Tommy Franks: Young People, Follow Bush-Clinton Discourse, Not Discord

Source: Dallas Morning News

When the five living presidents met last week to dedicate the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, former President Bill Clinton gave us pause to think about how leaders need to think and act.

“A couple of times a year in his second term, George would call me just to talk politics,” said Clinton.

Given the fact that they come from pretty different political philosophies, they probably crossed swords verbally a few times during those calls. It’s also evident that they weren’t disagreeable.

Bush could have called his father, the other President Bush, to get the opinion of an ex-president. He could also have called on any number of his own advisers to get an expert opinion.

So why did Bush call Clinton? I think Bush and Clinton found a way to disagree without being disagreeable, and Bush recognized that hashing out his thoughts and arguments with Clinton would actually sharpen his own ideas.

Bush respected Clinton enough to call, and Clinton respected Bush enough not only to take the call, but to fondly remember it at the Bush Library dedication. I think that respect comes from both presidents’ recognizing they had far more in common than their disagreements. Both men deeply believe in the American democratic system and want the best for their country. Both knew that their ideas and the country could be improved by airing them out.

There’s much to be learned from this little anecdote about dialogue, disagreement and respect. They represent the Four Cs of conflict resolution: character, common vision, communication and caring.

Our grand experiment of America can’t last long in gridlock. We’re going to have to get to a point where you can have an opinion and I can have an opinion, and we can argue the merits of each viewpoint without being disrespectful.

It’s long been my hope that we could mentor our young people in this skill of resolving conflicts through civil discourse rather than civil discord. To disagree respectfully, to listen actively and to understand both sides of issues we all face as a nation.

I’ve tried to do this with the annual Four Star Leadership program. For the last five summers, we have brought 50 of the brightest high school student leaders from around the country to Oklahoma Christian University. The students get briefings from authors and athletes, politicians, military leaders and business leaders. Then they write editorial-style opinions and argue their points in debate competitions. They’re encouraged to have strong opinions but coached to use the Four Cs. The whole point is construction rather than destruction.

Without dialogue there can never be a solution to a problem.

If you know of a high school student who has shown signs of leadership in his or her young life, I encourage you to share the Four Star Leadership application, which can be found at The deadline for application is May 15. The 50 selected students will receive an all-expenses-paid experience of a lifetime, as well as the chance for scholarships.

If we succeed in our mission, tomorrow’s America will have 50 of the finest leaders who can articulate their ideas and can use them to build a better America, rather than destroy their ideological opponents.

Gen. Tommy Franks is former commander in chief of U.S. Central Command, founder and mentor of the Four Star Leadership program and board member of the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis.