Council on Foreign Relations
HOGE: Good evening, and welcome to this evening’s Council on Foreign Relations’s meeting. If you have any cell phones, BlackBerrys, other wireless devices, just double-check to make sure they’re turned off.
This is an on-the-record session tonight, and—there’s one, thank you—when we get to the question-and-answer period, wait for the microphone, speak directly into it, please stand, state your name and affiliation, and we’ll take it from there.
Our guest tonight is retired military General Anthony Zinni. He was commander of the central region from 1997 to the year 2000, and in that post he was responsible for all U.S. forces in the 25-country region, including the Middle East and Central Asia. He has a long military career that has taken him to some 70 countries. After he retired in 2002, he served as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s special envoy to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He has a new book out that he has co-authored with Tony Koltz, called “The Battle for Peace: The Frontline Vision of America’s Power and Purpose.” His previous book, “Battle Ready,” co-authored with Tom Clancy, was a New York Times bestseller.
Let me just summarize a couple of points I take out of the book, which is a broad look at U.S. foreign policy—it’s not just the current affairs problems that we have, but they surely fit in. The general states the United States in its foreign policy certainly means well, but that it’s hobbled by a failure to understand the challenges of the post-Cold War world. He finds that our leaders hold simplistic views of the new challenges, with insufficient attention to cultural matters, social matters, political matters, and that they are hobbled by outdated governmental systems, organizational structures, and a lack of a national strategy.
As for us, the American citizenry, he finds that we don’t have a sufficient grasp that the instabilities in the underdeveloped world can undermine stability and prosperity here at home. The general writes that we may be incrementally moving towards catastrophe. He likens the current situation to the complacency of the Bell at Puck (sp) just prior to World War I.
As I say, this assessment has some direct implications for our engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan and our relations with Iran. But, before addressing them, I’d like the general to flesh out for us his thinking on what is the new face of war that we have yet to sufficient understand, and what are some of the organizational changes that would be critical to better dealing with contagious instabilities of this post-Cold War era. Thank you, general.
GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI: Well, I say in the book that in 1989 and ‘90, when I was assigned to the European Command, those of us who were newly appointed brigadier generals were flown into Europe where I was to spend my next two years in the assignment as deputy operations director for the European Command. And we arrived in Berlin—and of course we arrived in the midst of the collapse of the Soviet Union and basically the wall collapsing almost literally. When we arrived there, as I say in the book, there was a lot of confusion. People weren’t sure what was happening: Is this a temporary setback? They’re all going to snap back? And I think people were kind of in the belief that this can’t be real. It was almost surreal.
When we arrived there we had this gaggle of new brigadiers, one-stars that were about to be assigned part of our capstone course that we go through as newly-appointed general officers. And we were supposed to get a series of briefings and be sort of boned up on Europe and the threats and everything else that went on out there before our assignment. But they weren’t ready to brief us, because the briefings were now irrelevant. And we were sort of shuffled off into the care of a second lieutenant, an Army second lieutenant who, the poor guy was stuck now with nine brigadier generals. And he, in trying to figure out what to do with us, said, “Would you guys like to go to East Berlin?” And we said, “Well, are we allowed to do that?” He said, “Hell, I don’t know, but let’s go.” And he actually had a Volkswagen bus, you know, one of the old Volkswagen vans—we all piled into that thing and we drove through Checkpoint Charlie, and it was unmanned. It was completely open. And you know you have to understand now—all of you can appreciate this, growing up in the Cold War period, thinking about the time I was in first grade and I had to bring a pillowcase to school because we had to put it over our heads and dive under the desk when sirens went off or down into the civil defense shelter. I was going through this Checkpoint Charlie, the wall on either side of it, the symbol of everything you represented in splitting off East and West. We drove through, got into the other side, and the first thing you noticed is you were in a Potemkin village. The main street was not real. If you one street over, there were pockmark bullet holes from World War II. There were people on the streets driving ‘50s vintage bicycles, something like I had when I was in first grade, around the streets, these old Trabby cars made out o some sort of wood—pressed wood—belching smoke. And I just came from West Berlin—these are Audis, BMWs, and Mercedes—into this unbelievable world. We drove through a Kaserne, a Soviet Kaserne—they looked like they were completely dazed. They didn’t know whether to shoot us or salute us when we drove through. And I left that place saying, “Boy, something has changed big-time here.” I had the sense there should be something going on here to celebrate this change, and nothing was going on.
I reported to work at the U.S. European Command, and I watched a whole series of events take place. Now this is after listening to President Bush 41 saying “New World Order”—his famous New World Order speech, the speech about a peace dividend now. I was watching these plans come about saying we are going to reduce our forces in Europe—they’re going down, down, down. We had an amazingly prescient, brilliant commander in General Jack Galvin, who was saying, “Be careful. We don’t know what this means yet.” He had us generals go into the former Soviet Union meet with the Russian senior leadership in the military, Polish, Hungarian, Romanian and others—to try to make sure it didn’t snap back. He said, “Go there and tell them this isn’t a question of winners and losers. The winners are the people, you know, we are going to work this together.” But there wasn’t much support for those kinds of programs.
And, meanwhile, the peace dividend and the “new world order” became the “new world disorder.” I was assistant director or deputy director of operations. Everything was exploding around us. The Balkans were going to hell. Africa, where we were conducting noncombatant evacuation operations. There was a war against Saddam Hussein going on that we had to support out of Turkey. And on and on and on. And it just looked like somebody had popped a lid and this stuff was happening. And I left after two years there saying I’m not sure we understand what has begun here. And I want to emphasize the point “begun” here in ‘89 or ‘90. I then went on to three tours in Somalia and a whole number of other operations around the world that just seemed to explode—peacekeeping and humanitarian operations—all these sorts of problems.
