A defense correspondent, interviewing a best-selling author and a retired general about their new book on the Gulf War, steps into a minefield.
editors at Salon thought it would be a good idea to have a reporter with a military affairs and defense background interview Tom Clancy about his new book. The idea was for the bestselling author of military thrillers like “The Hunt for Red October,” “Red Storm Rising” and “Patriot Games” to have a conversation with an informed interviewer, rather than a busy talk-show host or general book critic whose knowledge of the subjects at hand would necessarily be limited.
As in war, things didn’t turn out so smoothly.
Clancy’s new book, “Into the Storm: A Study in Command” (Putnam), is the first of a nonfiction series by Clancy that the publisher describes on the book jacket as “a look deep into the operational art of war as seen through the eyes of some of America’s outstanding commanders.” Co-written with retired U.S. Army Gen. Fred Franks Jr., “Into the Storm” is a blow-by-blow description of Franks’
command of the U.S. Army VII Corps, whose job during
the 89-hour ground war against Iraq was to defeat Saddam Hussein’s much-vaunted Republican Guard.
As a reporter for Defense Week, I was aware of a simmering controversy here.
While Clancy portrays the Gulf War, and Franks’ contribution, as a triumph, others are not so sure. For example, the CIA, in a 1993 document called “Operation Desert Storm: A Snapshot of the Battlefield,” noted that “almost 50 percent of the Republican Guard’s major combat equipment escaped destruction and remained under Iraqi control.” Franks himself was criticized by Desert Storm’s commander,
Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who, in his book on the 1991 Gulf War, “It Doesn’t Take a Hero,” said he wanted to fire Franks on the second day of the war for what seemed to Schwarzkopf to be an overly cautious approach to running down the Iraqis.
When these issues were raised during an interview with Clancy and Franks at the Four Season Hotel in Washington, D.C., last week, fireworks followed.
The book is a “good-news” story about your career, Gen. Franks, and your role in the Gulf War. But it appears to exude some contempt for Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.
Tom Clancy: No, it doesn’t.
Clancy: No, it doesn’t.
I just read it.
Clancy: Read it again.
Gen. Fred Franks Jr. (Ret.)
I am familiar with the history of his criticism of Gen. Franks, and I wanted to talk about it not because I mean any disrespect for him or anybody who served, but I just think it’s a topic that needs to be addressed. There are clearly examples here of where you found Schwarzkopf’s leadership lacking.
Clancy: Where is the contempt for Norm Schwarzkopf in there?
You wrote, in describing Franks’ reaction to news from Riyadh that Gen. Schwarzkopf was concerned about the “VII Corps pace of attack”: “As a commander, I was not prone to wide mood swings or loud outbursts. Some are and use it as an effective command style.” Who are you talking about there?
Clancy: What — wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. That’s an example of contempt? It’s a statement of fact. Different people have different styles.
Right. But there’s a clear implication that that particular style is not necessarily the most effective. You lay out how Schwarzkopf didn’t make clear at the time his desire for you to move faster — how all the communications that you got were to the effect of: “He [Schwarzkopf] doesn’t want the pace any faster now. He’s concerned with fratricide if the pace gets too fast.”
I mean, this is clearly a reference to Schwarzkopf’s book in which he said he wanted to fire you on the second day of the ground campaign, in which he said he felt like the Army was being run by — simultaneously — by mules and race horses. So this is not
a rebuttal to Schwarzkopf?
Clancy: It’s not intended to be a rebuttal of Schwarzkopf; it’s intended to be an exposition of facts.
Gen. Franks: What we tried to do in the book was to lay out the facts from the perspective of those who were out there on the battlefield, at the front so to speak, in the VII Corps. The book is about command, a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute account of what was going on on the battlefield, and not a view of command from headquarters in Riyadh or even from Washington, since that’s not where I was.
Do you feel that Gen. Schwarzkopf tried to clear his name at your expense, because the Republican Guard got away?
Clancy: How much of it got away?
Reportedly, it was about half of the — it depends on whether you measure it in personnel or equipment. But by either measure, it was close to half, was it not?
Clancy: I don’t think so. It wasn’t — certainly not equipment.
