no place to go. The people in Iraq didn't like him and that's pretty obvious to all of us. That's not the case with Osama bin Laden. There is an ideology that surrounds him and there are -- I don't want to be myself guilty of hyperbole so let me be conservative. There are millions of homes in the region where bin Laden is thought of as a hero. And he'll be protected. He's a hard target.
ZAHN: You were the chief architect of the plan in Afghanistan. Does it drive you nuts that he hasn't been captured or killed?
FRANKS: I think--one of the things that does bother me is the fact that bin Laden and a number of other murderers remain at large. Are they effective in planning the next attack on the United States of America? I don't think so.
ZAHN: You think their power has been degraded?
FRANKS: I think their power has been degraded but I don't think that they have been denuded. I don't believe that they're totally incapacitated. But I will sleep a lot better when the job is done with bin Laden.
ZAHN: So what are you thinking about late at night when you can't sleep and this image of Osama bin Laden is haunting you?
FRANKS: A corny answer. That's a great question. A corny answer. My grandkids. I think of my grandkids. I believe that perhaps the greatest threat we've seen to our way of life in this country is terrorism, wherein, people are afraid to take their kids to the mall or get on an airplane or go to a movie theater. That is not the United States of America that I grew up in and I don't want my grandkids to grow up in that world, but I think that's what we're confronted with right now and so that actually turns out to be the only comment that I can make that's political. I can't -- I just can't be away from it.
America wants to have Bush, Kerry, Kerry, Bush. Either one. However America chooses our next leader, I believe that it's imperative that this business of terrorism and the threat that we face in this country, because it relates to our kids and our grandkids, be the thing that all Americans take very, very seriously. Here is what I ask everyone I know, I've been doing this for a while: "How did you feel on the twelfth of September, 2001? How did you feel?"
FRANKS: What would you have done on the twelfth of September, 2001, to keep that from happening again? Whatever the answer is, America, whatever we were willing to do on the twelfth of September, 2001, to keep it from happening again, let's not get so far away from that that we forget how we felt and what we would have been willing to do because those actions, whatever they are, are still necessary. We are not out of the woods, Paula.
ZAHN: Is any of this personal for you? Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani once said that if he were to confront Osama bin Laden, he would personally take him out. What would you do if you confronted Osama bin Laden?
FRANKS: I'd like to meet him.
ZAHN: You'd like to meet him?
FRANKS: I'd like to meet him. I'd like to meet him.
ZAHN: What would you want to know from him? What would you say to him?
FRANKS: Nothing. I wouldn't say anything to him. I'd just like to look at him. Because some in this administration have taken me to task a little bit for having said bin Laden is no coward.
Let's be careful. Let's not -- let's not demean our enemies by saying, you know, they're cowards and they're madmen and they're crazy and all of that. This is a very capable guy.
We have every reason in the world to hate him. He's killed thousands of Americans. But we have no reason to underestimate him, and I'd like to -- I'd like to see him for that -- for that purpose, and I would like to see him brought to justice. And that is a little personal, maybe, yes.
ZAHN: So, what was Tommy Franks like before those four stars? That's coming up. And he'll tell me whether he thinks his commander deserves another four years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANKS: It's about issues with me. It really is about issues. And it is not about medals over a wall, it is not about a National Guard thing. It's the future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: General Franks has talked about his planning for the war and about the second-guessing that often went with that. He has talked about the difficult aftermath in Iraq and the frustrating hunt for Osama bin Laden.
So far, though, he has said very little about himself and his life before the Army. That's where we pick up our conversation.
ZAHN: People might be surprised to learn in this book that you described yourself in your teens as a pretty undisciplined guy, a guy who almost got kicked out of school. You were a partyer.
FRANKS: Right. Right.
ZAHN: What was in your DNA that existed that prepared you for this incredibly disciplined life you have led in the military?
FRANKS: An inquisitive nature.
ZAHN (voice-over): Before Tommy Franks was a four star general, he was just Tommy Ray. His friends called him Bubba.
Born in Winwood, Oklahoma, his father, Ray, was a mechanic and his mother, Lorene (ph), was a stay-at-home mom. When he was a baby, they moved to Texas, where Tommy would attend the same high school as first lady Laura Bush and then the University of Texas at Austin.
But college proved surprisingly difficult for Tommy Ray Franks.
FRANKS: When I actually did flunk out of school at the University of Texas after two years, I couldn't figure it out. I just couldn't figure out what I was -- what I was going to do. What's it all about, Alfie?