And then it came to me in the book that this gave rise or gave an opportunity for other forces to come into place. The world became more globalized. I came back from Europe. I went to see my old buddy Bob, a retired Marine who sold cars. Bob had been a Chevy dealer when I left. I went back to see Bob, and I said, “Bob, I need to buy a car.” But I looked up and Bob had a Honda dealership. And I said to Bob, “Hey, I buy American.” You know, “Bob, I’m not buying a Honda.” He showed me the certificate: the Honda was made in Merrifield, Ohio. “Go down to the Chevy dealer, see where that’s made.” I did. I took him up on it. It was assembled in Mexico. I mean, I was confusing. What is American? What does it mean? It was not only globalized in a business sense or what we know is multinational corporations, but we were becoming globalized in other respects. All of a sudden there was a rise of these non-state players on the scene, NGOs and others—not only people meaning well, NGOs out there trying to do good, but we had now the drug cartels, the Russian mafia, the warlords that were growing. And some of these non-state actors were more powerful than nation-states and had more resources than nation-states. And the whole issue of sovereignty and identifying what’s American, German, whatever, European, Japanese, became much more muddy. In addition to that—I’m kind of giving you a synopsis of 15 years’ experience—you see this rise in the Information Age. I flew in here last night on a flight. I was sitting at the gate in Washington, ready to leave, and I’ve got to admit I’m not a techie—I’m not good at all this stuff. I don’t carry 42 pieces of electronic equipment. But I’m watching people bang away at laptops, they’re on their PDAs and on their cell phones. And I get intimidated by all that. They get on the plane, they’re told what not to turn off, what to turn off, what to turn on, and they all do it, and they fall into doing it. When we land, the cell phones pop out, everybody begins to talk. And I—what struck me is who the hell they’re talking to. More people knew that flight landed than Pearl Harbor was attacked the day after. (Laughter.) I’m embarrassed to say that I pull out my cell phone and pretend I’m talking to somebody because I don’t want to be left out. (Laughter.) And we’re fighting a guy that lives in a cave, as Richard Holbrooke says, that on a cell phone and the Internet ran an international network to confront us.
Meanwhile, while all this was happening and the lid was popped, to sort of paraphrase the Southwest Airlines commercial, you are now free to move about the world. And guess what? Everybody picked up and moved, yo know? They came South to North in our case, and now we’re worried about illegal immigration—what are we going to do? They moved into Europe—entire communities. It was a great diaspora from the unstable—or parts of the world that were unstable and didn’t offer promise. And it struck me that everything that’s happening in the world—this is a new reordering of the world, and we don’t get it, because it was not a catastrophic event like a world war that we could clearly see it, as Wilson saw it and as Truman and Marshall saw it. We didn’t get it, because over 16 years it’s been sort of the change of subtle events that took place. And now we are in a remarkable new world and we are ill-equipped to deal with it.
And to sort of get to the second piece of the question, when I looked at this and say, “Why can’t we deal with it?”—one, we don’t understand this world we’re in; two, we don’t have like we did during the Cold War a clear-cut strategic view and vision and understanding what our interests are here and how to protect them; and, three, our government is ill-equipped to do it because it is organized in such an archaic and irrelevant fashion—bloated bureaucracy, patronage, pork—all the elements that make us inefficient. My life now is in business. We would never run a business like we run this government. When we have a problem in government, a problem that almost every organization in the world faces today: you’re not responsive, you’re not flexible, you’re not streamlined, you’re not integrated, you can’t cross-communicate—in business what we do is flatten the organization, integrate it, move on. We did the same thing in the military. What do we do in government? Well, we have a problem with integration, cross-communication, 9/11 Commission, the Congressional commission that looked at the intelligence disaster: add more bloated bureaucracy, Homeland Security. We add national intelligence directorate. It’s a feudal system and the barons are named Rumsfeld and Rice and whatever, and they run their own little empires that are in competition with each other, and don’t talk to each other. So what does the president get? He gets things that are processed up through these stovepipe system that come together at the top. And they come together in ways where they’re protecting the wrong rice bowls.
And the integration doesn’t even begin at the lowest levels. I saw this as the commander of U.S. Central Command where trying to integrate things on the ground is very difficult. I would just—and this piece of it, to say one of the points in the book is the book is what I call the “foxhole view of the world.” I’m not a wonk. I don’t write policy or anything like that. Much like journalists and much like aid workers and diplomats that are out there sort of laboring in the fields, I’m bringing you back a view of the world and a view of Washington back here and how it ill-serves us in terms of what we need to do out there and what has to be done. We have no strategy. We have a lousy organization. We don’t understand the environment and the world we live in right now.
HOGE: All these stovepipes, despite a lot of efforts which you indicated have been underway, are still not communicating very well, and you name the two new ones which in your book you say are probably headed for failure for the same reason: lack of integration. Now, you have one major proposal for reorganization to make us more effective in this age of asymmetric challenges, the National Monitoring Center? Do you want to explain what that would be?
ZINNI: Well, I’ve got to tell you when I first was talked into doing this book I was going to suggest what was wrong and not take it through some recommendations on structure, because I thought once you get down into the weeds all the wonks and other experts in Washington would kill me on saying, “That won’t work—let me tell you why.” But I was kind of pressed into at least give a suggestion or recommendation to how it might work. And I felt strongly you need three levels of integrated organization, and I began by explaining what I thought an integrated organization is. An integrated organization, to sort of use the military, since I’m most familiar with that, we learned that you can’t use the old Napoleonic system that we inherited and for centuries was part of the way we operate where the logistician or the planner or the intelligence officer did all their work, and it came up to the guy on the horse overlooking the battlefield—he processed it, made a decision. You can’t fight like that today—obviously. The integration of these functions has to be done at a much lower level and be done at the tactically operational and the strategic level, to use sort of the military hierarchy to these events.
And I thought that we need the same thing in the government. What the president needs—and I named this the National Monitoring and Planning Center—he needs some sort of organization that takes all the plans that are done by the departments and agencies on a given subject—let’s say it’s Iraq or it’s the Middle East or whatever it is—and they bring the plans together, examine them and find out where the plans have friction points, where they don’t integrate well. Let me give you an example. We had a plan for the invasion of Iraq and taking down Saddam Hussein. We’ve had one ever since the end of the Gulf War. We never had a plan for reconstruction of the country. You know, so something is missing here. When I attempted to find out what happens after we take down the Republican Guard and we have Saddam—(inaudible)—in Baghdad, I had no answer. I mean, there were blank stares. We had (stung mullets ?) in Washington, and I was trying to figure out why is this? Why won’t you help tell me who’s going to politically, economically, socially reconstruct Iraq? Nobody had figured out how to do it, and nobody was willing to take it on.
You know, we can’t work it out in a huddle. We can’t do it on scene. We’ve tried that, and we can name the Somalias, the Bosnias and everything else that were problems. And you can’t stick the military with this mission any longer.
