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Old 01-04-2004, 02:53 PM   #1 (permalink)
Dubya
 
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Iraq Opposition from former Central Command Chief

The following is an article by the Post's veteran Pentagon correspondent, Thomas E. Ricks, dated Dec. 23. I missed it during the holidays, and only discovered it today when the ombudsman rebuked the editors for not putting it more prominently.

I think it deserves it's own thread, seeing as how the man is both emminently qualified to speak intelligently on Iraq and the Middle East.

Quote:

For Vietnam Vet Anthony Zinni, Another War on Shaky Territory

Anthony C. Zinni's opposition to U.S. policy on Iraq began on the monsoon-ridden afternoon of Nov. 3, 1970. He was lying on a Vietnamese mountainside west of Da Nang, three rounds from an AK-47 assault rifle in his side and back. He could feel his lifeblood seeping into the ground as he slipped in and out of consciousness.

He had plenty of time to think in the following months while recuperating in a military hospital in Hawaii. Among other things, he promised himself that, "If I'm ever in a position to say what I think is right, I will. . . . I don't care what happens to my career."

That time has arrived.

Over the past year, the retired Marine Corps general has become one of the most prominent opponents of Bush administration policy on Iraq, which he now fears is drifting toward disaster.

It is one of the more unusual political journeys to come out of the American experience with Iraq. Zinni still talks like an old-school Marine -- a big-shouldered, weight-lifting, working-class Philadelphian whose father emigrated from Italy's Abruzzi region, and who is fond of quoting the wisdom of his fictitious "Uncle Guido, the plumber." Yet he finds himself in the unaccustomed role of rallying the antiwar camp, attacking the policies of the president and commander in chief whom he had endorsed in the 2000 election.

"Iraq is in serious danger of coming apart because of lack of planning, underestimating the task and buying into a flawed strategy," he says. "The longer we stubbornly resist admitting the mistakes and not altering our approach, the harder it will be to pull this chestnut out of the fire."

Three years ago, Zinni completed a tour as chief of the Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for the Middle East, during which he oversaw enforcement of the two "no-fly" zones in Iraq and also conducted four days of punishing airstrikes against that country in 1998. He even served briefly as a special envoy to the Middle East, mainly as a favor to his old friend and comrade Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

Zinni long has worried that there are worse outcomes possible in Iraq than having Saddam Hussein in power -- such as eliminating him in such a way that Iraq will become a new haven for terrorism in the Middle East.

"I think a weakened, fragmented, chaotic Iraq, which could happen if this isn't done carefully, is more dangerous in the long run than a contained Saddam is now," he told reporters in 1998. "I don't think these questions have been thought through or answered." It was a warning for which Iraq hawks such as Paul D. Wolfowitz, then an academic and now the No. 2 official at the Pentagon, attacked him in print at the time.

Now, five years later, Zinni fears it is an outcome toward which U.S.-occupied Iraq may be drifting. Nor does he think the capture of Hussein is likely to make much difference, beyond boosting U.S. troop morale and providing closure for his victims. "Since we've failed thus far to capitalize" on opportunities in Iraq, he says, "I don't have confidence we will do it now. I believe the only way it will work now is for the Iraqis themselves to somehow take charge and turn things around. Our policy, strategy, tactics, et cetera, are still screwed up."

'Where's the Threat?'

Anthony Zinni's passage from obedient general to outspoken opponent began in earnest in the unlikeliest of locations, the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He was there in Nashville in August 2002 to receive the group's Dwight D. Eisenhower Distinguished Service Award, recognition for his 35 years in the Marine Corps.

Vice President Cheney was also there, delivering a speech on foreign policy. Sitting on the stage behind the vice president, Zinni grew increasingly puzzled. He had endorsed Bush and Cheney two years earlier, just after he retired from his last military post, as chief of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in Iraq.

"I think he ran on a moderate ticket, and that's my leaning -- I'm kind of a Lugar-Hagel-Powell guy," he says, listing three Republicans associated with centrist foreign policy positions.

He was alarmed that day to hear Cheney make the argument for attacking Iraq on grounds that Zinni found questionable at best:

"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction," Cheney said. "There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us."