Franks: No, I don’t think so. You know, our strategic mission was to liberate Kuwait, and destroy — I mean, this was a theater-strategic mission — enough of Saddam’s army in the Kuwaiti theater that they couldn’t immediately re-threaten
The strategic mission was to kick the Iraqis out of Kuwait. But clearly the mission of VII Corps was — and you say so in the book — was to destroy the Iraqi Republican Guard forces command. Now, looking back on it, how did they get away?
Clancy: Excuse me. How did who get away?
How did the Republican Guard forces that got away get away?
Clancy: Which elements of the Republican Guard got away?
About three divisions, four divisions that got away. You don’t know this? You just wrote this book …
Clancy: The whole Republican Guard didn’t comprise …
Franks: There were three Republican Guard mechanized armored divisions in the Kuwaiti theater — Tawakalna, Madinah and Hammurabi. Madinah and Tawakalna sure as hell didn’t get away. These two brigades were destroyed by the 1st Armored Division. Hammurabi was hit by air and then ran into the 24th Division.
What was Schwarzkopf so upset about then? Enough elements of the Republican Guard got away for Schwarzkopf to say that the “window of opportunity” had been missed.
Clancy: When did Norm say that?
It was by the third day of the ground campaign, when he said, “The window of opportunity is rapidly slamming shut.” There is clearly a controversy about how much of the Guard got away, and the fact that Saddam Hussein is still in power.
Franks: On the last two days, as the 3rd Army attacked east, there was a whole land and air campaign to complete the mission; that is, liberate Kuwait and, as I said, destroy enough of Saddam’s army in the Kuwaiti theater that he couldn’t immediately re-threaten Kuwait. There were interdiction efforts on the causeway over the Euphrates — I think you’ll find that in the book. Then the coordination line, between the Army and the Air Force, was pushed north of the causeway in Basra — which effectively made it much more difficult for the air to interdict the causeways and so forth. But that wasn’t in the VII Corps sector, nor had it been.
Looking at the bigger picture, what do you think went wrong that so much of the Guard were able to escape?
Franks: Well, I don’t — see, I guess I don’t subscribe to your conclusion that it “went wrong.” This was about as close to — as I said in the book — this was about as close to a perfect operation as anything I have been involved with in 35 and a half years in the Army.
As you said, the strategic objective was to get the Iraqis out of Kuwait. But the tactical goal was to destroy the Guard by “enveloping” them, according to U.S. Army Field Manual 100-5′s description of the mission — “them,” the Republican Guard. And Schwarzkopf said beforehand, “We want to drive them to the sea, we want to destroy the Republican Guard as an effective fighting force.”
Clancy: Right. That was done.
You think that was done?
Clancy: Yeah. Who have they fought against since?
Well, they kept Saddam Hussein in power, didn’t they?
Clancy: A fighting force — OK, they’re a good police force. But who have they fought against successfully? Come on — come on — if this is going to be an exchange of information, you’ve got to play too, right? You know, the Orioles beat Detroit 8-1 last night, and we’ve got a situation here where you say, “Well, you let them score one run. What did you do wrong?” Oops! Sorry.
But this is more than just one run. The fact is, Saddam Hussein’s still in power.
Clancy: The objective of the war was never to overthrow Saddam Hussein, unfortunately. That was not an objective of the war. That was beyond the purview of Fred’s — it was beyond the purview of Norman Schwarzkopf. It was a political determination made by the government of the United States.
Right, and you write about CNN’s images of the “Highway of Death” leading to the political decision that prevented the commanders from finishing the job. Now, if, as you’re saying now, you don’t think the job was unfinished, why did you write that?
Clancy: Well, it would have been nice to have completely exterminated all the Iraqi troops there, I mean, but — that’s a rather inhuman thing to say, isn’t it? Maybe it would have been slightly more satisfying. I had a phone call from a friend of mine who deployed to the Persian Gulf
– who I cannot identify — and he took his shoe phone with him. And about
an hour after the cease-fire he called and he said we needed 12 more hours. Now, part of that was a political determination to terminate the hostilities, based on how things looked on TV, and not based on what Fred and his front-line commanders were thinking at the time. Another part was, they wanted to end the war in 100 hours. And the third part was, somewhere along the line, somebody made a mistake with distinguishing between “zulu” time and “lima” time (a reference to military timekeeping jargon). These things happen in wars. They’re not perfect. What you’re really saying is, we should have overthrown Saddam Hussein. Now, maybe that’s true. That’s a determination made by President Bush and Secretary (of State James) Baker. People in the military don’t make those kind of decisions.