The president gets intelligence information and you find out there’s something like 16 or 18 intelligence agencies—I’ve lost count in Washington—that each have their own view. And if you don’t like their view, as Rumsfeld did, you (play on ?) with a boutique organization within the Department of Defense so you can vet the sources that the CIA won’t vet and hold credible—you know, “Curveball” or some other idiot out there. And the problem is how does the president know what the alternative views are? How does he get an integrated view? How does he get somebody to explain to him, “There are five views of this; let me explain each view and why they come to it from that angle”? Nobody—and I suggested the creation of this center, a non-Cabinet post the director of the center. And then in order to ensure it was integrated and people had a vested interest in it, I sort of suggested the military model like we do with joint commands. Every department or agency would have a component part of it. They would be required to staff it. And like we did in the military—because if you go to a department and you say, “Give me a couple of people to man this”—guess what you get? You get the (coals ?)—you know, you get the bottom feeders, you know that’s so they—thank God, we can move—I don’t have to deal with the GS system, whatever—move them right over to whatever this new agency is. And to prevent that, if you read Goldwater-Nichols in the military, what we said is they better be quality people. They won’t get promoted unless they have that experience. So I kind of use this military model to say at the national level, the strategic level, the president needs to know how the plans will be integrated, where the friction points are, why we have the differing views. And this will be the forcing agency for integration. And then I thought, much like the military where at the unified command levels, the regional command elements—CENTCOM, PACOM, EUCOM and SOUTHCOM—there ought to be parallel agencies representing state and the other—OFTA and the other government agencies and departments of Washington, some of which can be part and parcel of all that through virtual connection in this day and age, or an actual presence. They would report back to their respective agencies and departments, they would be co-located with the headquarters of the regional commands. Their job would be to integrate the planning at that level so if I’m at CENTCOM, and I’ve got a war plan for Iraq, you’re working on the political reconstruction plan. And, more importantly, you’re not only working on these plans for dealing with intervention and crises, you’re helping me develop programs the prevent crises, to stabilize regions of the world.
I was tasked under the Clinton administration, and the Quadrennial Defense Review that Secretary Cohen put out, with a strange mission. It said—and the theme was “shape, respond and prepare.” I understood the “respond” and “prepare”—“prepare” means be ready to go; “respond” means go there and do something. “Shape”—a new word—“shape” meant, as part of the engagement strategy that came out of the national security strategy, go out and shape this world—make it less unstable and more stable—less unstable—and go out and begin to do things to change the environment. Well, what I found pretty quickly, it’s one thing to tell a military person to do that, but as my counterpart—a bureau chief in the State Department or an ambassador on the ground or whatever—what is his mission? How do we interact with each other? When I developed my first strategic plan for CENTCOM, which we were required to do, I sent it to the State Department before I sent it to the Department of Defense. I said, “Take a look at it—it’s in draft”—because I overlapped with five bureaus up there, which is strange, because our geographies are all different. And I sent it up to take a look at it. I get a call from the Joint Staff saying, “You can’t send it to State Department. You have to send it to us first, and we’ll think about whether State Department can see it.” And I said, “Well, wait a minute—I’ve already sent it to every ambassador in the region. I’m sending it up to State Department before I send to you, because there are pieces of this thing that they have to input in and have to give me a sanity check before it goes forward.” Then I got told, “No, you can’t do that.” And I said, “Well, I got four stars—is there anybody up there short of the secretary that can tell me I can’t?” The answer was no, but they called over one of the assistant secretaries, and said, “If you accept it, we’ll cut you off from the Department of Defense and never talk to you again.” For me that would have been a boon, a blessing—(laughter)—I think he should have accepted it. But he was kind of frightened off by it. So at some level there there needs to be an integrated involvement from everybody else that’s needed if you’re going to change the elements in a region or a given nation-state or shape as the case was.
Then the third level of change is on the ground itself. You know, it struck me when we went to Iraq, as I saw in Somalia and other places, here comes the military—800-pound gorilla—you know, we have battalions and squadrons and everything deployed, boom we’re on the ground—tremendous logistics system, administrative system. We’re there, and we’re going to do the security piece. And then you look over and who’s doing the political, economic, humanitarian, you name it—social change, all this piece? And you’re lucky if it’s a pick-up team, if it’s three guys from State, if it’s somebody they scraped out of an embassy and put in there. And your sympathy is they don’t have the resources there. They don’t have the money. There isn’t the planning for this sort of thing. You know, you saw in WARHAW (sp), in CPA, the disastrous organizations—pick-up teams ill-equipped, poorly planned, thrown in, no experience in the region, no cultural experience—144 people in CPA, some of which were there through sweat—you know, drained from embassy in the world—you know, not necessarily people with experience in the region. I had a story told to me by a very senior person in the CPA organization that said one day a Brit walked in—this Brit was a private citizen, no expertise in anything in particular, but this dying need to contribute and help his nation in this endeavor. Out of his own pocket, cashing in his savings, he made his way to Baghdad. They were shocked to see this guy when he walked in: “I’m here to help. What can I do?” They put him in charge of the oil ministry. This guy couldn’t spell “oil,” you know? (Laughter.) And he was in charge. He says this was remarkable. This poor guy says, “Well, I’m going to learn all about oil, now, and begin the work.” And this is phenomenal. This wasn’t an anecdotal story. This was told to me by a very senior person in that structure. You know, what was the plan to come in? What was the understanding about what you do about the army, de-Ba’athification, what was the plan for reconstruction?
I was in Amman, Jordan not long after the war kicked off, and I met with a bunch of Iraqi businessmen who were out there seeking investment and a chance to restart their businesses. And they said to me, “You know, we get no direction from the CPA. Nobody is telling us how to restart our businesses or to tell us what we do going forward here.” He said the only person who’s telling us is Ahmad Chalabi—that if you’re a Ba’athist you’ll never do business here again, and he’ll determine who does business in Iraq.” I went to the embassy in Amman and talked to the DCM. I said, “Is this true? Is there no direction? Don’t we have a plan? We want to restart these businesses. This is jobs. This is the future. This is hope.” “No. We’re dealing directly with CPA. We don’t have a plan.” It was sort of decisions as you went along day to day, and it seemed to me that—and this is the third level of organization I suggest—and here is a level of teams on the ground that could be formed and come in and be counterpart to the military piece. We’ll do the security piece, and we’ll help and support and interact with what you do in terms of the political, economic, social, humanitarian piece. And that’s what was missing. So that’s kind of the shorthand of what we recommend in one of the chapters.
