Formal Pentagon consideration of Iraq began in November 2001 just after the fall of Kabul. . . . From the outset, there was tension between the uniformed military and and office of the secretary of defense over two related issues: whether to attack Iraq, and if so, how many troops to use. Gen. Jack Keane, the Army's number-two officer, told colleagues that he thought that the United States should put aside the Iraq question and keep its eye on the ball. He reocommended keeping two Army divisions -- perhaps twenty-five thousand troops -- on the Afghan-Pakistan border until bin Laden was captured and his organization there destroyed.
Caught between the Army's caution and Rumsfeld's impatience was the Central Command, commanded by [Army Gen. Tommy R.] Franks. Officials who served in that headquarters offer conflicting accounts of the role it played in the debate over the war plan, but there is general agreement that Franks became the fulcrum in the planning for the war. He could go either way -- he was a career Army officer -- but with the passage of time he sided with the Rumsfeld view. Franks was a cunning man, but not a deep thinker. He ran an extremely unhappy headquarters. He tended to berate subordinates, frequently shouting and cursing at them. Morale was poor, and people were tired, having worked nonstop since 9/11. "Central Command is two thousand indentured servants whose life is consumed by the whims of Tommy Franks," said one officer who worked closely with him. "Staff officers are conditioned like Pavlovian dogs. You can only resist for so long. It's like a prisoner-of-war camp -- after a while, you break." . . .
All military staffs feel burdened on the eve of war, but Centcom was in the unusual position of planning the invasion of Iraq just a few months after carrying out the invasion of Afghanistan. It wasn't a good way to go into a war, especially under a commander perceived by some as unreceptive to contrary views. The extreme fatigue and low morale at his headquarters may explain in part why Franks and his staff would spend over a year fighting out how to take down a reeling, hollow regime, and give almost no thought to how to replace it.
© 2006, Thomas E. Ricks. All rights reserved.