- The Washington Times - Monday, December 5, 2005

Franks unplugged

President Bush might not be able to say exactly when U.S. troops will come home from Iraq. But retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who led Operation Iraqi Freedom, says he can provide that answer.

“Our troops will come home when it is over over there,” he told a predominantly military audience, including several active and retired generals, attending a Freedom Alliance gala at the Ritz-Carlton at Pentagon City. “Nobody said it was going to be easy.”

But rest assured, he stressed, “Iraq will never become what Afghanistan was.”

Gen. Franks said whenever he thinks about U.S. troops fighting today in Iraq and Afghanistan (the general also led Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan), he gets choked up.

“I get emotional talking about it,” he said. “These men and women ask so little and give so much in defending the Constitution of America.”

Promoted by President Clinton to four-star general in June 2000, becoming head of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. Franks said: “You’ve heard me called a ‘Clinton general.’ But I am also a George W. Bush fan.”

It was on the “fateful day” of September 11, 2001, he said, “when I realized my country was changed forever. We were ‘engaged’ that day.”

At one point during his off-the-cuff speech, which lasted about 25 minutes, Gen. Franks asked whether any members of the “mainstream national media” were in the audience. He then proceeded to call them “suckers.” He followed that up by asking whether anybody from France was in the audience, drawing laughter from the crowd.

“The mainstream national media in this country doesn’t quite get it,” said Gen. Franks, who retired in 2003 after 38 years in the military. He took particular aim at U.S. news coverage in Afghanistan, saying the entire story — and the success of the U.S. armed forces in ousting Taliban rulers — has not been reported adequately.

Negative volleys

Remember last week when we told you that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was going to erect billboards in the backyards of Republican lawmakers who attack Democrats for speaking out against the war in Iraq — starting with Rep. Jean Schmidt, Ohio Republican?

In fact, the DNC signed a contract with Lamar Advertising to place two billboards near Mrs. Schmidt’s district office in Portsmouth, Ohio. In addition, we learn from Tom McMahon, the DNC’s executive director, Democrats were looking into more billboards in and around Cincinnati.

But then the phone rang.

“Unfortunately … we got two phone calls — the first came from Lamar’s Cincinnati office informing us that because of the content of the ad, they are refusing to continue to work with us,” Mr. McMahon says.

“The second call came a few minutes later from Lamar’s Huntington, West Virginia, office, informing us that despite our signed contract, they were also rejecting our ad. This reversal came more than 24 hours after the DNC had signed a contract with Lamar, and 48 hours after they had accepted the artwork for the billboards,” he says.

Mr. McMahon says the DNC was told by Lamar’s regional manager in West Virginia that the ad was “too negative.”

Now, the DNC’s general counsel, Joseph Sandler, is sending a letter to Baton Rouge, La.-based Lamar, demanding the company — which owns “nearly every billboard in the district,” Mr. McMahon says — honor its commitment to run the ads.

Pervasive culture

Last week’s admission by former Rep. Randy DukeCunningham, California Republican, that he accepted more than $2 million in bribes, demonstrates a complete lack of ethics rules enforcement and accountability in Washington.

So says Common Cause President Chellie Pingree, describing “an ‘anything goes’ culture in Washington right now in which members of Congress have been encouraged to push the envelope of acceptable behavior and ethical conduct, and the public is sick of it.”

She says to “make matters worse, no one in Congress, Democrat or Republican, is even talking about the … problem and how to fix it.”

Playing Cupid

Virginia Rep. James P. Moran, a Democrat, is playing matchmaker for his good friend Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, Rhode Island Democrat and the youngest Kennedy family member ever to win public office.

Mr. Kennedy, 38, is said to be smitten with Alexandria lawyer Cathy Puskar, to whom Mr. Moran introduced him on Capitol Hill.

“He couldn’t take his eyes off of her,” Mr. Moran tells Inside the Beltway of the unmarried Mr. Kennedy, who was elected to Congress at 27 and is the youngest child of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

Miss Puskar is the sister of Hollywood actor and improvisor CharlesChipEsten of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” fame.

• John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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