HOGE: You know, the National Monitoring and Planning Center certainly sounds like an idea whose time has come, but it’s not going to solve all problems. For example, if you have people who are going to cherry-pick the information that’s being delivered to them, it doesn’t matter how good an integrated job you’ve done, does it? And that seems to have been the case this time around.
ZINNI: Well, I think this forces—I think in many ways can prevent cherry-picking, because what the mission of this organization would be in that sense, the intelligence sense, besides coordinating programs and integrating plans, is to present to the president the varying views of this. So instead of being shut off, what you have is an obligation or a mission statement or a task statement for this organization to say that you have to present to the president differing views. Now, you’re not going to present 38 views, but I mean in basic situations, like maybe we faced in Iraq on the nature of the threat, whether it’s imminent or grave and gathering, I can tell you for sure, because I was involved in some of the intelligence on this—there were differing views in Washington about that. The director of central intelligence said at his Georgetown speech before he left, quote, “We,” meaning the CIA, “never said the threat was imminent.” Well, wait a minute, I sure got that from—even that word maybe, from the vice president, and “grave and gathering,” and wonderful metaphors about mushroom clouds and everything else that evokes all these images, you know. If you didn’t think it was imminent, did anybody say that? I mean, was that clearly put out on the table? Or was it somehow stifled and cherry-picked and drawn up to where there was only one analysis allowed to be presented? And I think an organization like that prevents it by its very nature, because of what it’s obliged to do to present—not to recommend necessarily a position, but to present to the National Security Council, the Council, not the staff but the Council, the principals, to present to them why you have differing views here. You know, this is the way the military does business. If I have components—in the U.S. Central Command I had five components—Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Special Operations. And, believe me, I had presented to me in our planning groups the views. When the secretary and the chairman, if they use the Joint Chiefs of Staff, you get differing views in there, and they’re allowed to be presented as a body. That’s the charter of that body. So the charter of this organization would be to present these differing views, and for the president or someone to come down and say, “I only want one view and it has to be that one,” then, believe me, those of you that are here from the media, that would go out, poong—and immediately be out there that he’s stifling the kind of mission or the input that’s required by an organization like that.
HOGE: Yeah. You know, an interesting development in the last 10 days or so has been that some of the big feet on the conservative side have come out and announced that the war is a failure—for instance, Fukuyama, George Will, and most recently Bill Buckley. Now, maybe that’s going to far, but it certainly isn’t going well. And the question I would have for you is: What situation do we now have in Iraq, and what should we be doing about it? And is it wise to keep hinting, as is the case, that we’re going to be starting a drawdown of troops any time soon?
ZINNI: I think it’s important to go back and look at what we face in Iraq. Who’s the enemy here? The enemies—we sort of lump them into this term “insurgents.” In my mind it’s not really a true insurgency, and so you fall into a trap by doing that. The elements that cause this problem out there are, one, the outside foreign terrorists, the al Qaedas that came in from outside; two, the criminals that are on the street—not only those who commit street crimes and would shoot an RPG for $100, but now a rising trend towards some organized criminal elements that are beginning to form; three, the ex-Ba’athists that are still running around trying to cause problems; four, the Sunnis who have become upset or feel personally wronged or insulted or have tribal issues or whatever, didn’t like their door being broken down, and some kid in a Iraqi national military uniform who happened to be a Shi’a or a Kurd that kicked the door in, so they picked up a weapon and decided to protect themselves, and they feel victimized; and, five, the militias that have been allowed to exist and stay in place and now have their best squads and are out there running around. So you have sort of this devil’s brew of what you face. And each of those has to be dealt with in a different way. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all. If you don’t understand that, then what you’re beginning to do doesn’t work.
Secondly, we’ve come to a position here where the fate is no longer in our hands. I love these images of us going to Baghdad, the secretary of State of both the United States and Great Britain, and now sort of pointing a finger and begging these people to get on with it and form a coalition government. I have this image of Douglas MacArthur in Japan, you know, would he accept that, We can’t get on with it, we’re still bickering, we’re still fooling around? I think old Doug would have said, “We’re going to have a little meeting in here and we’re going to come out tomorrow and there’s going to be a coalition government.” What happened to that? I mean, we used to do that fairly well. We somehow lost that. We lost it in Vietnam, when we allowed the rotating generals in Saigon to do coup after coup. I couldn’t keep track while I was there. I spoke Vietnamese, I lived with the Vietnamese people, I wore their uniform, and I was trying to figure out if today was big men, little men—(inaudible)—back there. And so here we’re saying, “Fight and die, we’re presenting you with a hope for the future, democracy and everything else.” And as I had one poor old lady tell me one time, “You want me to die for that back there, and you’re sitting by letting it happen?” We’re repeating it again. We walk in, we break it. We own the Pottery Barn—now we broke everything there. Then all of a sudden we make every decision involving security and almost everything else and how we handle detainees and everything else. We stop short of laying some rules down for how the governance is going to go—at least until it gets on its feet.