Cheney's certitude bewildered Zinni. As chief of the Central Command, Zinni had been immersed in U.S. intelligence about Iraq. He was all too familiar with the intelligence analysts' doubts about Iraq's programs to acquire weapons of mass destruction, or WMD. "In my time at Centcom, I watched the intelligence, and never -- not once -- did it say, 'He has WMD.' "

Though retired for nearly two years, Zinni says, he remained current on the intelligence through his consulting with the CIA and the military. "I did consulting work for the agency, right up to the beginning of the war. I never saw anything. I'd say to analysts, 'Where's the threat?' " Their response, he recalls, was, "Silence."

Zinni's concern deepened as Cheney pressed on that day at the Opryland Hotel. "Time is not on our side," the vice president said. "The risks of inaction are far greater than the risks of action."

Zinni's conclusion as he slowly walked off the stage that day was that the Bush administration was determined to go to war. A moment later, he had another, equally chilling thought: "These guys don't understand what they are getting into."

Unheeded Advice

This retired Marine commander is hardly a late-life convert to pacifism. "I'm not saying there aren't parts of the world that don't need their ass kicked," he says, sitting in a hotel lobby in Pentagon City, wearing an open-necked blue shirt. Even at the age of 60, he remains an avid weight-lifter and is still a solid, square-faced slab of a man. "Afghanistan was the right thing to do," he adds, referring to the U.S. invasion there in 2001 to oust the Taliban regime and its allies in the al Qaeda terrorist organization.

But he didn't see any need to invade Iraq. He didn't think Hussein was much of a worry anymore. "He was contained," he says. "It was a pain in the ass, but he was contained. He had a deteriorated military. He wasn't a threat to the region."

But didn't his old friend Colin Powell also describe Hussein as a threat? Zinni dismisses that. "He's trying to be the good soldier, and I respect him for that." Zinni no longer does any work for the State Department.

Zinni's concern deepened at a Senate hearing in February, just six weeks before the war began. As he awaited his turn to testify, he listened to Pentagon and State Department officials talk vaguely about the "uncertainties" of a postwar Iraq. He began to think they were doing the wrong thing the wrong way. "I was listening to the panel, and I realized, 'These guys don't have a clue.' "

That wasn't a casual judgment. Zinni had started thinking about how the United States might handle Iraq if Hussein's government collapsed after Operation Desert Fox, the four days of airstrikes that he oversaw in December 1998, in which he targeted presidential palaces, Baath Party headquarters, intelligence facilities, military command posts and barracks, and factories that might build missiles that could deliver weapons of mass destruction.

In the wake of those attacks on about 100 major targets, intelligence reports came in that Hussein's government had been shaken by the short campaign. "After the strike, we heard from countries with diplomatic missions in there [Baghdad] that the regime was paralyzed, and that there was a kind of defiance in the streets," he recalls.

So early in 1999 he ordered that plans be devised for the possibility of the U.S. military having to occupy Iraq. Under the code name "Desert Crossing," the resulting document called for a nationwide civilian occupation authority, with offices in each of Iraq's 18 provinces. That plan contrasts sharply, he notes, with the reality of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S. occupation power, which for months this year had almost no presence outside Baghdad -- an absence that some Army generals say has increased their burden in Iraq.

Listening to the administration officials testify that day, Zinni began to suspect that his careful plans had been disregarded. Concerned, he later called a general at Central Command's headquarters in Tampa and asked, "Are you guys looking at Desert Crossing?" The answer, he recalls, was, "What's that?"

The more he listened to Wolfowitz and other administration officials talk about Iraq, the more Zinni became convinced that interventionist "neoconservative" ideologues were plunging the nation into a war in a part of the world they didn't understand. "The more I saw, the more I thought that this was the product of the neocons who didn't understand the region and were going to create havoc there. These were dilettantes from Washington think tanks who never had an idea that worked on the ground."

And the more he dwelled on this, the more he began to believe that U.S. soldiers would wind up paying for the mistakes of Washington policymakers. And that took him back to that bloody day in the sodden Que Son mountains in Vietnam.



A Familiar Chill

Even now, decades later, Vietnam remains a painful subject for him. "I only went to the Wall once, and it was very difficult," he says, talking about his sole visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall. "I was walking down past the names of my men," he recalls. "My buddies, my troops -- just walking down that Wall was hard, and I couldn't go back."

Now he feels his nation -- and a new generation of his soldiers -- have been led down a similar path.