You know, and I woke up one morning and I went downtown in Austin. And I found the recruiting office and said, "I'm your guy." And I signed up without any sense at all of where I'd go or what I'd do.
It was a change. It was a big adventure. And then year-by-year, experience in Vietnam, and so forth, I finally grew up. It just took me a little longer than some people.
ZAHN: And it was that experience in Vietnam as an artillery officer that stayed with him, even at the pinnacle of his military service, a four-star general in charge of U.S. Central Command.
He writes in his book, "I would be seated in my air-conditioned command center in Qatar, scanning a wall of digital maps pulsing with bright symbols. But I would also be riding in those clanking Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. In my mind, I'd choke on the dust and sooty diesel fumes and smell the bitter sweat of fear."
FRANKS: It's always the young men and women, like I was a young guy in Vietnam, a long time ago. They're the ones who are doing the hard work.
And maybe that's why one of the things that is so important to leadership, especially in war time, is experience, because if they haven't been there, they don't quite understand the time, the distance, and the psychology associated with that. And so I worked hard to never forget it.
ZAHN (on camera): Former President Bush once told me as president, the most difficult decision you have to make is whether to put Americans in harm's way. How do you confront family members who have lost young men and women in Iraq...
FRANKS: Right. Right.
ZAHN: ... who think they were misled about why we went into Iraq and really don't believe we ever should of entered into this war? What do you say to them?
FRANKS: As you would suspect, I meet them all the time. There is nothing that -- that anyone in a leadership position can do to remove the pain of having lost a loved one in this.
What I try to do is simply express my appreciation personally on behalf of my grandkids, and assure them that the sacrifice made by their loved one makes a difference to the country.
ZAHN: What do you rely upon during these hard times? I know you never travel very far without your Bible.
ZAHN: I know you grip your wedding ring...
ZAHN: ... when you're feeling particularly...
FRANKS: Yes. And a small American flag.
ZAHN: ... tense.
FRANKS: And a small American flag. It's tough to not be -- maybe even a little melodramatic about that. I actually -- I actually believe in my family and my country and my faith.
The best decision I ever made in my life was 35 plus years ago when -- when I got married. She has traveled with me. There are some photographs in the book of her standing with some young Special Forces troopers in late November in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the middle of the night. It's one of the most beautiful photographs you can imagine.
You need to look at the eyes of the kids who are standing there with -- with Cathy, because I believe that it makes -- that it has meaning for these kids when you're willing to be there and at least to some extent, put it on the line.
Kabul, Afghanistan, on the twenty-second of December, 2001, that was the day Karzai was inaugurated. And on the way to that event, we had a surface-to-air missile fired at the helicopter. And the president, some way or other, he learned of that and bit me.
He said, "Is what I've heard true?"
"Yes, it's true."
"Well, don't do it! I don't need to get my general and wife killed, you know, doing something, so be careful. Don't do things like that."
"Yes, Mr. President."
ZAHN: Did you kind of feel like a little kid that was getting scolded by a father?
FRANKS: Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. Because that's the way he gave it. It was -- it was a fatherly scolding.
ZAHN: What is your relationship with President Bush?
FRANKS: It's a very good one. I think of him as -- I think of him as a friend. And many people have said, well, "Franks, the only person in this book that you like, other than your father is George W. Bush." And I just -- maybe I acknowledge it, but it's not intentional.
ZAHN: Would you like to see George Bush reelected?
FRANKS: I'm leaning in that direction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM SEPTEMBER 2)
FRANKS: America is a land of opportunity. America is a land of choice. And a great wartime president, Franklin Roosevelt, once said, democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely.
Delegates, friends, I'm prepared to choose wisely and I choose George W. Bush.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FRANKS: It's about issues with me. It really is about issues. And it is not about medals over a wall. It is not about a National Guard thing. It's the future. It's where -- someone asked me the other day, "Well, is John Kerry qualified to be the president of the United States?"
And I said, "Of course. Of course he is."
What I want to work in my own mind is the future, not the past. It really is about security in the country.
ZAHN: But what haven't you heard so far that might change your vote between now and November?
FRANKS: I want to have a better sense, Paula, of what do you think about our force levels? OK? Are you more concerned with having Americans out of Iraq, or are you more concerned with having Iraq a functioning free country, in order to make a decision?
ZAHN: What's the right answer for you?
FRANKS: I don't...