We had another problem in thinking democracy equals elections, or elections equals democracy. So have an election, poong, you can declare victory. I have this image that I had in something I heard on NPR one day when I was getting in my car, and they were reporting on the last election, and this woman in Basra, who ran into the polling booth, screaming and yelling, “The greatest day of my life—I’m getting to vote—I’m so proud,” dipped her finger in the ink, ran up to the guy running the poll and said, “Who do I vote for?” And the guy said, “I can’t tell you. It would be inappropriate. The best I can do is read the political parties—and there were 169, by the way. And so he gets to number 7, and it’s the Islamic Party of Something-or-Other, and she said, “That’s it—I’m voting for that one.” He said, “Why?” She said, “It’s got ‘Islam’ in the title—I’m going to vote for it.” So we have democracy. We have what we have now there. This government—and you know what? I am convinced that if we pressure them that they fire al-Ja’afari, to get rid of the minister of defense and the interior, and they all walk out holding hands singing “Kum-Bay-Yah” by the end of the week, we’re going to declare another great victory along with the tearing down of the statue and the capture of Saddam and three elections. Now, look, a unity government. So what? That’s just a beginning. Look at these constitutional issues they have to deal with? What are they going to do with the militias? What are they going to do about revenue sharing? About autonomy for the regions? About the role of Islam in their government? They haven’t even come on to these hard issues yet, and we’ve had three elections and we’ve declared—and we have a leadership back here that thinks, “This is the forces of democracy fighting the forces of anti-democracy.” When you go out in the region, they say, “No, I think it’s Arab versus Persian.” “No, it’s Sunni versus Shi’a.” I mean, it’s so complex, because it’s all of that amongst other things, and we don’t get it. So the whole issue of how that government has to move forward and what it has to do it, it has a long way to go. The security forces—we are now fighting the Waffen SS out here. What the hell are we trying to do with these Iraqi security forces? By my last count, we have like 295,000 of them. What I think I heard General Casey say a couple of weeks ago, 99.9 percent of the population hate those perpetrators of violence, you know, and that’s good news. If 99.9 don’t like them, how does that 0.1 percent still managing to exist? By my count that’s about 20-some-thousand. You have 295,000 security forces and you can’t handle, 24,- or 25,000? And, to add to that, I keep hearing, it’s really in about two to three provinces. Most of the provinces are doing pretty damn good. So it boils down to two or three provinces, about 20-some-thousand bad guys. We have 295,000 security forces all total, a population that basically 99.9 percent don’t like these bad guys and would turn them in in a heart beat, and yet we’ve got 130-some-thousand troops in there, and we’re saying, Boy, we’ve got a long way to go. Something doesn’t jibe. I watched the way these operations go—massive operations. What was that last one was just had, operation whatever, you know, where we had 20 detainees or something like that after we had this massive helicopter-borne assault, walked through it and everything else. Probably pissed more people off and made more so-called insurgents than we ended up detaining in the end by the operation—clearly not focused on intelligence.
If the people were really not either fearful, sympathetic or apathetic toward what was going on, they would be picking up the phone and telling you the guy next door has got a chop shop and he’s making a suicide car bomb and turn him in. If you look at what happened with the terrorists in Europe in the ‘80s—the Baader-Meinhof Gangs, the Red Brigades, the way they ended up being defeated is the people turned against them. They ended up just to the point where they couldn’t bear them anymore, they weren’t acceptable socially and within the society. Now it’s said to be successful in a people’s war the insurgent has to swim in the sea of the people, like a fish. And if the sea turns against you and dries up, you’re dead—you’re a dead fish. We haven’t had the people turn against them yet. Why not? Well, either they don’t care or they’re afraid or they have nothing to fight for and take a risk for. And you’ve got to give them that something.
These differences we face now—Sunni versus Shi’a and others - what are we doing to counter the incitement or the trigger or the catalyst that the bad guys are doing by blowing up mosques and killing people? Is there some sort of program of national dialogue to bring out these issues and discuss them openly, to televise them, to put them on radio broadcast, to generate this sort of discussion? We are brothers, we’ve got to move forward on this. We cannot fall to the rumors and to allow the violence to drive us in any one direction. Where’s the mediation that should be done at the lowest level to—you know, even at the tribal and village level—so we don’t have this mass exodus, this refugees, this ethnic cleansing that’s beginning out there? You know, where are the efforts to turn them around? Just creating a coalition government isn’t going to solve these problems if they begin and they fester.
For those security forces the key is street intelligence. If you have street intelligence and you know where the bad guys are and the people on your side, you don’t need 295,000 troops. You know, these are rag-tag outfits with IEDs and AK-47s. You could do this with super SWAT teams and go in an get them and take them out instead of large tank formations to roll into villages and break down doors and kick in doors and try to figure out who’s there. That’s the long approach. That’s our mentality for all this.
The second thing—or the third thing, rather, I should say, is where is the hope for the future? If there are 15 provinces where things are pretty squared away, why aren’t we seeing more employment, more jobs, more foreign investment? Why aren’t we bringing Iraqi businessmen together with investors from outside, encouraging private investment? Why aren’t we developing the kind of hope and future that at least the two or three provinces that are over the other edge can point to and say, If we can square ourselves away we can share in that? So you’ve got to give the people hope, you’ve got to get them on your side. You’ve got to get down and deal with the issues on the street. Don’t just white-wash this as one big insurgency, but understand down deep into the roots of what each of these problems are and how to deal with them, and we’ve got to get a government that is pushed and pressured into getting things done, not just declaring every step they take a major victory and sit back. You know, we lost the momentum points that we had out there, the fall of the statue and a number of other things.
One thing that I learned in Somalia is that you ought to create these momentum points and then capitalize on them. One of the things we put into our plan is that once we went to Baghdad as the time came, and we couldn’t find Saddam or anybody else, but we owned the city, I would have drug out the most senior general I had in my hands, offered the guy the witness protection program in Phoenix, Arizona, and said, “If you want it, you’re going to surrender the regime—you’re the most senior guy I got—sit down in this square at this table, U.S.S. Missouri landlocked, and you’re going to sign, and on TV everywhere this is the end. The regime is over.” You’re not going to have that sort of finality. How are we trying Saddam? On some remote issue about some village that tried to kill him. We have one issue. You know, where is the pent-up passion and emotion over all these people over decades that have been wronged? Family members killed, the torture, what they’ve been through—how are they allowed to express that? Where’s this sort of cathartic movement to get it all out? And it could be focused on Saddam, because that’s necessary for reconciliation. It’s necessary to get it out. We’ve never dealt with that issue. We tamped it down and we allowed Saddam in this sort of hokey farce of a trial to go on. And that actually further depresses the people and contributes to the despair. None of this was managed well, and I think these are the kinds of things that should be happening now. These are the kinds of things that would help I think move forward. But the key, like all of this, is you’ve got to do things that win the people over and show hope, so that they will believe that they have to take some risks to help and support what you’re trying to do in there.
HOGE: Okay, we’re going to turn to the audience now for some questions. And let me point out that we have national members who are with us electronically this evening. And I’m going to start with a question from one of our national members who is in Tomball, Texas, Joe Pitch (sp): “In your assessment, is there any realistic chance, long-term or short-term, that Secretary Rumsfeld and other top administration official will be held accountable in any way for their actions and the many mistakes that have been made?”