"Obviously there are differences" between Vietnam and Iraq, he says. "Every situation is unique." But in his bones, he feels the same chill. "It feels the same. I hear the same things -- about [administration charges about] not telling the good news, about cooking up a rationale for getting into the war." He sees both conflicts as beginning with deception by the U.S. government, drawing a parallel between how the Johnson administration handled the beginning of the Vietnam War and how the Bush administration touted the threat presented by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. "I think the American people were conned into this," he says. Referring to the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, in which the Johnson administration claimed that U.S. Navy ships had been subjected to an unprovoked attack by North Vietnam, he says, "The Gulf of Tonkin and the case for WMD and terrorism is synonymous in my mind."

Likewise, he says, the goal of transforming the Middle East by imposing democracy by force reminds him of the "domino theory" in the 1960s that the United States had to win in Vietnam to prevent the rest of Southeast Asia from falling into communist hands.

And that brings him back to Wolfowitz and his neoconservative allies as the root of the problem. "I don't know where the neocons came from -- that wasn't the platform they ran on," he says. "Somehow, the neocons captured the president. They captured the vice president."

He is especially irked that, as he sees it, no senior officials have taken responsibility for their incorrect assessment of the threat posed by Iraq. "What I don't understand is that the bill of goods the neocons sold him has been proven false, yet heads haven't rolled," he says. "Where is the accountability? I think some fairly senior people at the Pentagon ought to go." Who? "That's up to the president."

Zinni has picked his shots carefully -- a speech here, a "Nightline" segment or interview there. "My contemporaries, our feelings and sensitivities were forged on the battlefields of Vietnam, where we heard the garbage and the lies, and we saw the sacrifice," he said at a talk to hundreds of Marine and Navy officers and others at a Crystal City hotel ballroom in September. "I ask you, is it happening again?" The speech, part of a forum sponsored by the U.S. Naval Institute and the Marine Corps Association, received prolonged applause, with many officers standing.

Zinni says that he hasn't received a single negative response from military people about the stance he has taken. "I was surprised by the number of uniformed guys, all ranks, who said, 'You're speaking for us. Keep on keeping on.' "

Even home in Williamsburg, he has been surprised at the reaction. "I mean, I live in a very conservative Republican community, and people were saying, 'You're right.' "

But Zinni vows that he has learned a lesson. Reminded that he endorsed Bush in 2000, he says, "I'm not going to do anything political again -- ever. I made that mistake one time."


I respect and admire the man, both for his 35 years of service, and for speaking out when he thinks those in charge are wrong.

The comparison to the civilian leadership in Washington couldn't be more striking - here's a guy who served two tours in Vietnam, spent his entire adult life in service, and now has a son serving as a first lieutenant in the Marines. Meanwhile, we have civilians who haven't spent a day in uniform sending someone else's sons and daughters overseas. Indeed, the irony is the moderate voice is that of Colin Powell, the career soldier.

Speaking of moderates, where have the moderate Republicans like Dick Lugar and Chuck Hagel gone?
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Old 01-05-2004, 07:35 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Interesting article. I agree with some parts and have to question his agenda on others. He appears to be setting himself up for a political run. Perhaps Wesley Clark's new career is appealing to him. I also seem to recall him going to Israel trying to broker peace with the Palestinians.
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Old 01-05-2004, 08:03 AM   #3 (permalink)
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So he had his own plan that wasn't followed, is upset and is now talking about Vietnam II.

I think its amusing that they thought Iraq would implode after Clintons missile strikes.

He picks his words carefully, and doesn't accuse, only hints and wonders. Whatever, if things go bad he can point to this and say 'see I told you so' and if things go good it gets forgotten.
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Old 01-05-2004, 08:13 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by onetime2
Interesting article. I agree with some parts and have to question his agenda on others. He appears to be setting himself up for a political run. Perhaps Wesley Clark's new career is appealing to him. I also seem to recall him going to Israel trying to broker peace with the Palestinians.
That's kind of washed out with the last line:

Quote:
But Zinni vows that he has learned a lesson. Reminded that he endorsed Bush in 2000, he says, "I'm not going to do anything political again -- ever. I made that mistake one time."
Colin Powell sent him as a special envoy, trying to work with Abbas before that fell apart.
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"In Iraq, no doubt about it, it's tough. It's hard work. It's incredibly hard. It's - and it's hard work. I understand how hard it is. I get the casualty reports every day. I see on the TV screens how hard it is. But it's necessary work. We're making progress. It is hard work."
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Old 01-05-2004, 10:20 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by Sparhawk
That's kind of washed out with the last line:



Colin Powell sent him as a special envoy, trying to work with Abbas before that fell apart.
By the sounds of his positions and the jobs he's taken since retiring, I suspect he will be involved in politics more directly. He also said he wouldn't leave Israel until their was a break through. He's not there and there's no peace. Not that I expected him to stay there for the next hundred years until there's peace, just pointing out that he is prone to embellishing or over emphasizing in some of his statements.

