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Saturday, March 22

Confident Franks says ‘outcome is not in doubt’

By Derrick DePledge | GNS

WASHINGTON - Asked if he was surprised about anything during the first few days of war with Iraq, Tommy Franks, the public face of U.S. and coalition forces in the Persian Gulf, told a story about forgetting to send his wife, Cathy, an anniversary note Saturday morning.

It was a subtle, human touch from a four-star general in charge of a ferocious air and ground assault. In his first public comments at Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar since the war began, the commander of the U.S. Central Command was confident and straightforward in a role that is as fundamental to the U.S. mission as the precision-guided missiles striking Baghdad.

``The outcome is not in doubt,’’ said Franks, 57. ``There may well be tough days ahead, but the forces on the field will achieve the objectives that have been set out by the governments of this coalition.’’

Like the millions of leaflets dropped over Iraq and the radio broadcasts urging Iraqi soldiers to surrender or refuse to fight, the news briefings by Franks and other Pentagon officials are, in part, intended to send the message that a U.S. victory is inevitable.

``It’s a tool, like everything should be,’’ said William Lahneman, a former Navy commander and program coordinator at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland. ``He’s trying to affect U.S. domestic public opinion, Iraqi public opinion and world public opinion.’’

Christopher Simpson, an American University professor of communication and author of ``Science of Coercion,’’ a book about psychological warfare, said the military is much more sophisticated about public relations today than it was during the Vietnam War.

``Franks is relatively good at this,’’ Simpson said. ``The underlying message is, `Our power overwhelms all.’ But that’s a claim. It’s an argument. It’s not proof.’’

Franks, who also led the military campaign in Afghanistan and the hunt for suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden, said Saturday that he did not know the whereabouts of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein but repeated that the invasion was aimed at regime change in Iraq, not at a single man.

The general refused to respond when a reporter asked about an Iraqi information minister who, in his version of psychological warfare, predicted that U.S. led forces would be decapitated and routed. ``I think there might be an expected response to that question, which actually you won’t get from me,’’ Franks said. ``I don’t think it’s appropriate for senior military people to wave their arms in response to the sort of hype that was described, and so I won’t do that.’’

American generals with style and personality have often become famous during wartime, from George Patton in World War II to Norman Schwarzkopf in the Persian Gulf War. In this war, with hundreds of reporters traveling with the troops and around-the-clock television coverage, no one military commander may symbolize the conflict.

Franks, who grew up in Midland, Texas, and enjoys country music, may be more comfortable with the mission than the spotlight. When asked whether he thought it was an error for a U.S. soldier to raise an American flag Friday over captured territory in Iraq, the general said the interpretation was in the eye of the beholder.

``I think that, in zeal, people will want to represent that they have achieved a certain milestone,’’ Franks said. ``And if you’re from our country, then one of the first things that can pop into the young man’s mind is to raise his national colors.

``I suppose I found it to be much more instructive that immediately following that, in recognizing that his job had to do with liberation and not occupation, that he quickly brought down his colors.’’