ZINNI: Well, I’m a believer in two things regarding who stays and who goes. One is accountability. I think that’s important, I guess because I grew up in a system where accountability was an important component. You know, everything from the naval tradition of the captain of the ship is responsible for everything that goes on, even if he’s not on the bridge. The first thing I learned as a young second lieutenant is the commander is responsible for everything his unit does or fails to do—drilled into our heads. So accountability was important. Accountability was important not because you don’t have loyal people that aren’t trying hard to do the right thing, but this is such a demanding and important set of positions, and the things we’re doing so critical that if it doesn’t work out serious mistakes are made. These mistakes can be seen to be questions of negligence or competence. You have to move on. Now, that said, that’s the president’s decision.
But let me give you another perspective on why you need to change faces. If you find yourself in a position as a result of all the mistakes that those that were involved in those original decisions are still in place have to constantly justify what went on, defend themselves, are unable to move on and look ahead, put that behind them, because every time they stand before a camera or they’re held accountable or go to a Congressional hearing, that is going to be resurrected, then it drains away from your ability to move forward. Secondly, if moving forward means to have to change course drastically in one element of what you’re doing, if changing course means you’re going to basically admit to a mistake, change from an original decision, is it harder for you to do that, since you have a vested interest and you’re trying to defend your original decision, then a fresh face that says, “I have no vested interest in the past. I’m going to take an honest, objective, new look at the future.” So in some cases I really feel it’s important to change the faces.
HOGE: Is this one of those cases?
ZINNI: This is one of those cases in my view. Now, let me make one thing clear. Immediately after “Meet the Press,” where I was asked by Tim Russert what I would do and gave my opinion, the headline read, “Zinni Calls For”—I didn’t call for anything. I was asked my opinion. The president has got to make this decision. That’s his decision to make, you know? And my advice was loyalty is important, but it’s not the most important trait. Integrity and competence and performance are more important, and sometimes just the need to move on becomes more important. And there’s a loyalty up, too, that should allow you to make a decision to give that leeway to a senior that may be very loyal to you down.
HOGE: Yes, sir. Mike coming your way.
QUESTIONER: Corbutt Levin (ph). General, thank you for your presentation. Would you please describe for us the conditions which would have to prevail in Iraq for you to favor a total U.S. military withdrawal?
ZINNI: Well, I think several things would have to happen. We would have to be sure that the political structure was such that it was representative, that it was stable, that it was moving forward. I think, secondly, we would have to be sure that the ability of Iraq to survive—I mean, that the economic conditions, the infrastructure was up and running and would develop forward. I think you would have to know that the security forces were well established, could control the levels of violence and could handle it easily. I don’t see—I’m not in favor of timelines or time certain dates for pull-outs. I don’t see the pull-out happening suddenly. I see the pull-out would be incremental. I see the pull-out may be made in some cases where we withdraw to maybe friendly countries in the region where we have shared bases, like Kuwait, and maybe even others like Jordan that might be added into that mix, if they’re willing, where we’re prepared to reenter if it’s necessary and support, but we actually begin to leave—would send a positive message that those who’d say we’re there for permanent bases and everything else.
I think it’s important to take a hard look at what we in the military call our footprint. Is it necessary to be so large out there? You know, you maybe could establish better logistics bases outside and move units in the interim in and out, in combat units or military police units, or the kinds of units that would be effective, but they would go in and out. I mean, now we have these—we’re very good at setting up large complexes with Baskins and Robbins and Burger King and everything else. You know, the Little America gets established in some sort of enclave. We should rid ourselves of all that as soon as we can, or at least move it to a position outside the country. I think it sends a good message if we begin that, and it also indicates we’re not here to stay. We’re not looking for permanent bases. And it also I think puts some pressure on Iraqis to know they’ve got to start standing up. It’s time to take the trainer wheels off, you know, and you’ve got to start moving out on your own.
HOGE: Unless I missed it, we’ve so far declined to say that we will give up our bases there, have we not?
ZINNI: I think it’s important to make that statement, that we have no designs on permanent bases there. You know, nowhere in the region do we have permanent bases. Everywhere else in the region we share bases. They aren’t our bases. They’re there because every base we’re located out there we are there because the government says this is a base that you’re allowed dual-use. So we should—first of all, this should be clearly—the bases we’re on should be clearly designated Iraqi bases that we are temporarily using, like everything else in the region. Let me tell you something about CENTCOM. CENTCOM owns no assigned forces. What that means is the Pacific Command or the Joint Forces Command back here in the United States, or the European Command, they own forces. There are fleets and divisions and things that belong to them in the structure. There are units that are home-based and stationed in Japan and in Germany. CENTCOM owns no forces. They’re not assigned. We borrow from these other commands. They come in temporarily to CENTCOM to do the things and go home. I love that as a CENTCOM commander, because you know you can reduce or increase the amount of forces. You don’t have committed infrastructure, committed organizations and units that you have to protect from somebody cutting them away, and then maybe you need the later. Both the Southern Command, our Southern Hemisphere, and CENTCOM, are in this position. And I think it’s advantageous to be in that position.
I like to say that during the containment period, on an average day there were less troops in CENTCOM than go to work at the Pentagon every morning. And think about that. We maintained that containment of Iraq-Iran, the dual-containment policy, with less troops that go to work at the Pentagon every day. And none of those troops belong to me as CENTCOM commander. I mean, I had operational control over them while they were there, but they belonged to somebody else and go home. And those bases I had didn’t belong to me. And the Saudis and the Kuwaitis and others paid $300 to $500 million to support our presence. The Saudis and others built part of their bases up so that we would have places to live and stay on their bases—their air force bases, their navy bases, their army bases. You know, they contributed. They shared the burden. And it wasn’t a matter just of sharing the burden in a monetary sense or a support sense. When we went to Somalia, they came—the Egyptians, the Emiratis, Saudis, Kuwaitis sent forces down there. You know, in the first Gulf War they sent units obviously in the first Gulf War to operate by our side. They went them to Afghanistan, they sent them to Bosnia. So, you know, that built the relationship that they were comfortable with, that they could tolerate. Basically there were issues on the street about that, but it was a level of commitment that I could clearly go on Al-Jazeera or anything else and say, “We have no permanent bases here. We have no permanently assigned forces. We’re just here as long as we’re needed and the force levels are needed, and as soon as they’re not needed we can draw them down.” It’s like a thermostat, it can go up and down very easily.
