October 31, 2002
Retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni headed the U.S. Central Command, which commands U.S. forces in much of the Middle East and Central Asia, from 1997 to 2000, and is now a CDI Distinguished Military Fellow. On Oct. 10, 2002, he spoke before the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. about a new war with Iraq, whether the time is right, and what would have to happen for military action to turn out in the best possible way. [Excerpts of the] speech and Q&A follow.
General Zinni: Thank you. Ned asked me to look at the possibility of military action in Iraq and sort of describe the lane between best case, worst case and maybe the most likely case scenarios are and where the minefields may be.
Let me start with the best case. Last night I sat down and said, “What would have to happen to make any military action to turn out in the best possible way?” I wrote ten conditions for this war that would have to happen. The first condition is that the coalition is in. The second is that the war is short. The third is that destruction is light. Fourth is that Israel is out. Fifth is that the street is quiet. Sixth is that order is kept. Seventh is that the burden is shared. Eighth is that the change is orderly. Ninth is that the military is not stuck. Tenth is that other commitments are met. That’s an easy list. (laughter) If we design our strategy and our tactics based on that, it will all work out.
In a very interesting aside, Gen. Zinni made a comment about Rummy’s plan to “transform” the military:
My first question when I became the commander in chief of Central Command we’re not allowed to say commander in chief now, so this is an old term. By the way that’s the sum total of transformation, we have just changed the lexicon. We can’t say engagement, we can’t say commander in chief, and we can’t say national command authority. So far we’re transforming the language (laughter) when I was the combatant commander in Central Command, the first thing I asked all my friends and counterparts was, “Why do you see the U.S. military presence here as important?” The answer I had was stability, stability, stability. You can, and you do, if it’s done right, provide a tremendous amount of stability to a very volatile region.
You would think that by now it would be obvious even to George Bush that Bush and Rumsfeld executed whatever military plan they may have had with extraordinary incompetence.
There is no doubt that stability in the Middle East was and is the only reason for the U.S. to have a military presence in Iraq. We all know how that has turned out. One of the funniest statements coming out of the Bush administration about withdrawal is that Iraq will descend into chaos if we leave. As if Bush were not the one responsible for introducing additional chaos in the first place.
Gen. Zinni has four short paragraphs that explain and summarize the reasons that George Bush is a complete and utter failure not only as President, but as Commander-in-Chief:
The next point I made was that the street had to remain quiet. A short war helps that, but the mood is not good. Anti Americanism, doubt about this war, concern about the damage that may happen, political issues, economic issues, social issues have all caused the street to become extremely volatile. I’m amazed at people that say that there is no street and that it won’t react. I’m not sure which planet they live on, because it isn’t the one that I travel. I’ve been out in the Middle East, and it is explosive; it is the worst I’ve ever seen it in over a dozen years of working in this area in some concentrated way. Almost anything could touch it off.
What would the reaction be? We can see the events that are taking place now in Kuwait with our forces. Will we have security issues, embassies, military installations, American businessmen, or tourists there? Do we become vulnerable? Do others that are involved with us become vulnerable? Are the regimes of our friends and the governments that are friendly to us vulnerable? Do we need to see demonstrations and blood in the streets? Do we need to see friendly governments that operate economically, politically and pretty close to the edge being pushed by a street that is resisting support and cooperation in the conduct of the war? It is a great unknown, and it’s easy to blow it off by comments that there is no street or that it won’t react and nothing will happen.
The greatest moment on the street came after 9/11 when Osama bin Laden called for the Jihad. I told my friends to watch the result. I told them I could predict there would be no Jihad, that they might see some isolated demonstrations, but that we would see the true heart of the people in the region. We saw it in October, November and December. A year later now, we have lost that goodwill. We have lost that connection; we have lost that compassion. We have lost that moment when we could have corrected things, and now the language is getting hostile and bitter. We have the crazies that represent the ends of the religions and societies involved in this who are saying things that are inflammatory, inciting, and not helping. We need a lot of repair work on those relationships, culture to culture and society to society, let alone government to government.
I’ll leave it to STF readers to digest the rest of Gen. Zinni’s speech. In the meantime, let’s bring our troops home before Bush and Rumsfeld muck the Middle East up even worse than they already have.