I'm not trying to criticize him, I just don't like the tone of all this. He almost certainly has a belief (not based solely on this article but other statements I have seen him make over the years) that he has a superior knowledge of the Middle East than most anyone else and if people don't listen to him, then they're wrong. Being in charge during the strikes meant to destroy the Iraqi weapons programs, he almost certainly wouldn't be proclaiming it a failure. I'm just not confident that he's being as altruistic as he seems to want everyone to think.
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Old 01-08-2004, 09:21 PM   #6 (permalink)
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being the head of centcom and serving as the special envoy to the middle east i think he has superior knowledge of the middle east, anyone who can do 2 tours of nam is great in my books
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Old 01-09-2004, 04:33 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by silent_jay
being the head of centcom and serving as the special envoy to the middle east i think he has superior knowledge of the middle east, anyone who can do 2 tours of nam is great in my books
Having superior knowledge and believing you know more than everyone else are two very different things.
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Old 01-09-2004, 07:53 AM   #8 (permalink)
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i know that
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Old 01-09-2004, 08:06 AM   #9 (permalink)
Dubya
 
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Quote:
Originally posted by onetime2
Having superior knowledge and believing you know more than everyone else are two very different things.
Are you accusing General Zinni of arrogance? He does know more than most about this than most, and considering his position as an insider and former Bush supporter, not to mention is renunciation of politics, gives his opinion a heft that isn't afforded to the partisans of either side.
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"In Iraq, no doubt about it, it's tough. It's hard work. It's incredibly hard. It's - and it's hard work. I understand how hard it is. I get the casualty reports every day. I see on the TV screens how hard it is. But it's necessary work. We're making progress. It is hard work."
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Old 01-09-2004, 09:17 AM   #10 (permalink)
Her Jay
 
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Location: Ontario for now....
would they have given him the special envoy position if he didn't know more than most i don't think so.

Quote:
Originally posted by onetime2
Having superior knowledge and believing you know more than everyone else are two very different things.
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Old 01-09-2004, 10:57 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by Sparhawk
Are you accusing General Zinni of arrogance? He does know more than most about this than most, and considering his position as an insider and former Bush supporter, not to mention is renunciation of politics, gives his opinion a heft that isn't afforded to the partisans of either side.
It only gives him more "heft" if he's not angling for a new career. As I've said, his positions seem to be setting himself up for politics rather than absolving himself of political involvement. And, when he was a Bush supporter, what was your opinion of his "heft"?

Quote:
Originally posted by silent_jay
would they have given him the special envoy position if he didn't know more than most i don't think so.
Knowing more than most and thinking that everyone that doesn't agree with you is wrong are also two very different things. I never said he wasn't qualified to offer an opinion. I question anyone who doesn't at least acknowledge that others' opinions may be valid.
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Last edited by onetime2; 01-09-2004 at 11:00 AM..
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Old 01-09-2004, 01:24 PM   #12 (permalink)
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where has he said that other peoples opinions aren't valid.
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Old 01-09-2004, 08:35 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Damn it I just lost the post because it took me too long to type it and I got logged out so I lost the link I had for one example.

Basically it was a piece about the types of actions that he sees the military having to be prepared for in the future. One piece of that was the ability to take on a well armed and high technology opponent. He criticized the strategy of creating lighter, more mobile elements within the military by complaining about them changing the titles from "CINCs" to Combatant Coordinators or some such nonsense. There are plenty of well thought out reasons for a more agile force but instead of discussing them and telling us why they're wrong he complains that they can't be called commander in chief's anymore.

General Zinni disregarded intelligence about the threat posed by refueling navy ships in Yemen. His understanding of the area and the threats was superior to others and it led to the bombing of the USS Cole.

In the aftermath of Somalia he felt it necessary to tout how perfect his efforts were and how flawed the UN was with the implication that if he had still been in charge it probably wouldn't have happened.

His plan for the fall of Hussein's government wasn't considered, so anything else must be completely misguided.

Whenever I've seen an article or speech by/about him I've read it as there are so few Marines who get to the level that he's gotten. Usually it is Army, Navy, or Air Force General officers who garner the big postings and I originally hoped that he might have a shot at becoming the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
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Last edited by onetime2; 01-09-2004 at 08:44 PM..
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