HOGE: Okay, another question—way in the back.
QUESTIONER: Mike Posner. Last year Senator McCain led an effort in Congress to restrict cruel, human degrading treatment of prisoners by U.S. forces, military intelligence forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and elsewhere. Obviously the administration is not thrilled with that approach or that bill. I want you to comment first on the merits of that; that is to say how much are those abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere affecting our efforts to win the hearts and minds of people in the Middle East and South Asia? And, secondly, what would you recommend doing to make sure that the McCain amendment is implemented in practice—not only in the military but throughout the system, including the intelligence agencies?
ZINNI: Well, first of all, I can tell you that the most angry people about Abu Ghraib and those events were the troops in the field—believe me, I know—I heard it from them. They’re out there working hard to connect the people in the villages and in the provinces to show they’re here to do good. I know one Marine unit shed its protective gear after the initial combat phase was over to show they weren’t there to do any further damage, you know, that that part of the war was over. When these things happen then they’re discredited. Their efforts out there are harmed when that comes out. The moral high ground that we purport to have when we go in there is then lost and eroded, because we look like we don’t have any greater moral compass than the bad guys we’re fighting when those things happen. You know, so it is damaging—not damaging just in the sense of an image, but to what the people on the ground are trying to do there.
I once testified before Congress and was asked a question about—and this was back in the ‘90s—“If you were to have to execute your Iraqi war plan, what is your greatest concern, general?” And my response was, to use the term that I used then, it was “POW management.” And it sort of brought a little laugh out like I meant to say I’m just going to have so many surrender, it’s going to be so easy. I was serious. I mean, what I saw going in there is I could have entire organizations and units surrender, I’m going to have all these Ba’athists and detainees, and God knows who comes in some way or another—what is the plan for all this? There was no plan for this sort of massive obligation and who would have that obligation.
I think we got ourselves trapped in this situation where we took this on. I think we need to take a hard look as to who we have. I don’t know—I mean, I have no specific knowledge—I don’t know if there are certain people that are so valuable for us to maintain and keep under our control that it’s necessary for our own security—but how many of them truly exist? How many of them we would be better off returning them to an Afghanistan or wherever, unless something doesn’t exist there, where we can ensure they’re going to be properly incarcerated and held accountable for whatever they did? But I think us managing these detainee camps, and the history of anything that came about, is degrading our image out there and adding to the problems. And it’s not just a matter of, So what?—we need to do it. It is ill affecting our ability to perform in the battlefield and hurting our troops’ ability to connect to the people in any credible way, because they’re seen as part and parcel of whatever is going on back there.
The other thing that bothered me about Abu Ghraib is how did a bunch of noncommissioned officers from a Maryland-West Virginia National Guard unit figure out exactly what should be done to humiliate an Arab male probably the worst possible way? I don’t think that they came in with these ideas. Where did they come from? Nobody has asked that question. How did they know those techniques? How did they know the kinds of things that were sexual or anything else that would just absolutely completely intimidate? I know there were some of those who were subject to that who didn’t go back to their villages. But where did that come from? Did they just come up with those ideas? It wasn’t a matter of somebody just beating somebody up. It was a matter of the sort of very sort sophisticated way of humiliation that actually equals torture in my mind.
QUESTIONER: General, several of us have heard presentations about Iraq in the last two weeks. You’re pretty discouraged about what’s going on on the ground now. What if you had the chance, given all you’ve said and all your experience, what would you do now if you were in command of the military?
ZINNI: Well, I think there’s—you know, I’m not as despairing as maybe others are. What’s been remarkable to me is how much the Iraqis have resisted really falling into total disintegration. We could argue now whether it’s civil war now or not, but it certainly is a full-scale civil war—how remarkably they’ve tried to keep themselves from going over the edge. And many of their leaders have tried, and the people are resistant to that. They don’t want to go in that direction, but they can’t figure out how to keep it together right now.
I go back to my point before: the key here is the people. This is sort of classic in these kinds of missions—you not only have to win the hearts and minds, you’ve got to give them hope, you’ve got to get to them, communicate to them, enlist them into what needs to be done. Look, if this government can’t come together now with the pressures from outside, I think it would be more likely to come together from the pressures inside. Are we communicating to the people how they should bring pressure on their political leadership to form this unity government and move on? It’s not just the pressure that comes from the Straws and Rices that go out there and the senators that go out there to pressure them; it has to be from the street up. How do you activate the people, give them a voice, allow them clearly to communicate this desire. How do you activate the people, give them a voice, allow them clearly to communicate this desire? How do you work with them? I go back to the point I made before again about mediation and counseling on the street to work out their issues and differences, especially in the aftermath of a vile enactment to to try to be a catalyst for all this stuff. Where do you give them the opportunity to vent, to express their—you know, there’s one amazing thing going on in Saudi Arabia right now. King Abdullah started this program of national dialogue. It’s very formalized. In all the regions they’re to discuss all these reforms and changes—the role of women and all these other issues—and it’s televised and it’s open, and the points that come up from these open meetings are brought to Riyadh, and then there’s a national televised national dialogue that goes on. Let’s discuss these issues, why we have issues with them, how hard it’s going to be, which direction we should take. I think he knows where he wants to go, but I think he wants to get the people involved. He wants to air out the differences and the emotions. You know, we should be creating those kinds of opportunities out there. We have paid a hell of a lot to all these so-called information groups that go out there to spin our image and everything else. Why not pay to have some of this kind of dialogue on the street, this opportunity and this kind of communication. What about holding, as I mentioned before, a business council somewhere, very visible—hold it in the region, bring in foreign investors, bring in Iraqi businessmen out there to say, Look, we want to build the economy, we want to get jobs out there on the street. Let’s look at how we hook these up and start them up, at least in the most secure provinces, which seem to way outnumber, according to the administration, the bad provinces. But these are the kinds of things I think we should move on.
I think we maybe ought to rethink the kinds of security forces we need to deal with this problem. We have trouble recruiting Sunnis into the military and police. So we have Shi’a and Kurdish kids go into Anbar Province and kick in some Sunni’s door. That’s not a good idea, you know?
HOGE: In the back, yes, sir?