ZAHN: Should we be more concerned about drawing down troop strength?
FRANKS: That's a fair -- That's a fair -- That's a fair question. I think 25 years from now, 50 years from now, when people look back on this time, to try to decide did we do the right thing about going into Iraq? Because that's when we'll know. I mean, that's when we'll know if we did the right thing or not.
I think if the United States of America leaves Iraq without having set conditions there for the Iraqis to have a free country, it's a devastating thing.
And if either one of the candidates were to express to me that they believed the most important thing was to back America away from the chaos, that would be a negative answer to me, because in my view, the most important thing is to be sure that Iraq does not become a sanctuary, as it was before. And that means we must complete it.
ZAHN: How many years do you think it will be before the U.S. can pull out completely militarily?
FRANKS: My sense is three to five years. And I think you could -- you could ask me, "Where's the arithmetic, Franks? I mean, why three?"
ZAHN: I was getting to go that. Trying to figure this out!
FRANK: Why three or why five? Well, part of it would be 1776 to 1789 in the United States of America. How long did it take to create not just the will to have a democracy, but the bureaucratic mechanisms which permit a bureaucracy to operate? Now, '76 to 1789. I mean, 13 years.
It won't take that long, because we didn't have anyone in our early years to help us do that. The Iraqis do have someone. They have -- they have us. And they have other friends. So it won't take that long.
ZAHN (voice-over): Franks believes strongly that, as a nation, we must follow through, despite the loss of life that is bound to come with the tough decisions ahead.
And even as a four-star general, he never forgot the lesson he learned back in the days when he was just Tommy Ray.
FRANKS: My dad, as a result of a teenage accident, lost an eye and lost some fingers doing something he shouldn't have been doing. But I was maybe in my teens before I realized that my dad had a handicap. Now, that's -- that's amazing.
I mean, of course, I knew that he had lost an eye and that he had lost several fingers, but it never occurred to me that he was -- that he was not just absolutely normal, because it never slowed him down. It's perseverance.
My dad taught me to use three words, and I think they're very powerful words: "It's my fault." Because at the end of the day, people are much more interested in getting the job done than they are in the excuse as to why the job wasn't done.
ZAHN: Powerful lessons for all of us. And we thank General Tommy Franks for his time. Coming up next, we move on to the future for Iraq as seen through the eyes of two of its young citizens.
ZAHN: It is often said that the future of the nation lies in its children. And tonight, we have two compelling views of Iraq's future as seen through the eyes of children from very different parts of Iraqi society.
Diana Muriel has their stories.
DIANA MURIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For rich kids in Baghdad, this is a favorite place to hang out during summer vacation. The hunting club, Baghdad's answer to the country club, offers tennis lessons, the chance to kick a ball around and lots of fun in the pool.
But there are fewer and fewer kids here these days. Many wealthy families have sent their children to safety in Jordan and other neighboring countries. Some who remain say they want to get out too.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No I want to go to America.
MURIEL: 12-year-old Qasem (ph) says he wants to be an engineer when he grows up and eventually come back to help rebuild his country. He has big hopes for the future.
"When I'm grown up," he says, "Iraq will be wealthier than oil- rich Dubai."
9-year-old Shems (ph) is a little girl with big ambitions too.
(on camera): You want to be a doctor?
(voice-over): She'd be following in the family tradition. both her parents are doctors, and her 18-year-old brother is a medical student. She's a big fan of America too. "It's the country that saved us from Saddam," she told me.
12-year-old Adil (ph) and 14-year-old Abatha (ph) work as a team. Both are done with school. they're full-time mechanics. Abatha, who has worked here for three years says his family relies on him as the sole breadwinner. It's tough and dirty, paying just $1.50 a day. But there's plenty of work to do.
Abatha has big plans to own his own garage one day and he's optimistic about the future.
"Iraq is going to get better," he says, "because Saddam has gone. Things are improving step by step. things are getting back to normal."
Adil is a little more downbeat. He says he wants to be a doctor one day, but right now he's so poor, he can't afford nice clothes, much less an expensive education.
For kids on the tough side of town, choices are limited. But there are opportunities and they seem just as confident as the rich kids of making it through.
"It's going to be OK, God willing," he says.
ZAHN: That was taken Diana Muriel. And we'll be right back.
ZAHN: And that's wraps it up for all of us here. Thanks so much for joining us on this Labor Day. We hope you have a great rest of the holiday. We'll be back same time same place tomorrow night. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Good night
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