Do you think that with another day or more that the Guard could have been completely destroyed?
Franks: Could we have continued to attack? Of course. Would another 12 hours had — 24 hours, 48 hours — sure, you can make all kinds of speculation. 20-20 hindsight is perfect.
The escaping Guard members weren’t gone by then?
“Certain Victory,” the official Army book on the war, said, “By the 28th (of February), with the exception of the Hammurabi Division, the majority of the remaining Guard armor had already reached or passed through the Basra sanctuary en route to positions well inside Iraq.” It sounds like you’re differing from the official version.
Clancy: It sounds to me like you’re quoting something to say something it doesn’t mean.
Clancy: Well, we have already annihilated two armored divisions. (To Franks) That was probably the majority of the Republican Guard’s armored forces that you had gobbled up like a plateful of grits, right?
Franks: The Tawakalna was destroyed — two brigades. Essentially, the Madinah was combat ineffective by the 1st Armored Division and, to a certain extent, the Northern Brigade of the 3rd Armored Division. The 24th (Infantry Division) destroyed a brigade of the Hammurabi.
Clancy: In other words, two-thirds of them were gone. The rest of them may have walked out, but I don’t think they drove much in the way of tanks out. (So the argument is) in other words, that some people got away.
Retired Air Force Col. Jim Burton, a critic of the prosecution of the war, said in an unpublished paper: “The CIA reports the majority of guard escaped, taking approximately half of its major combat equipment.”
Clancy: Who is this guy? I don’t know the name. I don’t know if you know the name, Fred, but I don’t.
Franks: I know he had written a number of things right after the war. I think he had sent me a copy of this a couple years ago. And I’ve talked to him briefly about it. But I mean, there’s a variety of opinions. And, as I say, 20-20 hindsight’s perfect.
The Proceedings of the Naval Institute ran a series of letters on this controversy after the war. One correspondent, a retired Army Lieutenant General named John Cushman, assessed it as follows: “The Iraqi Republican Guard got out the back door because Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, whose concept of operations stressed the need to destroy the Republican Guard, did not plan on the basis that to trap that force would be the best way to destroy it.” And by “trap,” he means envelope, come around the rear.
Looking back at the big picture, is that a fair point?
Clancy: You know, the overall operational concept — and correct me if I’m wrong on this one, Fred — was very similar to what Erich von Manstein did to France in early May of 1940. The idea was to hammer the main line of resistance on the southern border of Kuwait and then the mobile reserve would move south to support. Unfortunately, the air campaign was so successful that the Republican Guards were a little too beat up to go south. And the initial ground attacks by the Marines, the Saudis, the Egyptians and the Syrians were so initially successful that they (the Republican Guard) were thinking about running away, rather than moving to support. The operation was so successful that in some ways it betrayed itself. Instead of coming into the trap like they were supposed to, they thought, “Oh, shit,” and ran away.
OK. The Iraqis are folding like a house of cards. And we get visual imagery of this, you know, the so-called “highway of death.” We weren’t shooting up people on foot, because that would be just cold-blooded murder, and American soldiers don’t do that sort of thing. Unfortunately, it looked as though we were. A political decision was made that, in a public-relations sense, this looks bad and we should stop. The political decision arguably may have prevented Fred from fully accomplishing his mission. But everything he was allowed to do was done beautifully. OK?
So you’re saying he didn’t fully accomplish his mission?
Clancy: I said he was prevented from doing so by a political decision, which is the way the American system of government works.
A political decision was made in the White House, with the State Department, that we had to stop the war at this point because it would look bad. Now, whether or not that was true is — you can argue, you know, for hours if you wish. It’s beyond Fred’s purview — you know, he is the servant of the president.
Well, he was. Now, he is a retired general, free to speak his mind and write books. (Laughter.)
