This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," December 6, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Gen. Wesley Clark says when it comes to getting our troops home from Iraq, the president's "stay the course" strategy will not work. But he also says that cutting and running isn't the answer either. The former commander of NATO forces says we need to seal Iraq's borders and set up a regional dialogue with its neighbors, including Syria and Iran. Will that work?
Let's ask the former commander of CENTCOM and author of "American Soldier," Gen. Tommy Franks. General, thanks very much for coming in. It is good to see you.
GEN. TOMMY FRANKS, FORMER CENTCOM COMMANDER: Good to be with you.
GIBSON: You read Wes Clark's criticism of the situation as we have it right now. Is he right about this? Is that the course we should be taking?
FRANKS: Well, there's little question in my mind that Iraq is best served by sealed borders and the specific mechanics about how many people it takes to do that. How many should be American, how many should be coalition, how many should be Iraqis? You know, I'm pretty much inclined to leave that to people who are on the ground over there making those kinds of judgments.
I suspect that work is moving in the direction of doing that, to secure what has been taken and to provide better security along Iraq's borders. And so I suspect that there is movement in that direction, John.
GIBSON: General, what are Americans supposed to make of this situation? We get a lot of bad reports constantly. Of course, Americans are dying there. Yet Joe Lieberman, the senator, comes back and says things are going much better than is given credit for. Sec. Rumsfeld has lashed out in that way, too. How do you make sense of these contradictory reports?
FRANKS: John, that's a fair question. And the way I'd answer it is to say, "Welcome to politics in the United States of America." We live in a society where people are free to stand up and pursue their goals and in some cases their goals are elective office in this country, and so they're likely to take sides and we're likely to see the public debate here.
I think all that's good. Now, when I form my own opinion, what I do is look back about two and a half or three years ago at what was going on inside Iraq. Look, you know, we had young men and women flying over Iraq forcing the United Nations sanctions, getting shot at every day. We had Saddam Hussein in power, having killed arguably two to 300,000 of his own countrymen and all that seems to have changed.
Last January we saw the Iraqis for the first time in a long time elect representatives to take care of them in a representative form of government. In September, we saw them ratify a constitution.
In 10 days time we will see the Iraqis elect permanent leadership. My gracious, how can we say that there has been no progress in Iraq?
GIBSON: General, we have heard from Wes Clark about what he thinks ought to be done, what the president ought to do. What do you think?
FRANKS: I think the president — I stay away from terms like "stay the course" and that because they represent sound bites that people pick on.
I think what we ought to do is study the evolution that we have seen over the last two and a half years in Iraq and the pieces of that which seem to be paying dividends, and you could cite those John as well as I can, the things that encourage the Iraqis to step out and vote, to provide for themselves and their children a democracy.
We ought to keep doing that. We ought to remain with forces inside Iraq until the Iraqis are able to take on security functions themselves. If that amounts to stay the course, then, John, I'm a stay the course kind of guy.
I think about the progress that they have made. Look, let me just tell you this. On the day that we find that the Iraqis themselves have fewer men involved in the security business than they did yesterday, then we are beginning to lose ground.
Each day that we look and see additional Iraqis being trained to provide for their own security, whether it's military or police or intelligence functions, we are moving in the right direction.
It's very easy to say well, let's just cut and run. Let's just get out of there.
Look, isolation for the United States of America has not worked in a long, long time. And you and I both know what happened between 1993 when we left Mogadishu, Somalia — you remember that, John, and I do too — and pulled ourselves into isolation before that job was done. How did that work for us?
So it seems to me that, whatever we choose to do, a legitimate option is not to pull back within ourselves, to isolate ourselves, to hide ourselves from the truth of terrorism and to hope that things will get better in the future. That's what I would not do.
GIBSON: Gen. Tommy Franks before I let you go, a quick answer if you wouldn't mind. Howard Dean says the idea that we are going to win in Iraq is just plain wrong. What do you think of what he said?
FRANKS: Well, John, I think Howard Dean is just plain wrong.
GIBSON: Gen. Tommy Franks coming to us from Tampa. General, thanks a lot. It's always good to see you.
FRANKS: Thanks, John.
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