QUESTIONER: General, I’ve heard you—
HOGE: Could you identify yourself, please?
QUESTIONER: Richard Whalen from the Conference Board. General, I’ve heard you speak on several occasions. You’re one of our most eloquent, straightforward soldiers, and I salute you. You’re a true patriot, and I think we all look forward, despite your disclaimer, to your involvement in the impending political debate. The decisive battleground is not in Iraq; it’s in the United States. That was true before the Tet Offensive and after the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. We are now before the Tet Offensive in Iraq. The next two years we’re going to sort ourselves out in this country. You have a voice, you have experience, you have wisdom. In a sentence or two, can you tell me and this audience why we are in Iraq and why we should stay there indefinitely? Thank you.
ZINNI: Well, my view of Iraq as we were going into this is Iraq is one of the problems we have in this part of the world, one of the destabilizing factors. But it was I sort of racked and stacked my priorities and I think I came up with it was number eight. And given the resources and everything else we had to deal with at the time—we were in Afghanistan, everything else was going on, a Middle East peace process was collapsing, our relationships in the region going to hell, a rising threat from Iran, and on and on and on with the rise of extremism and how to cope with it beyond just fighting in Tora Bora. I said, you know, this is not the time to take on Iraq. They’re contained. But, having said that, when I saw the first steps, where Secretary Powell was in the United Nations and we had the 15-to-nothing vote by the Security Council to get the inspectors back in—I saw them cutting up the Al-Samud missiles and everything else. I said, you know, this is not bad. Getting us back on foot, maybe relooking at some of the things that were counterproductive, like the oil-for-food program and some of the economic sanctions—this is the way to deal with that if you want to deal with it. But to short-circuit all that and suddenly go into a major war in there, and inherit all the problems that those of us that have looked at this for years before knew we would get in the aftermath, you took Iraq from a number eight or less priority to destabilizing factors that could have been managed until later on, and you brought it way up to the top and you made it the center focus, the commitment of most of your resources at the expense of those other priorities. And that was the problem.
But we are where we are now, and we made this number one. It isn’t naturally number one out there. If you would go out to take a poll they would say the number one issue is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But probably psychologically it is, and you could argue objectively whether it is or not. But psychologically it is in most of the region. And also it’s greater fear of whither Iran out there too and the forces of extremism and how they may gain strength on the street or not depending on what kind of decisions are made. But here we are. We are where we are. We can’t fail in Iraq. I believe if we can turn this around in some ways or pull this off, if Iraq gets reasonably stable, if Iraq has a future, if Iraq is moving in the right direction, it can turn into a positive for us—maybe not so significant as those other priorities we should deal with, but it would also allow us to pay attention to that and would give us the credibility of not having to admit a failure and walk away from it, because that’s going to hurt further our ability to deal with these other issues out here.
So Iraq on its own merits when we went in shouldn’t have rated this kind of commitment of resources, casualties, attention and everything else, and it has harmed our image in the region and ability to do other things. But we have moved it to number one, and we have got to move it off that and back to its proper place, and the reason why I believe we have got to stay with this and make the right decisions to fix this.
HOGE: Okay, (Nari ?), last question.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. There’s obviously I assume great diversity of opinion within the military as to how we’re fighting this war—maybe not why. Where is the cut-off? Is it civilians who have imposed this mode of fighting a war upon the military, or is the military by and large supportive of this method of fighting the war?
ZINNI: Well, I think the general feeling would be that some of the decisions that were made early on about this conflict, about troop levels and about decisions in the aftermath and expanding the army and some of the approaches we made, some of the things we have allowed to happen out there—I think you would find general agreement in the military—not 100 percent, but you would find agreement those things made the mission on the ground obviously much more difficult and harder, and handicapped the soldiers.
I just had an e-mail from a mother of a soldier that said he was in the initial march up to Baghdad and he was given security of one of the museums, and all of a sudden the leaders came and his orders were not to interfere with the leaders. And this had bugged him to this day, his mother told me, that he could have stopped those looters, and they were told not to get involved in that, for whatever reason. And I think it’s those kinds of things. We mentioned the Abu Ghraib that goes on—those kinds of things that frustrate the soldiers on the ground. Now, the one thing you have to understand about the soldiers on the ground, when you give them a mission, their heart and soul goes into that mission. They want to succeed. They don’t want to fail. The other thing that happens is that in their little piece of this mission they put their heart and soul into that. They can’t understand why if they could make a difference right here in this village why that isn’t sort of not nationwide why they can’t be captured and packaged and multiplied by a thousand and why it isn’t working. The most frustrating thing I hear from the soldiers and Marines coming back is, “Damn it, in my”—six months to one years, or whatever their tour of duty was there—“we connected. We had control. We were beginning—I had tea every day with the village leader. Our Marines were received, and we were moving along. And then we left and we ended”—or “our unit moved,” or “the next unit came in and they didn’t know what we had done and couldn’t follow up.” So the frustration becomes: “I see the need. I see that Iraqi family that’s in dire straits. I want to help them. I believe that’s my mission. I believe that I’m committed and seen the blood of my fellow soldiers being shed here. I don’t want this to fail. Why is it if I have this level of commitment on the ground and I see I can change these things in my own little piece of this, why isn’t it succeeding?” And then the frustration becomes: “Is it not succeeding because those that should have capitalized this and been working from the top down as hard as I’m working from the bottom up didn’t get it right?” And I think that becomes the frustration. None of the soldiers and Marines that I talk to want to leave this unfinished.
Those of us who lived through an experience where we put our heart and soul for 10 years into it in Vietnam and saw us leave where we thought we saw successes on the ground in small pieces and couldn’t understand why it couldn’t have been capitalized and multiplied and done in a greater cohesive way had the same frustration. My son is a Marine. He’s a Marine captain, he’s a Marine officer, and I don’t want him to go through that same experience where we left the place. I had a vested interest in Vietnam. I lived with the people, as I said. I spoke the language, I knew who they were—to watch them drift away then as we pulled out was traumatic. Look at the effect it had on our military. We had to in effect rebuild our military after that. Now we’re nowhere near that kind of straits with our military, but we could end up there if they become so discouraged and damaged by what’s required of this kind of campaign.
HOGE: General, thank you very much for a very candid analysis. (Applause.)
ZINNI: Thank you.
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