Franks: When it ended, was it all very tactically neat? No. But, as I said, the strategic decisions are made based on achieving the strategic objectives. I think those who look at the immediate Middle East, and the larger implications for the Middle East over time, took a decision to stop it.
Do you think you could have gotten farther faster if you hadn’t stopped for the night, on three of the four nights, with some or all of the VII Corps?
Franks: We didn’t, quote, “stop for the night.” You know, you just — not everything stops at dark. Your forces are — you’re continuing to fire, you’re continuing reconnaissance, refueling. What — there’s an old German saying, “Go slow now, go fast later.” Our mission was to attack and destroy the Republican Guards in our sector. If they stayed fixed, then we were going to turn east and hit them with a three-division fist, in a combination of tanks, Bradleys (armored personnel carriers) and artillery that we could sustain logistically for as long as it took. I wanted to hit the Republican Guards at full momentum. As we moved towards them, I wanted to keep my own forces in that kind of a combination so when I hit them I was going at full speed in a big fist, able to logistically sustain the attack for as long as it took. And so that required certain parts of the corps — some to go fast, some to go slow, some to stop. That’s called maneuvering a corps. That’s what a corps commander does.
Clancy: And he couldn’t have gone much faster. He outran his loggies (logistics forces) twice. People don’t know what generals do; they don’t know the intellectual complexity of command. It’s not just a matter of going, “Go there!” I mean, it actually has to be planned. Here we had a situation with 150,000 soldiers and 50,000 vehicles, and all have to move in time and space in exactly the right way. That’s a big deal; it doesn’t just happen when you push a button. And nobody seems to — and nobody’s ever written a book about this, and I figured somebody ought to.
I understand this is the first in a series. Are you going to show how hard it is to be an admiral and then show how hard it is to be an air-component commander?
Clancy: Yeah. Why not?
Who else are you’re thinking of profiling?
Clancy: I don’t talk about works in progress. I’ve got a rule about that.
What about fiction? Are you putting that on the shelf, or are you doing that at the same time?
Clancy: I’m still a novelist … One thing I want to — you started off the interview by saying the book treats Norman Schwarzkopf with contempt, and I want to go on the record, that is not the case. That is never the intention of the book, and there’s nothing in that book to back up what you said.
Maybe I could rephrase that. “Contempt” may have been a bit of a strong word. But you clearly attempt to show that his criticism of Gen. Franks was, in your view, not founded.
Clancy: I don’t even agree with that. All we’re doing is relaying facts. We’re not rebutting anybody. Fred has no need to defend himself against anyone.
(To Franks) You can’t tell me you’ve got no hard feelings about what Schwarzkopf said about you.
Franks: I’ll just say, facts are facts. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. And I am, as I said, enormously — I’m proud as hell of the soldiers and leaders of the VII Corps.
Clancy: I know Norm Schwarzkopf. I like the guy. He’s very gracious. And he was a theater commander. He’s juggling land, sea, air and the political side of the war. Fred’s up at the sharp end doing the fighting. And you know, you don’t get to be a general without having something of an ego. When you get a bunch of those people in the room, there’s going to be — I mean, if you get Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer in the same room, you’ve got three people, each of whom thinks he’s the best golfer in the world, there’s going to be a little bit of friction.
Franks: People talk tough to each other during a war or campaign. And that’s to be expected. I mean, I expected that in the VII Corps.
All right. So you say you didn’t have any hard feelings toward Schwarzkopf. How about this passage: “John told me the CINC [Schwarzkopf] wanted to know why his orders had been disobeyed regarding that crossroads. I was absolutely stunned.” You had your lower leg amputated as a result of the invasion of Cambodia, General, and now you write in this book: “Now here, in this war, I was to have my professional character amputated.” I mean, how can you sit here and tell me there’s no hard feelings or that there’s not a conflict with Schwarzkopf?
Franks: You know, yeah, that was a — that was a — you know …
Clancy: It’s how he felt at the time.
Franks: That was right after the end of the war.
And after it’s all over, several years later, you write a book, and it’s still heated, and then you try to tell an interviewer …
Clancy: No, he — look, Fred is talking about how he felt at the time, for Christ’s sake!
Right. All right.
Franks: I’m telling you what I felt at the time.
John Donnelly is a reporter for Defense Week. More John Donnelly.
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